Antonine Maillet 1929–
Canadian dramatist, novelist, short story writer, non-fiction writer, and author of children's books.
The following entry presents an overview of Maillet's career through 1996. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volume 54.
Maillet was the first author to write in the Acadian vernacular, a language derived from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century French. Her body of work helped define the Acadian culture, a culture which, over two hundred years, successive governmental powers have tried to destroy. Her best-known work, Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979) dramatizes the exodus that occurred in Canada after the British destroyed a settlement of French-speaking Acadians in 1755 and dispersed the people along the eastern coast of North America. Some, such as the Cajun in Louisiana, formed new settlements, but many surreptitiously made their way back to Canada.
Maillet was born May 10, 1929, in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, Canada. Both her father, Leonide, and her mother, Viriginie, were schoolteachers. She was educated at various religious schools before obtaining a B.A. from College Notre Dame d'Acadie in 1950. Over the next several years, alternating between periods of teaching and study, Maillet wrote her first two plays—Entr'Acte (1957) and Poire-Acre (1958)—before obtaining her M.A. from the University of Mocton in 1959, a LL.D. from the University of Montreal in 1962, and a Ph.D. from Laval University in 1970. Her doctoral dissertation examined the influences of François Rabelais in Acadian folklore, especially his earthy humor.
Maillet's first novel, Pointe-aux-coques (1958), is a semi-autobiographical story about her youth in New Brunswick and was awarded the Prix Champlain. Her next novel, On a mange la dune (1962), is seen by many as an extended metaphor for the isolation of the Acadian experience. The main character is a young Acadian girl whose perspective of the world is limited to the dunes surrounding her small village. Maillet's interest in Acadian folklore can be seen in her short story collection Par derrière chez mon père (1972) and the novel Don l'Orignal (1972), both of which are adaptations of Acadian folk tales. In Mariaagélas (1973) and Crache-à-pic (1984) Maillet presents larger-than-life female main characters, both who are Acadian bootleggers. Many see these women as refutations of the retiring, submissive Evangeline, the Acadian heroine of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's epic poem of that name. Maillet confronts Longfellow's Evangeline head-on in her play Evangéline Duesse (1976), wherein her heroine openly scoffs at the actions of the poet's character. In Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979), Maillet uses the title metaphor (translated as Pélagic: The Return to a Homeland in 1982) to present a story of Acadian exodus. Pélagie, an Acadian uprooted in the dispersal of 1755, decides to return to her homeland after fifteen years of working the fields in Georgia. The novel depicts her epic journey, spanning over two thousand miles and ten years, as she leads a growing band of Acadians and other refugees to their northern promised land. Pélagie herself is the cart as she carries her clans along on this exodus with wit, courage, determination, and love.
Maillet's is the first writer living outside France to receive the Acadèmie Goncourt annual prize for literature. She has generally enjoyed the favor of critics throughout her career and her initial body of work, written in the Acadian dialect and focusing on the Acadian experience, is praised as new and authentic. Her protagonists are poor, illiterate, and in some ways naive, yet portrayed with a folksy wisdom and persevering spirit. Maillet skillfully incorporates the folktales of Acadia in her storylines and uses multiple narrators to recreate the feeling of the oral story-telling experience. As her body of work developed, many of her characters reappeared in subsequent stories. This led some critics to suggest that her work was becoming predictable and repetitive, limited to the small scale of the Acadian experience. But the grand scope of Pélagie the Cart showed that Maillet is capable of painting on a larger canvas. The novel rises to the level of historical saga, encompassing the ten years of Pélagie's return to her homeland, as well as the issues of slavery in the South and the beginnings of the American Revolution. The novel operates on several levels: an adventure, an Acadian folktale, and an allegorical tale about the triumph of the spirit. Several critics see the earthy humor of Rabelais in the novel, as well as a revisitation of the Bible's story of Exodus, with Pélagie as Moses (and his wife). Paul G. Socken says, "Pélagie-la-Charrette, like the Bible, operates on two levels—those of sacred text and historical document; that is, the novel affirms elements of faith which are shared by a people and purports to be historically accurate. As sacred text, both are imbued with ritual, embody symbolism and imply a mission or destiny. As historical document, they are rooted in time and place and chronicle real events." Pélagie begins Maillet's process of expanding the Acadian experience in a manner that speaks to universal truths.
