Fiction of Anne Hébert and Corinna Bille
If Anne Hébert is "la romancière-poète par excellence of Québec letters" (Gould 1986, 121), then Stéphanie Corinna Bille "or Corinna Bille, as she chose to call herself" is surely the "grande dame des lettres romandes" (Makward 1995, 77). Nonetheless, despite having received the Prix Goncourt de la Nouvelle in 1975 for her collection La Demoiselle sauvage, Corinna Bille remains relatively unknown outside of Switzerland. The goal of this essay is to establish the basis for a comparative analysis of the fiction of Hébert and Bille, an analysis that would look beyond the boundaries of their respective continents to examine the shared characteristics of the isolated communities that they depict. Much of the scholarly work done on Hébert insists on Quebec's peculiar insularity as a Catholic, francophone province in the midst of principally Protestant, anglophone North America, a situation that Paul Raymond Côté and Constantina Mitchell describe as a "geography of xenophobic isolation" (1991, 78). However, these circumstances are in fact quite comparable to those of the Swiss canton of Valais. Christiane Makward characterizes Valais as "le canton catholique" (1995, 78), while noting that the Haut Valais is home to the highest peaks in the country, a fact that has made it difficult to integrate completely into the multilingual, multicultural Confederation Hélvétique. Thus, while I have no wish to contest Gregory Reid's representation of William Faulkner as Hébert's soul mate, for the affinities and connections he traces in their novels are indeed considerable,1 I would like to suggest the possibility that Corinna Bille might be considered another such soul mate for Hébert.
Bille was born in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1912, just four years before Hébert's birth to a similarly upper-middle-class family in SainteCatherine-de-Fossambault, Québec. Raised in a household where the arts were held in high esteem (Bille's father published several books in addition to being recognized for his visual artwork; her older brother René-Pierre wrote