Anne Hébert | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Anne Hébert

Anne Hébert, CC, poet, playwright, novelist (born 1 August 1916 in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault, QC; died 22 January 2000 in Montréal). A Companion of the Order of Canada, a member of the Royal Society of Canada, and a three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award, Anne Hébert's career was founded on a disciplined life devoted to writing. Her poetry and prose are models for other writers and have been analysed in hundreds of studies, particularly in Québec, but also in France and English Canada.
Anne Hébert, poet, playwright, novelist
Anne Hébert writing poetry, La Fontaine Park, Montreal (courtesy SSC Photocentre/Phototeque).

Early Life and Family Background

Hébert’s father, Maurice, was a provincial civil servant and writer, and guided her in the early stages of her literary career. Through her mother, Hébert was a descendant of 19th-century historian François-Xavier Garneau and carried on the family's literary tradition. She was also cousin and friend of Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, whose poetry affected her deeply and whose lonely death in late 1943 strongly influenced her. From that point, she felt impelled to open revolt, as her subsequent writings demonstrate.

Early Career

Hébert grew up, studied and lived in Québec City until her mid-30s. From 1950 to 1954, she worked on Radio-Canada broadcasts and wrote scripts for the National Film Board. She then went to Paris on a scholarship where, with frequent visits to Québec, she lived for the next 30 years.

Hébert's road to maturity as a poet had three stages. In 1942, she published her first collection, Les Songes en équilibre, in which she portrays herself as existing in a dreamlike torpor. In her 1953 collection, Le Tombeau des rois, the self triumphs over the powerful dead who rule our dreams. Finally, in 1960 (when Québec was in the spring of the Quiet Revolution), the powerful verse of “Mystère de la parole” from her Governor General’s Award-winning collection Poèmes, reveals the liberated self.

Her first volume of prose, Le Torrent (1950), shocked the reading public. The violence in things left unsaid and the values of a Québec society in upheaval disconcerted several publishers, but it has since become a classic.


Hébert’s first novel, Les Chambres de bois (1958), contained particularly original imagery, exploring mortally constrained worlds in which interaction is based on brutal passion and primitive violence. But it was not until 1970 that Hébert convincingly demonstrated her virtuosity in the great novel Kamouraska, where she skillfully combines two plots in a 19th-century Québec setting. The writing has a breathless, anguished and romantic rhythm that underlines well-controlled suspense. The novel earned Hébert France’s Prix des Libraires and the Royal Belgian Academy’s Prix littéraire hors de France (1971). It was made into a film by director Claude Jutra from a screenplay on which she collaborated. Like almost all of Hébert's works, Kamouraskahas been translated into English.

In Les Enfants du sabbat (1975), Hébert tells a tale of sorcery in Québec. The novel won her a second Governor General’s Award as well as the Prix de l'Académie française in 1976. She also received the Prix de la fondation Pierre-de-Monaco in 1976 for her body of work.

Héloïse (1980) is about ghost-vampires in the Paris subway. Les Fous de Bassan, which won the Prix Fémina in 1982 and was turned into a film by Yves Simoneau in 1986, is set in Gaspé, where two teenagers from an Anglo-Protestant village are killed.

Final Years

Hébert wrote several plays, published as Le Temps sauvage; in the title play a mother vainly attempts to shield her children from the outside world. Hébert is thought to have dedicated her last years to further distilling her style and exploring the world of dreams and mystery through her characters and poetry (Le Premier jardin, 1988; L'Enfant chargé de songes, 1992; Le Jour n'a d'égal que la nuit, 1992). Her last work was the prophetically titled Un habit de lumière.

Anne Hébert received honorary doctorates from the University of Toronto (1969), the University of Guelph (1970), l’Université du Québec à Montréal (1979), McGill University (1980), and l’Université Laval (1983). Her papers are housed at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.


  • Prix Athanase David (Les Songes en équilibre, 1943)
  • Prix Québec-Paris (Les Chambres de bois, 1958)
  • Prix Ludger-Duvernay (1958)
  • Governor General’s Award (for Poèmes, 1960)
  • Molson Prize (1968)
  • Companion of the Order of Canada (1968)
  • Prix des Libraires de France (for Kamouraska, 1971)
  • Prix de l'Académie royale de Belgique (for Kamouraska, 1971)
  • Governor General’s Award (for Les Enfants du sabbat, 1975)
  • Prix Prince-Pierre-de-Monaco (1976)
  • Prix Athanase-David (1978)
  • Prix Fémina (for Les Fous de Bassan, 1982)
  • Médaille de l'Académie des lettres du Québec (1984)
  • Prix littéraire Canada-Communauté française de Belgique (1988)
  • Grand prix de l'écriture S.T. Dupont (1989)
  • Governor General’s Award (for L'enfant chargé de songes, 1992)
  • Prix Alain-Grandbois (for Le jour n'a d'égal que la nuit, 1993)
  • Prix Gilles-Corbeil (1994)
  • Prix Jean-Hamelin (for Un habit de lumière, 1999)



  • Les chambres de bois (1958; tr. The Silent Rooms by Kathy Mezei, 1975)
  • Kamouraska (1970; tr. Kamouraska by Norman Shapiro, 1973)
  • Les enfants du sabbat (1975; tr. Children of the Black Sabbath by Carol Dunlop-Hébert, 1977)
  • Héloïse (1980)
  • Les fous de Bassan (1982; tr.In the Shadow of the Wind by Sheila Fischman, 1983)
  • Le premier jardin (1988; tr. The First Garden by Sheila Fischman, 1990)
  • L'enfant chargé de songes (1992; tr. Burden of Dreams by Sheila Fischman, 1994)
  • Est-ce que je te derange ? (1998; tr. Am I disturbing you? by Sheila Fischman, 1999)
  • Un habit de lumière (1999; tr. A Suit of Light by Sheila Fischman, 2000)


  • Les songes en équilibre (1942)
  • Le tombeau des rois (1953)
  • Poèmes (1960; tr. Poems by Anne Hébert by Alan Brown, 1975)
  • Anne Hébert: Selected Poems (tr. by A Poulin, Jr., 1987)
  • Le jour n'a d'égal que la nuit (1992; tr. Day Has No Equal But the Nigh tby Lola Lemire Tostevin,1997)
  • Oeuvre poétique (1993)
  • Poèmes pour la main gauche (1997)

Short stories and novellas

  • Le torrent (1945; tr. The Torrent by Gwendolyn Moore, 1973)
  • Aurélien, Clara, Mademoiselle et le Lieutenant anglais (1995; tr. Aurélien, Clara, Mademoiselle, and the English Lieutenant by Sheila Fischman, 1996)


  • La Mercière assassinée (1958; tr. The Murdered Shopkeeper by Eugene Benson and Renate Benson, 1984)
  • Le temps sauvage (1963; tr. The Unquiet State by Eugene Benson and Renate Benson, 1988)
  • Les Invités au Procès (1967; tr. The Guests on Trial by Eugene Benson and Renate Benson, 1983)
  • La Cage, suivi de L'Île de la Demoiselle (1990; tr. The Cage and L’Île de la demoiselle by Pamela Grant, Gregory J. Reid and Sheila Fischman, 2010)

Film scripts

  • L'Éclusier (1953)
  • The Charwoman (1954)
  • Midinette (1955)
  • La Canne à pêche (1959)
  • Saint-Denys Garneau (1960)
  • L'Étudiant (1961)
  • Kamouraska (1973)
  • Les Fous de Bassan (1987)

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