Entr'Acte (play) 1957
Poire-Acre (play) 1958
Pointe-aux-coques (novel) 1958
Bulks de Savon (play) 1959
Les Jeux d'enfants sont faits (play) 1960
On a mange la dune (novel) 1962
Les Crasseux (novel) 1968
∗La Sagouine (radio script) 1970–1971
Don l'Orignal (novel) 1972 [translated by Barbara Godard as The Tale of Don l'Orignal, 1978]
Par derrière chez mon père (short stories) 1972
La Sagouine (play) 1972
L'Acadie pour quasiment rien [with Rita Scalabrini] (essays) 1973
Gapi et Sullivan [translated by Luis Cespedes as Gapi and Sullivan] (novel) 1973
Mariaagélas (novel) 1973; (play) 1973 [translated by Ben-Zion Shek as Mariaagelas: Maria, Daughter of Gelas, 1986]
Les Crasseux (play) 1974
Emmanuel a Joseph a Davit (novel) 1975
Evangeline Deusse (novel) 1975; (play) 1976
Les Cordes-de-bois (novel) 1977
La Veuve enragée (novel) 1977; (play) 1977
Le Bourgeois Gentleman (novel) 1978; (play) 1978
Pélagie-la-Charrette (novel) 1979; translated by Philip Stratford as Pélagie: The Return to a Homeland 1982
Cent ans dans les bois (novel) 1981
La Contrebandiere (novel) 1981)
Les Drolatiques, Homfiques et Epouvantables Aventures de Panurge, ami de Pantagruel, d'après Rabelais...
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SOURCE: "Antonine Maillet and the Prix Goncourt," in Canadian Modern Language Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, March 1980, pp. 392-96.
[Shek provides an overview of Maillet's work, praising her style and use of language.]
Late in November, 1979, the Académie Goncourt announced that its prestigious annual prize for literature had been awarded to Antonine Maillet, the prominent Acadian novelist, playwright and short-story writer. This was the first time that the coveted honor, created in 1874 by the will of Edmond de Goncourt, (who, with his brother Jules, was a pioneer of the naturalist novel) was offered to a writer living outside France. Antonine Maillet won it for her novel Pélagie-la-charrette published in Montreal by Leméac and in Paris by Grasset.
Before having affixed to her name the label "Prix Goncourt", Antonine Maillet was best known as the author of the brilliant, moving and expressive series of dramatic monologues, La Sagouine, written in the rhythmic and colorful Acadian dialect of the Bouctouche region of New Brunswick, where she was born. This ancient speech (only slightly sprinkled with anglicisms and names of commercial products by La Sagouine), nearly extinct today, was brought to North America in the 16th and 17th centuries by the colons of Poitou and Touraine. Its peculiar morphology, phonetic system and lexicon were rendered inimitable by the...
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SOURCE: "Space and Time in the Plays of Antonine Maillet," in Modern Drama, Vol. XXV, No. 1, March, 1982, pp. 46-59.
[Gobin analyzes the recurring themes in Maillet's plays, emphasizing the author's written word, rather than the production of the plays.]
Antonine Maillet's dual careers, as novelist and playwright, have been developing in parallel for some twenty years now. She began as a novelist with Pointe-aux-Coques in 1958, and also achieved her greatest success with a novel, Pélagie-la-Charrette, which won the Goncourt Prize in 1979. However, her most memorable character, La Sagouine, was created for the stage, and around her a mythical universe has developed. The stage has also provided the medium which enabled Maillet to articulate most coherently a complex Weltanschauung. For the stage she has created a concert of voices and characters (as Godin has shown to be the case in Évangéline Deusse), as well as a succession of monologues in which the narrator/performer explores her memories and her perceptions just as one sight-reads a score—rehearses them, redefines and modulates them. She has also developed a dual intertextual network: the external, explicitly referred to by the author writing as critic; and the internal, reaching from one play to another, with echoes and allusions, or reworking the same "score" in successive versions.
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SOURCE: "Last Story-Teller," in Waves, Vol. 14, No. 4, Spring, 1986, pp. 93-95.
