Popular Literature in French | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Popular Literature in French

Michel Tremblay, writer
Michel Tremblay's diverse writings include novels, plays, musical comedies and translations (photo by Andrew Danson).

Popular Literature in French

Popular literature in French is an urban phenomenon born in the industrialization of the turn of the 20th century, includes many types of writing: adventure and historical NOVELS, detective and spy stories, romantic novels, even "morally uplifting" literature (lives of saints, apologias, or the Journal of Gérard Raymond). In 1923 publisher Édouard Garand decided to fight the success of the American "dime novel" in Québec by bringing out a collection of his own. The series, called "Le Roman canadien," published monthly novels by, among others, Jean Féron, Ubald Paquin and Alexandre Huot that glorified patriotism and conservative ideology.

A craze for weekly 32-page serials was born in 1941 with the series Les Aventures policières d'Albert Brien, détective national des Canadiens français. In 1948 Imprimerie Judiciaire alone published 8 series. Between 1947 and 1966, Pierre Saurel (pseudonym of Pierre Daigneault) published, through that same company, 934 Aventures étranges de l'agent IXE-13, l'as des espions canadiens. The sentimental novel did not pay off as handsomely. From 1940 to 1960, Les plus belles histoires d'amour, with its sermons on the virtues of marriage, family, suffering and submission, was practically the only series aimed at women.

Today, although Canadian HARLEQUIN romances are popular, foreign multinationals control the market in this genre. The 250 000 photo-romances bought every month in Québec are also foreign, usually Italian, in origin. Television, the growing popularity of the paperback and foreign book dumping have all combined to kill off local production. The specialized collections of detective stories are at their last gasp. Writers known for this genre include Pierre Saurel, "Le Munchot," Claude JASMIN and Chrystine Brouillet.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

 In 19th-century Québec newspapers and magazines, short stories mixed the natural with the supernatural, never setting them in opposition to each other - the main criterion of fantasy. Fantasy, itself more than a genre, is woven right into a story, and today Jacques FERRON, Anne HÉBERT, Jacques BENOÎT and Michel TREMBLAY all add elements of fantasy to works otherwise not fantastic. Science fiction was flourishing in English-speaking countries long before it developed in Québec.

Despite a few series - IXE-13 for one - and the occasional publication of a novel, it took the QUIET REVOLUTION and the new emphasis on science to boost science fiction. Some authors (eg, Louky Bersianik, François Barcelo, Claire de Lamirande, Roger de Roches) use the genre as a pretext for speculation or social criticism; others (eg, Jean Tétreau, Emmanuel Cocke) play at it as dilettantes.

Authors who devote themselves to science fiction or fantasy (Esther Rochon, Élisabeth Vonarburg, Jean-Pierre April, Michel Bélil, Daniel Sernine and René Beaulieu) appeared with, or after, the magazines Requiem (founded 1974, renamed Solaris 1979), which organized writing workshops, a story competition and an annual convention, "Boréal"; and Imagine ..., publishing only science fiction. There are also 2 specialized collections: "Nuits d'encre" (fantasy), published by Desclez, and "Chroniques du futur," from Le Préambule. There is an effort underway to make Québec science fiction regularly available, as it was with the Volpek (Yves THÉRIAULT) and Unipax (Maurice Gagnon) series published by Lidec in the 1960s.

Comic Strips

Unlike the other forms of popular literature, comic strips appeared in Québec at the same time as they did elsewhere. Raoul Barré first published "Pour un dîner de Noël" in 1902 in La Presse. That paper fought with La Patrie for control of the market. "Le Père Ladébauche" by La Presse editorial cartoonist Albéric Bourgeois was one of the few strips to withstand the syndicates which, after 1910, began providing the world's newspapers with their daily comics.

"Onésime," by Albert Chartier, first appeared in 1944 in the Bulletin des agriculteurs, and his "Séraphin illustré" (an adaptation of C.H. GRIGNON's Un homme et son péché) followed, 1951-70; "Ti-Prince," a sequel to "Séraphin," began in Bonnes soirées in 1955. Apart from these, the Québec comic strip, until the end of the Quiet Revolution, consisted of Histoire en images (1919-36), published by the ST-JEAN-BAPTISTE SOCIETY, and the Fides comics for schoolchildren (1944-65, François, Claire, Hérauts). These moralizing strips were usually foreign in origin. With few exceptions, daily papers would not give space to Québec comics.

The comic-strip boom coincided with the student and counterculture explosion of the late 1960s. The Chiendent group (1968), led by Claude Haeffely and André Montpetit, encouraged the creation of strips, and Le Magazine Maclean and Perspectives published the first ones. Pierre Dupras, Québec-Presse cartoonist, published a few collections in 1970 and 1971. Some short-lived magazines burst on the scene; for example BD, L'Hydrocéphale Illustré, L'Écran. Robert Lavaill and Léandre Bergeron had a smash hit with their Histoire du Québec.

In 1972 the publishing house L'Hydrocéphale Entêté started the co-operative Les Petits Dessins, which in 1974 turned out 6 daily strips for the newspaper Le Jour. It did not last long. In 1973 La Presse ran 2 Québec comic strips daily: "Les Microbes" by Michel Tassé and "Rodolphe" by Bernèche.

Québec comic strips then divided into 2 main tendencies. The information bulletin and publishing house, BDK, and Prisme and Baloune magazines (the latter the heir to Mainmise) encourage experiments outside the usual rigid commercial format. Croc magazine has published humorous comic strips since 1979 and, in 1982, put out books by Réal Godbout and Jacques Hurtubise but discontinued its magazine Titanic after a few issues. Cocktail (1981-82) ran classic as well as Québec strips. The young publishing house Ovale has marketed the adventures of characters such as Humphrey Beauregard and Ray Gliss.

But commercial publishers are also looking for new readers. Some of them (Mondia, Mirabel, Ovale, Ville Marie) want to take over part of the market, which is now 95% foreign controlled. Since 1973, books based on children's programs (Capitaine Bonhomme, Bobino et Bobinette) have been flooding the market. La Presse cartoonist Jean-Pierre Girerd has tried comic strips (On a volé la Coupe Stanley) with little success. In 1981 Henri Desclez, who had been editor in chief of Tintin magazine and later worked for Éditions Héritage (which published "Nic et Pic" by Serge Wilson and Claude Poirier; "Monsieur Petitbois" by Bastien) produced a series of comics, the first volume being Atlantic City by Cedric Loth and Pierre Montour. Nevertheless, it is difficult and expensive for Québec publishers to succeed.


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