Literature in French: Scholarship and Teaching | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Literature in French: Scholarship and Teaching

The first substantial publication devoted to French Canadian literature was James Huston's Répertoire national (1848-50; repr 1982), a 4-volume annotated anthology of writings culled from early Québec newspapers.

Literature in French: Scholarship and Teaching

The first substantial publication devoted to French Canadian literature was James Huston's Répertoire national (1848-50; repr 1982), a 4-volume annotated anthology of writings culled from early Québec newspapers. During the period of increased literary activity known as the Mouvement littéraire de 1860, Laurent-Olivier David, Henri-Raymond CASGRAIN and Hector Fabre all published inspirational essays on the national literature, and Henry James Morgan's Bibliotheca canadensis (1867) included about 100 French-speaking authors. Early anthologies of poems and songs were compiled by Joseph Lenoir (1858), Antonin Nantel (1869) and Louis-Hippolyte Taché (1881).

During the 1870s, Casgrain, David, Adolphe-Basile Routhier and Louis-Michel Darveau composed bibliographical or satirical portraits of prominent contemporaries, many of whom were authors, and Edmond Lareau issued the first history, or catalogue, of Canadian literature in both English and French (1874). The death of Octave CRÉMAZIE in France in January 1879 prompted several articles on his work, and during the following decade Benjamin Sulte and Pierre-Joseph-Olivier CHAUVEAU published short historical accounts of the beginnings of French Canadian poetry. In general, however, 19th-century writing on Québec literature consisted of either anecdotal chronicles or moralizing comment, the latter typified by Casgrain's eulogistic essay on the novel ANGÉLINE DE MONTBRUN (1884) by Laure Conan (Félicité ANGERS).

Early 20th Century

In the early 20th century the study of Québec literature became more scholarly. Bibliophiles Philéas Gagnon and Narcisse-Eutrope Dionne compiled extensive bibliographies of Québec publications. Charles ab der Halden, a French academic, wrote articles and gave lectures in Paris on French Canadian authors; these he published as Études de littérature canadienne-française (1904) and Nouvelles Études ... (1907). Monseigneur Camille ROY, Québec's first literary historian to have studied the new discipline in Paris, began in 1902 to publish remarkably well-informed articles on contemporary Québec writers and on the early history of the literature. These were later incorporated into his numerous collections of essays, his classic study Nos origines littéraires (1909) and the successive printings of his influential Manuel d'histoire de la littérature canadienne-française (1907-62).

Another literary historian, Monseigneur Émile Chartier, attempted to synthesize the INTELLECTUAL HISTORY of his province in articles collected in La Vie de l'esprit au Canada français, 1760-1825 (1941). Genuine aesthetic criticism was rare except in the writings of Louis Dantin and Marcel Dugas. Up-to-date anthologies were compiled by Jules Fournier and Olivar Asselin (1920), Camille Roy (1934) and Guy SYLVESTRE (1942), and secondary-school manuals for the study of French Canadian literature were published by the Sisters of St Anne (1928) and the Brothers of the Christian Schools (1928).

Between the World Wars

Between the World Wars, several theses on French Canadian literature were submitted to French universities: those of Antoine Roy ("Les Lettres, les sciences et les arts au Canada sous le régime français," Paris, 1930) and Laurence A. Bisson ("Le Romantisme littéraire au Canada français," Bordeaux, 1932) are still consulted, as is Louis Le Jeune's Dictionnaire général ... (1931). Most studies of Québec literature published in the 1930s were impressionistic, but the group gathered around the magazine LA RELÈVE took an intellectual and universalist position. Serious histories of POETRY (1933) and the NOVEL (1937) were written by Albert Dandurand; an American, Ian Forbes Fraser, compiled the first systematic bibliography of French Canadian poetry (1935), and Jane Mason Turnbull published the best study in English, Essential Traits of French-Canadian Poetry (1938). Annual surveys of Québec writing began to appear: the Bulletin bibliographique of the Société des écrivains canadiens (1937-59) and the Letters in Canada issue of UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, which began to include French Canadian letters in 1937.

WWII to 1950s

During WWII publication declined, but Séraphin Marion's Les Lettres canadiennes d'autrefois (9 vols, 1939-58) continued to appear. The Archives de folklore de l'Université Laval (1944), the Institut d'histoire de l'Amérique française (1945) and the Bibliographical Society of Canada (1946) were founded. As the war ended Marcel Trudel's thesis "L'Influence de Voltaire au Canada" (1945) and Jeanne Paul-Crouzet's "Poésie au Canada" opened a new period of more rigorous study. The 1950s saw the publication of numerous bibliographical guides by Gustave Lanctot (1951), Marie Tremaine (1952), Gérard Martin (1954), Antonio Drolet (1955), Philippe Garigue (1956) and Gérard Tougas (1958). The outstanding publications of the decade were Luc Lacourcière's critical edition of the poems of Émile NELLIGAN and Auguste Viatte's Histoire littéraire de l'Amérique française ... (1954), a pioneering comparative study.