[In the following interview conducted on November 3, 1985, on the occassion of the Canada-in-Commonwealth conference held at Acadia University, Jacquot talks with Maillet about her background and motivation for writing.]
Looking at the Grand-Pré dikes, Antonine Maillet says: "I was here when the Acadians were deported, I was in the blood of my ancestors." And she has decided to write their story because they had no way to do so.
Antonine Maillet is the last of a generation of story-tellers and the first one of a generation of writers. It is because of that deeply rooted need to tell that her books are stories. She has published 20 books including novels, plays and stories for children. She has received 13 honorary doctorates and many literary awards, namely the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 1979 with Pélagie la Charette. I interviewed her a few miles from Grand-Pré, on her land, as she put it, on the occasion of the Canada-in-Commonwealth conference held at Acadia University on November 3, 1985, to which she had been invited to read from her works.
[Jacquot:] Is it because you consider yourself as the last story-teller that you are so much attracted to the past?
[Maillet:] I am not that much attracted to the past. I mean, the past becomes important to me...
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SOURCE: "Antonine Maillet and the Epic Heroine," in Traditionalism, Nationalism, and Feminism: Women Writers of Quebec, edited by Paula Gilbert Lewis, Greenwood Press, 1985, pp. 141-55.
[In the following essay, Fitzpatrick examines the female roles in several of Maillet's novels.]
Traditionalist, feminist, nationalist—how is one to classify the broad range of Antonine Maillet's important female characters? The answer has to be: partly each, yet not exclusively any of the above. At the risk of offending partisans of all three groups, I suggest that the wonderfully gifted Maillet—surely one of the best storytellers writing in French today—has simultaneously transcended the confining stereotypes of traditionalism, the humorlessness of some feminism, and the narrow vision of fanatic nationalism. At the same time, no author currently writing has created women who are at once more classically feminine, more liberated … and more Acadian.
How has Maillet achieved this remarkable synthesis? One thinks, of course, of her humor and her narrative genius, but in addition there is the striking use she makes of female protagonists. When one examines their characters, personalities, objectives, and actions, it is clear that many of these women have much in common with the typically male epic hero. Indeed, "heroine" seems almost too derivative a word to apply to these strong, memorable figures....
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SOURCE: "Pélagie-la-Carrette and Antonine Maillet's Epic Voices," in Explorations: Essays in Comparative Literature, edited by Makoto Ueda, University Press of America, 1986, pp. 211-226.
[In the following essay Arésu traces the development of Maillet's artistic voice and vision.]
In 1979, Antonine Maillet, the Canadian novelist, playwright and critic, received the French establishment's most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. This award was the capstone of a series of widely acclaimed and brilliantly crafted works that had preceded her last book, Pélagie-la-Charrette. It may first be appropriate to remark that her first novel was not, as the ethnocentric publisher of Pélagie may lead the unsuspecting reader to believe, Mariaagélas, actually her ninth volume. As of 1973, the date of Mariaagélas' first edition, Mrs. Maillet had indeed already three other novels in print, as well as a collection of short stories, two plays, a humoristic presentation of the history and civilization of Acadia in the form of a very unconventional tourist guide, not to mention her published doctoral dissertation on Rabelais and the oral traditions of Acadia. Between Mariaagélas and Pélagie-la-Charrette, the author published another three plays, one of which the now famous La Sagouine, and three novels. One of the latter, Les Cordes-de-Bois...
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SOURCE; "Antonine Maillet's Eternal Return of the Acadian Character," in Quill & Quire, Vol. 52, No. 6, June, 1986, p. 37.
[In the review below, Homel praises The Devil is Loose, the English translation of Crache-à-pic.]
Beginning in 1755 an event occurred that the Acadians, with wry understatement, call le grand dérangement—"the big disruption"—their expulsion from their homeland in eastern Canada. Was the action directed from Britain, or was it a local initiative? Antonine Maillet, Acadia's best-known writer, is unsure which of the two versions is correct. But the themes of exile and return nourished her writing throughout her career as novelist and playwright. Two more of her novels were published in English translations last month: The Devil Is Loose by Lester & Orpen Dennys and Mariaagélas by Simon & Pierre. Though Mariaagélas was first published—in French—13 years before Devil, both books use the stuff of legend and oral tradition to express timeless Acadian themes.
