Certain Difficulty of Being

Certain Difficulty of Being: Essays on the Quebec Novel

Copyright Date: 1990
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Certain Difficulty of Being
    Book Description:

    In the Preface to A Certain Difficulty of Being Purdy examines the kinds of discourse that deal with the novel in some nineteenth-century Quebec novel prefaces, thereby revealing a theme of generic denegation in the sense of "This is not a novel." Purdy goes on to explore the transition from epic to novel in Félix-Antoine Savard's Menaud, maître-draveur; the contradictions stemming from the use of a first-person, present-tense narrative in André Langevin's Poussière sur la ville; the problem of narrativity and history as it is raised in Hubert Aquin's Prochain épisode; and the way in which narrative voice functions in Anne Hébert's Kamouraska. He also touches on the current debate concerning the boundaries between modernism and post-modernism.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6256-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-2)

    Peter Brooks, in an illuminating discussion of plots and the ordering of stories, describes narrative as an unpacking of metaphor, an acting out of its implications (Brooks 1984, 26). In the pages which follow I also shall be engaged in unpacking a central metaphor - that of the Quebec novel’s “difficulty of being.” In a different way in each chapter, I shall trace the various discontinuities, ambiguities, and conflicts which surface upon close examination of how specific novels go about the process of “making sense,” of grappling with the problems of pattern, shape, and form in a world which, for...

  5. CHAPTER ONE “This is Not a Novel”: The Rhetoric of Denial in Nineteenth-Century Quebec Novel Prefaces
    (pp. 3-18)

    The 26 June 1879 issue ofL'Opinion publiquecontains the following good-humoured lament concerning the difficulties facing the would-be novelist in French Canada:

    One needs ... an irresistible vocation to dare to write novels in Canada ... To win the untutored heart of a young girl; to focus the feelings of a wayward widow ... ; to conquer a mother-in-law; to obtain the hand of a princess ... what is all that compared to the writing of a Canadian novel! How many precautions, how much self-vigilance, what strictness in the treatment of character, what inner surveillance! I see only one...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Between Epic and Novel: The Crisis of Community in Félix-Antoine Savard’s Menaud, maître-draveur
    (pp. 19-40)

    In an essay entitled “Parable of American Painting,” published in hisThe Tradition of the New, Harold Rosenberg evokes the scene of Braddock's Defeat as an emblem of the failure of a group to adapt its style to a new landscape: “I recall in my grammar-school history book a linecut illustration which shows the Redcoats marching abreast through the woods, while from behind trees and rocks naked Indians and coonskinned trappers pick them off with musket balls. Maybe it wasn’t Braddock’s defeat but some ambush of the Revolutionary War. In any case, the Redcoats march in file through the New...

  7. CHAPTER THREE On the Outside Looking In: The Political Economy of Everyday Life in Gabrielle Roy’s Bonheur d’occasion
    (pp. 41-61)

    Nearly fifty years ago a posh, lanky young man packed his bags and made off into the undergrowth of England. Like a mountaineer conquering his own nightmare, he embarked on a two-month personal encounter with the unknown - the working class, who populated his childhood memories as a spectre of fear and loathing. He made a sentimental journey - it was a conjugation of the personal and the political - amidst the supposedly silent majority, the people excluded from politics who appeared as vagrants on the doorstep of democracy. (Campbell 1984, 1-2)

    That man was, of course, George Orwell, described...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Stopping the Kaleidoscope: Narrative Ambiguity in André Langevin’s Poussière sur la ville
    (pp. 62-82)

    André Langevin'sPoussière sur la villewas first published in 1953, eight years after the first edition ofBonheur d’occasionand sixteen years afterMenaud, maître-draveur. The distances separating these three novels, in terms both of the worlds they represent and of the techniques they use to do so, attest to the accelerated evolution of the Quebec novel during the period 1937-53. At the same time, the gap between the literary production of France and that of Quebec seems to narrow rapidly: withPoussière sur la villewe step into the postwar mainstream of existentialist humanism, into the intellectual world...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE The Politics of Incoherence: Narrative Failure and the Invention of History in Hubert Aquin’s Prochain épisode
    (pp. 83-108)

    Hubert Aquin’sProchain épisode, published in 1965 in the middle of the Quiet Revolution, is a novel within a novel. Its narrator, who is never named, is confined to a Montreal psychiatric hospital, where he is awaiting trial on charges related to his underground political activities as a revolutionary separatist. Ostensibly to help pass the time, he tries to write a spy novel, which is set in Switzerland and narrated in the first person. Its hero, an equally nameless Quebec separatist, is involved in a series of adventures typical of the genre they parody (car chases, love trysts, kidnappings, secret...

  10. CHAPTER SIX An Archaeology of the self: Narrative Ventriloquism in Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska
    (pp. 109-133)

    In chapter 49¹ ofKamouraska, we find the novel’s central character, Elisabeth, on watch at her window, scraping away the frost with her fingernails, clearing a space - doubly framed - in which to observe the drama being played outside in the street. What she sees - or, to be more precise, the telling of what she sees - is strongly reminiscent of Dubois’ encounter with the priest in the third part ofPoussière sur la ville, which I discussed in chapter 4 as an example of Langevin’s “phenomenological” narrative. As Elisabeth watches, “Aurélie Caron trottine sur la neige, son...

  11. Afterword
    (pp. 134-138)

    I indicated in my foreword to this book that it was not my intention to define and defend any kind of unified position on narrative or indeed on the Quebec novel. In retrospect, however, it does seem desirable to make explicit certain similarities that exist between the kinds of ontological and narrative uncertainty I have tried to explore under the general heading of “a certain difficulty of being” and André Belleau’s sociocritical notion of the conflict of codes.

    In a 1983 article, “Code social et code littéraire dans le roman québécois,” Belleau argues that a doubly marginalized literature like that...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-160)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-172)
  14. Index
    (pp. 173-176)