Sunday, August 11, 2019

Fortnightly Book, August 11

These are the blazing days of summer, sunfire burning away all taste for work until there is nothing left but the ash of lassitude, and while I probably have some extra time in the next two weeks, I don't want to commit myself to any sort of highly involved work for the fortnightly book. So I've been giving some thought about what to do.

A few years back, MrsD had a readalong Louis Hémon's classic about French Canada, Maria Chapdelaine, in the original French (her reflection post here). I read along at the time, although I lagged behind enough not to be able to do any serious participation. But not too long after that I happened to pick up the best-known English translation, by William H. Blake, and it has been sitting in one of my bookpiles ever since. So Maria Chapdelaine in Blake's English translation will be the next book.

Louis Hémon did not have a spectacular life, nor did he have an extensive acquaintance with Canada. He was a French journalist; he had wanted to go into diplomatic service in the Far East, and had trained for that, but the French diplomatic service wanted to send him to Algeria, and that's the only reason he went into journalism. In that career he spent some time in London, and did reasonably well for some years, but eventually became bored and restless, and went to Québec because he had heard that employment was good there. His entire time in Canada would be less than two years. During the time he was working out the ideas for Maria Chapdelaine he was doing odd jobs on farms and, for a while, helped with laying track for the railroad. He sent the manuscript off to his sister in France to see if she could get it serialized. She did in fact -- it was published in 1914. But Hémon never knew that because he was run over by a train in July of 1913 at the age of thirty-two. (Nobody knew who he was, and they were only able to identify his body because he happened to be carrying a postal receipt at the time.) Maria Chapdelaine became quite popular, but most editions have been based on the published version, not the manuscript, and the published versions had been helpfully edited by the French editors to make the French more French (a true reporter, Hémon had filled much of his text with Quebecoisisms, or whatever the appropriate word for specifically the phrases and expressions of the Québécois). This includes Blake's 1921 translation. Such is the long reach of the editorial hand.

But it's the story itself that seems to have caught the interest of so many over so many years, about the young woman, Maria Chapdelaine, living on the frontier and faced with a choice among three suitors who represent three very different directions for French Canada, and thus three very different futures.

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