Study Guide

Mad Shadows

by Marie-Claire Blais

Mad Shadows Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mad Shadows, Blais’s first published work, created considerable controversy in Quebec. Many Canadian critics disliked it intensely; others thought it was astonishingly original and brilliant. Set in an unidentified time and place, the story begins on a train, as a young girl watches strangers become captivated by her brother’s beauty. The grotesque, erotic pleasure that the mother takes in her son’s physical beauty is matched only by her indifference toward her daughter, and it sets the tone for the tortured relationships that develop. In Mad Shadows, Blais explores what will become a theme in much of her later work: the creation of evil and the suffering of children caused by the failure of maternal love.

The world that Blais’s characters inhabit is dark and loveless. The first critics and readers were shocked by the utter depravity of the relationships between the mother, her lover, and her children and the starkness of the young author’s vision. Yet the power of her vision and poetic style were undeniable; she was awarded the Prix de la Langue Française from L’Académie Française for Mad Shadows in 1961.

The mother, Louise, an attractive, vain widow, adores and spoils her simple-minded son, Patrice, a reflection of herself. Dimly aware of his own beauty, Patrice seeks his unformed self in every mirrored surface, pond, and window. His sister, Isabelle-Marie, is not beautiful; wounded by her mother’s...

(The entire section is 585 words.)

Mad Shadows Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dufault, Roseanna Lewis. Acting Mothers: The Maternal Role in Recent Novels by Marie-Claire Blais and Anne Hébert. Ada: Ohio Northern University, 1997.

Gould, Karen L. “Geographies of Death and Dreams in Marie-Claire’s Soifs.” Quebec Studies 25 (Spring, 1998): 9-14.

Green, Mary Jean. Marie-Claire Blais. New York: Twayne, 1995.

Green, Mary Jean, et al., eds. “The Past Our Mother: Marie-Claire Blais and the Question of Women in the Quebec Canon.” In Postcolonial Subjects: Francophone Women Writers. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

McPherson, Karen S. Archaeologies of an Uncertain Future: Recent Generations of Canadian Women Writing. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2006.

Meigs, Mary. Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait. Vancouver, B.C.: Talonbooks, 1981.

Stratford, Philip. Marie-Claire Blais. Toronto: Forum House, 1971.