Maillet lives on the avenue Antonine-Maillet in Montreal's Outremont district. Few writers in this country can boast of streets named on their behalf. "It was a product of circumstances," she explains. "Six or seven years ago there was a drive to find French names for some of the streets in this part of town. I had just won the Prix Goncourt, so some...
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SOURCE: "The Bible and Myth in Antonine Maillet's Pélagie-la-Charrette," in Studies in Canadian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 2, Summer, 1987, pp. 187-98.
[In the following essay, Socken delineates in great detail the mythical elements and biblical parallels in Maillet's Pélagie-la-Charrette.]
The parallels between Pélagie's return to Acadia from exile in Georgia and events in the Hebrew Bible are striking and revealing. The story is the Biblical account of the exodus in a modern context enhanced and reinforced by elements of mythology.
The many similarities to the Biblical account are in some cases direct, in others, indirect. I propose to make these parallels clear and to suggest associations with some major motifs of world mythology in order to show how the dominant theme and images confer a larger—possibly universal—meaning on the narrative.
The novel represents the fusion of chronological time (Acadian history) and mythical time (the eternal cycle of perpetual life), and of Biblical imagery and that of ancient mythology. So too there is fusion on a spiritual level of the profane and the sacred, as the Acadians are portrayed as deceptively irreverent, for their rebirth reaffirms the principle of destiny and divine mission.
The general structure of the narrative loosely follows the Biblical text. The first chapters introduce us to...
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SOURCE: "Narrative, Carnival, and Parody: Intertextuality in Antonine Maillet's Pélagte-la-Charrette," in Canadian Literature, No. 118, Spring, 1988, pp. 43-56.
[In the following essay, Lacombe examines the references to Longfellow and Rabelais in Maillet's novel.]
According to Linda Hutcheon, the intertext is generated by a reader who recognizes, responds to, and activates the textual referents brought into alignment by the author in a contract with the reader. As with any self-reflexive text, Antonine Maillet's epic novel Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979) is brought into being, in the reader's mind or experience, by the interplay of three factors: text (in this case the unique combination of story and narrative that is signalled by the hyphenated title); context (historical referents, here specifically pertaining to the survival of the Acadians); and intertext (the sum total of allusions, influences, parallels, and comparisons, both implicit and explicit, with other texts). The foregoing quotations from the novel suggest that the relation of identity to fiction is a central paradox explored by Pélagie; according to Maillet, in a comment which echoes both Jacques Ferron and Gilles Vigneault, "mon pays c'est un conte." Into this known equation she introduces a new element: if Acadie survives primarily through its storytellers, and if Maillet literally finds herself situated at the...
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SOURCE: "Antonine Maillet and the Construction of Acadian Identity," in Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers, edited by Mary Jean Green, Karen Gould, Micheline Rice-Maximin, Keith L. Walker, and Jack A. Yeager, University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp. 3-21.
[In the essay below, Briere argues the case for interpreting Pélagie-la-charrette as a feminist epic.]
Although North American historical and literary discourse has spoken about Acadians, only in this century have Acadians begun to speak about themselves, in their mother tongue. The silencing of Acadians is a project that began with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. With its signing, Acadie became Nova Scotia, ushering in attempts to eradicate the French presence in the colony. French-speaking Acadians would be assimilated by the British colonizer; failing that, they would be deported. The novels of Antonine Maillet are part of a project by the French of North America to construct a language-based identity that defines their New World experience. No longer silent objects of discourse, Maillet's Acadian characters become speaking subjects. Moreover, Antonine Maillet has created not only a linguistic homeland for Acadians but a space for the emergence of feminine discourse, contesting genealogies of gender on which supremacy has rested. Thus, with Maillet's works a new space of cultural significance opens up within the Canadian national...
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Weiss, Jonathan M. "Acadia Transplanted: The Importance of Evangéline Deusse in the Work of Antonine Maillet." Colby Literary Quarterly XIII, No. 3 (September 1977): 173-85.
Discusses the development of Acadian themes in Maillet's works leading up to Evangéline Deusse and examines how Maillet broadens the Acadian exile experience to a universal view.
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