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

Living with the Cultural Legacy
of La Corriveau: La Cage

MAUREEN O'MEARA

In order to live with our history, it is often necessary to rewrite it. La Cage, a play completed by Anne Hébert in the spring of 1989, transforms the legend of La Corriveau and bestows new life on this female Québec cultural icon. Rewriting this historical legend as drama restores the past to the present and recognizes the ongoing conflicts initiated by the events of 1763. La Cage both represents and effects a personal liberation from a repressive and submissive culture inherited by Anne Hébert, "une culture canadiennefrançaise, qui gardait le Québec prisonnier de lui-même, … une culture soumise au pouvoir clérical depuis un siècle et colonisée depuis deux siècles" (Royer 1997, 71).

La Corriveau has come to personify in Québec society both extraordinary guilt and extraordinary cruelty.1 The story of Marie-Josephte Corriveau's crimes has provided fertile ground for Québec imaginations,2 from those of her time to today, 238 years after her death.3 The legend of La Corriveau far outshadows her history.

Québec popular stories that sprang from her sentencing often focused on her guilt and her murderous relations with her husbands. During life, she was subject to suspicion by her fellow villagers of having murdered her first husband, since she demonstrated interest in social gatherings and in other men soon after his death. And the stories grew from the murder of one husband, to two, to as many as seven (cf. Guilbault 1995).

But La Corriveau's punishment was also extraordinary. After her hanging, her cadaver was suspended, enclosed in body chains, from a gibbet at the crossroads of Levis for approximately forty days to serve as an example to all passersby. Local legends translated her body chains into the "cage"4 to which Anne Hébert's title refers. In the words of Luc Lacourcière:

En outre le nom de La Corriveau est associé au supplice exceptionnel,
odieux et horrifique qu'elle a subi: celui d'être pendue et exposée

-161-

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