Since 1960

The tremendous upsurge in Québec literary production since 1960 has been accompanied by an unprecedented growth of bibliographical, literary-historical and critical activity. The founding of the Centre de recherche en civilisation canadienne-française at the University of Ottawa in 1958 was followed by the creation of similar research centres in Québec universities. Major undertakings such as the DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN BIOGRAPHY (established 1959), Adrien Thério's annual panorama Livres et Auteurs québécois (1961-82) and the scholarly series "Archives des lettres canadiennes" (1961- ), directed by Paul Wyczynski, mark the beginnings of contemporary Québec literary scholarship. The Bibliothèque nationale du Québec (established 1968) implemented a wide-ranging program of bibliographical research and publication. Learned journals such as Incidences (1962-69; Co-Incidences after 1971), PARTI PRIS, (1963-68), Études françaises (1965- ), Études littéraires (1968- ), Voix et Images (1975- ), Jeu and Lettres québécoises (1976- ) have published articles, interviews and documents.

Since 1960 all forms of literary study have been actively pursued in Québec. Dozens of anthologies have appeared for individual authors (Arthur BUIES, Albert LABERGE), for particular genres (Laurent Mailhot and Pierre Nepveu, La Poésie québécoise des origines à nos jours, 1980), or for the whole literature (Gilles MARCOTTE, Anthologie de la littérature québécoise, 4 vols, 1978-80). Numerous bibliographies have been compiled by John Hare (in several volumes of Archives des lettres canadiennes), by André Beaulieu and Jean Hamelin (La Presse québécoise ..., 10 vols to date), by Pierre Pagé and Renée Legris for radio and television scripts, and by the staff of the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec in various fields. Each volume of the Dictionnaire des oeuvres littéraires du Québec (1978- ) contains extensive bibliographies of authors and literary periods. Modern histories of Québec literature have been published by Gérard Tougas (1960), Pierre de Grandpré et al (1967-69) and Laurent Mailhot (1974), and a 5-volume history, La Vie littéraire au Québec, 1764-1914, is in preparation at Laval University.

Biographical or Critical Studies

Biographical or critical studies of dozens Québec writers are now available. Réjean Robidoux and André Renaud (1966), Maurice Lemire (1970), Gérard BESSETTE (1973), Gilles Marcotte (1976), André Belleau (1980), Jacques Pelletier (1991), Ben-Zion Shek (1991) and others have written important studies of the Québec novel; Paul Wyczynski (1965), Gilles Marcotte (1969) and Pierre Nepveu (1979), Richard Giguère (1984), Caroline Bayard (1989) and Joseph Bonenfant (1992) have published major works on Québec poetry; and Jean-Cléo Godin and Laurent Mailhot (1970, 1980), Leonard E. Doucette (1984), Pierre Lavoie (1985) and Rémi Torangeau (1985) have contributed significantly to our knowledge of Québec theatre. Numerous critical editions of the outstanding works of Québec authors have now appeared, many of them in the collection Bibliothèque du Nouveau Monde, directed by Roméo Arbour, Jean-Louis Major and Laurent Mailhot. The fiftieth anniversary of the death of the poet Émile Nelligan was marked in 1991 by the publication of a monumental critical edition of the poet's works by Paul Wyczynski, Réjean Robidoux and Jacques Michon. A multivolume critical edition of the works of the historian François-Xavier GARNEAU is about to appear.

Franco-Ontarian writing has been extensively studied (1978-83) by Réne Dionne and Acadian literature by Marguerite Maillet et al (1979). Francophone authors from these traditions as well as those from Québec are included in the book Dictionnaire des auteurs de langue française en Amérique du Nord (1989), prepared by Réginald Hamel, John Hare and Paul Wyczynski.

Marginal Element

Despite the early efforts of Monseigneur Roy, French Canadian literature had been a marginal element of French literary studies in Québec university courses until the 1950s. During the following decade programs of specialization in French Canadian studies were established at Laval, Montréal, McGill and Sherbrooke universities, and at the new UNIVERSITÉ DU QUÉBEC from its founding in 1968. Québec literature now rivals French literature as the subject of study and of thesis research in Québec universities. Elsewhere in Canada undergraduate courses in French Canadian literature began in the 1930s or 1940s and graduate study in the 1950s, but on a more limited scale than in Québec. The exception is the University of Ottawa, whose Centre de recherche... is a leading centre of research and publication. In recent years Canadian COMPARATIVE LITERATURE (English and French) has become a popular field of study, particularly at the universities of Sherbrooke and Alberta.