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

The Textual Grounding of Québécoises Identity:
Le Premier Jardin and Kamouraska

AMY REID

One of the most frequently cited assessments of Québécoise1 culture, and one of the most contested, is that of Lord Durham, who wrote in 1839 that the Québécois were "a people with no history and no literature."2 While this challenge to the existence of québécoises letters has served as a straw man for many critics, nowhere is its invocation more appropriate than in a discussion of Anne Hébert's work. From the short stories of Le Torrent (1950) to her most recent novel, Est-ce que je te dérange? (1998), Anne Hébert's fiction is driven by a need to articulate québécoise identity, to give voice to the repressed or buried memories of individuals, women in particular, whose existence has been called into question. Anne Hébert repeatedly affirmed that her own québécoise identity was central to her literary project: "J'écris sur ce que j'ai en moi. Le Québec est en moi profondément. Il est tricoté avec moi. Il fait partie de ma vie. Alors ça vient tout spontanément. En m'exprimant moi-même j'exprime les paysages que j'ai connus, que j'ai aimés" (Hébert 1997, 226; emphasis in original). But if her self-identification as Québécoise is integral to her writing, the converse is also true: writing is central to Hébert's formulation of québécoise identity.

While eschewing any simple definition of just what québécoise identity might be, Hébert suggests that writing constitutes its support and its substance. In this essay I will focus on two of Hébert's novels, Kamouraska (1970) and Le Premier Jardin (1988), and on how in each of them writing is presented as the ground in which québécoise identity is rooted. These novels in particular seem to argue against Lord Durham on his own terms, affirming not only that the Québécois people share a history, but that it is written, hence authentic and credible.3 In these novels, québécoise identity—the identity of women from Québec—is shown to be the product of diverse types of writing, not just literature but also the historical record,

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