Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Un Revenant

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Un Revenant

Article excerpt

Rémi Tremblay, Un revenant, ed. Jean Levasseur (Quebec: Les Editions de la Huit, 2003), xcv + 459 pp. Paper. $27. ISBN 2-9217-0712-8.

Un revenant was first published, in serial form, in La Patrie in 1884. It is, sauf erreur, the only Quebec novel to deal directly with the American Civil War and is to an extent autobiographical, its author having himself fought in that conflict on the side of the North. Although readable, it is, to tell the truth, a fairly undistinguished book and it is easy to see why it has languished in obscurity. The story-line - involving a young French Canadian who joins the Union army to escape dishonour, a lost love, and male friendship - is conventional, not to say trite, whilst the author's clumsy technique contrives to extinguish any suspense long before the ending. However, the book is more successful as an account of the War, and in particular the bloody events of 1864. Having said that, Tremblay's battle scenes are curiously lacking in drama, dynamism, feeling. He is no Stendhal, no Hugo. His battle scenes have, for example, nothing like the ironic detachment of those in La Chartreuse de Parme. They do not attempt the intense, lurid metaphors wielded so strikingly to evoke battle in Les Misérables. It could perhaps be argued that the new technology of warfare that made the Civil War such a murderous affair had subverted the old rhetoric, made it redundant, unwarranted. I suspect, however, that what is in evidence here are Tremblay's limitations as a writer. It is somehow telling - and the comparison is much more of an appropriate one - that his battle scenes lack the awful realism of Stephen Crane's celebrated Red Badge of Courage.

Jean Levasseur has provided this edition with a formidable critical apparatus: it in fact takes up a good half of the book. …

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