Canadian literature, French

Canadian literature, French,

the body of literature of the French-speaking population of Canada.

Except for the narratives of French explorers (such as Samuel de ChamplainChamplain, Samuel de
, 1567–1635, French explorer, the chief founder of New France.

After serving in France under Henry of Navarre (King Henry IV) in the religious wars, Champlain was given command of a Spanish fleet sailing to the West Indies, Mexico, and the
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 and Pierre Esprit RadissonRadisson, Pierre Esprit
, c.1632–1710, French explorer and fur trader in North America. He arrived in Canada in 1651. His journals, first published as the Voyages of Peter Esprit Radisson
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) and missionaries, no notable writing was produced before the British conquest of New France in 1759. Since that time the inspiration for much French Canadian literature has been a concern with preserving an autonomous identity in a country dominated by the English language and the Protestant religion. Traditionally, there has been little contact between Canada's French and English literature. Until the 20th cent. French Canadian writers found their models mainly in writers from France and their themes in nationalism, the simple lives and folkways of the habitants, and the devotion to the Roman Catholic Church.

The first artistic expression of this spirit was F. X. GarneauGarneau, François Xavier
, 1809–66, French Canadian historian. He was educated at the Quebec seminary. He is remembered for his Histoire du Canada (3 vol., 1845–48; 2d ed.
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's Histoire du Canada (1845–48), still the classic of French Canadian nationalism. Other historians, including Benjamin Sulte, Thomas ChapaisChapais, Sir Thomas
, 1858–1946, Canadian politician and historian, b. Quebec prov.; son of Jean Charles Chapais (1811–85). Thomas Chapais became professor of history at Laval Univ.
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, and L. A. Groulx, also placed their emphasis on pride in and protection of their French heritage. This school of thought inspired the first nationalist poet, Octave CrémazieCrémazie, Octave
(Joseph Octave Crémazie) , 1822–79, French Canadian poet, b. Quebec, considered the father of French Canadian poetry. With his brothers he was proprietor of a Quebec bookshop, the gathering place for a literary group that included such
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 and the Quebec school of poets, novelists, and historians. In 1861 they began a deliberate effort to create a national literature, with such French authors as Hugo and Lamartine as their chief models. The group included Philippe Aubert de GaspéGaspé, Philippe Aubert de
, 1786–1871, French Canadian author. He was high sheriff of Quebec for several years. His Les Anciens Canadiens (1863, tr. 1864, 1890), a classic of French Canadian literature, is valuable for its picture of life and customs in
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, J. B. A. Ferland, Louis-Honoré FréchetteFréchette, Louis Honoré
, 1839–1908, French Canadian poet and politician, b. Lévis, Que. He worked (1865–71) as a journalist in Chicago and while there wrote a volume of poetry entitled La Voix d'un exilé
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, Pamphile LeMay, Abbé H. R. CasgrainCasgrain, Henri Raymond
, 1831–1904, French Canadian historian. He traveled widely in Europe, collecting documents relevant to Canadian history, and wrote enthusiastic histories, such as Légendes canadiennes (1861), Les Pionniers canadiens
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, Antoine Gérin-LajoieGérin-Lajoie, Antoine
, 1824–82, French Canadian author and journalist, b. Quebec prov. After serving as an editor (1845–52) on the Minerve, a Montreal newspaper, he entered government employment and spent the later part of his life as assistant
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, and Nérée Beauchemin.

About 1900 a new group of writers developed, centered chiefly in Montreal, who tried to achieve the stricter technique and keener artistic perceptions of the ParnassiansParnassians
, group of 19th-century French poets, so called from their journal the Parnasse contemporain. Issued from 1866 to 1876, it included poems of Leconte de Lisle, Banville, Sully-Prudhomme, Verlaine, Coppée, and J. M. de Heredia.
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 of France. These more sophisticated poets included Charles Gill, René Chopin, and Louis Dantin. Some writers of the new group, such as Émile Nelligan—considered French Canada's first native poetic genius—and Paul Morin, abandoned the national note for exotic subjects. Others, such as Albert Lozeau and Albert Ferland, found inspiration in Canadian nature. About the same time another movement began, led by Adjutor Rivard, aimed at preserving the purity of the French language in Canada. Influential critics included Camille Roy, Henri d'Arles, and the poet Louis Dantin.

In the novel, a rural romanticism was expressed in the works of Félicité Angers (Laure Conan). A more realistic fiction took impetus from Louis HémonHémon, Louis
, 1880–1913, French Canadian novelist, b. France. After working as a journalist for French publications in England (1903–11), he moved to Quebec, where he worked as a farm hand. He was killed by a train in 1913.
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's Maria Chapdelaine (1913), a novel of the peasants of the Lake St. John country. There followed a stream of fiction on habitant life in the backwoods, on the farms, and in the villages, by such native Canadians as Robert Choquette, F. A. Savard, Claude Henri Grignon, Roger Lemelin, and Ringuet.

Although some novels were set in cities and the notable author Robert Charbonneau explored the psychological defeatism of his characters, the realistic regional novel about the simple Catholic community remained dominant until the 1950s. Important poets since 1914 include Clément Marchand, whose inspiration is often religious; Alfred DesRochers, who writes of the life of the soil; and Robert Choquette and Roger Brien, whose romantic lyrics are eloquently individualistic.

Following World War II there was evidence of a new, less self-conscious spirit. Poets and novelists, trying to settle the language problem, declared that pure French should be standard, with the use of Canadianisms accepted wherever these served a purpose. Although it was still possible to detect the influence of France, in the mid-20th cent. much creative writing in Canada, as elsewhere, was characterized by experiment with subject matter and technique.

From the 1970s to the 90s a nationalist focus in the novel was generally replaced with irony, skepticism, and universalism, reflecting developments in both Europe and the United States. Among noteworthy postwar novelists are Herbert Aquin, Yves Beauchemin, Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, Jacques Godbout, Gilbert La Rocque, Antonine Maillet, and Jacques Poulin. Among the poets are Michel Beaulieu, François Charron, Anne Hébert, Paul Marie Lapointe, Rina Lasnier, Gaston Miron, Yves Préfontaine, Jacques Godbout, and Jean Guy Pilon, the last two founding the literary magazine Liberté in 1959.


See I. F. Fraser, The Spirit of French Canada (1939); E. Wilson, O Canada (1964); A. J. M. Smith, ed., Modern Canadian Verse in English and French (1967); N. Story, The Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature (1967); R. Lecker and J. David, ed., Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors (7 vol., 1979–87).

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