Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

A Bird between the Prison Bars: Gabrielle Roy's Spiritual Calling

Academic journal article Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature

A Bird between the Prison Bars: Gabrielle Roy's Spiritual Calling

Article excerpt

GABRIELLE Roy's Bonheur d'occasion, a Depression-era novel about a working-class family from Montreal published in 1945 and translated soon after as The Tin Flute, made her an instant celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic. Among the honors she received for it in the next three years were France's Prix Femina (Roy was the first Canadian ever to win it), the Governor General's Literary Award, and membership in the prestigious Royal Society of Canada. Her writing career continued to flourish for several decades until her death in 1983. In the epiphany-centred books which began with Street of Riches (1957), Roy achieved her true voice: these luminous stories inspired by her youth in the French enclaves of western Canada are considered by many critics to be among her finest works. Although she resided for most of her adult life in Quebec City, she was a staunch Canadian nationalist who opposed the separatist ambitions of a vocal, and occasionally violent, minority of Quebeckers. She was honored numerous times by both the federal and the Quebec governments for her literary achievement, one of a very few writers to gain an enthusiastic readership in both English and French Canada.

Among the many tributes Roy received over the years were two more Governor General's medals, the Canadian Centennial Medal in 1967, the Prix David (Quebec's most important prize for literature), the "Artes et ingenia fovere" medal from the Canada Council for the Arts for her corpus, and the Molson Prize in recognition of her work's importance to Canada's cultural and intellectual life. Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson conferred on her the title of Companion of the Order of Canada, a select group of Canadian thinkers, scientists, and artists celebrated for their extraordinary achievements. An excerpt from The Tin Flute is engraved on one wall of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Canada Post issued stamps in tribute to five Canadian authors, one of whom was Roy. The Bank of Canada issued a $20 bill in 2004 bearing a quotation from one of her novels: "Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?" In 2009 the Government of Canada recognized Roy as a person of national importance and declared her family home in St. Boniface, Manitoba to be a historic site open to tourists.

Not surprisingly, Roy has attracted international attention; her books have been translated into English, German, Chinese, Korean, Danish, Spanish, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Lithuanian, Dutch, Norwegian, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Swedish, Czech, and Ukrainian. In 2002 Marjorie A. Benedict, Associate Librarian at the University at Albany, State University of New York, performed a service to Roy scholars everywhere when she updated her annotated bibliography of dissertations, books, articles, and earlier bibliographies on the French-Canadian writer entitled Gabrielle Roy: An Annotated Bibliography and Guide to Studies about the Author and her Works, containing roughly a thousand entries. (1) The range of topics identified by Benedict reflects the remarkable versatility of Roy's corpus. Feminist scholars with due diligence have mined the author's portrayal of women's lives, while sociological treatises have explored her interest in the working class, in post-colonial societies, and in Canada's ethnic mosaic. Scholars trained in disability studies, in eco-criticism, and in psychological assessment have brought their specialized perspectives to bear on various works by Roy, as have linguists, structuralists, and semioticians.

One largely neglected area of Roy's work, however, remains her treatment of religion, both within and outside of church walls, a peculiar omission given the persistence of this theme throughout her writings. A notable exception is Marc Gagne's Visages de Gabrielle Roy, l'oeuvre et l'ecrivain (1973), an analysis that cuts a wider swath through her works on this subject than most. Because Gagne's study was published a decade before. …

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