The Art and Genius of Anne Hébert: Essays on Her Works: Night and the Day Are One

By Janis L. Pallister | Go to book overview

"It is that damned woman that has ruined me":
The Fragmented Feminine in
Anne Hébert's Kamouraska

FELICIA B. STURZER

Now, this very moment, Antoine Tassy's widow, Elisabeth d'Aulnières,
makes her entrance. Struck by the utter crassness of her action. Pushed to
her nightmare's farthest edge. No refuge left within herself. Thrown out.
Leaving Madame Rolland and all her dignity and pride behind. Never be-
fore this total separation from her being. (Hébert 1973, 229)

Anne Hébert's Kamouraska (1970) exemplifies the parameters of a feminine that emerges as an ambiguous self, divided between guilt and innocence, revolt and subservience, conventional morality and illicit passion. Woman as witch and whore, mother and loving wife, murderess and guardian angel—such is the story of Elisabeth. But which one—d'Aulnières? de Tassy? Rolland? As she keeps vigil at the bedside of her dying husband Jérôme, a woman relives the nightmare of her youth. Past and present merge as she seeks to reintegrate into society a self on the brink of madness and despair. Images of Antoine's drunken, violent orgies merge with the tenderness of George Nelson's dark, mysterious passion. Seeking to escape mental and physical abuse as well as the cumbersome responsibilities of unwanted motherhood, Elisabeth mocks the hypocrisy of a social order blind to its own contradictions and shortcomings.

The social, political, and religious obstacles to the development of a viable feminine self have been studied by Denis Boak, Gabrielle PascalSmith, Murray Sachs, Barbara Godard, and Katharine Gingrass, among others.1 As readers, we are confronted with a series of questions that form the intertextual fabric of Elisabeth's voice. Is this a "woman's text," a feminist statement of revolt, or merely a variation of the traditional love-seduction-abandonment scenario? What factors define the "I" and inscribe the feminine subject? Who/what ultimately determines guilt or innocence?

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