In Kamouraska by Anne Hébert, would you have viewed Elisabeth differently had she not been in love with Dr. George Nelson, and if she herself had killed her first husband in reaction to his long-term abuse?

In Anne Hébert’s novel Kamouraska, Elisabeth is responsible for her husband’s murder and for manipulating both Nelson and her servant. She is a selfish, unappealing character who rationalizes her actions by her belief in true love more than by his abuse. If she had reacted on the spot, killing him would probably have been justified as self-defense. Instead, her conspiracy is cold-blooded and premeditated.

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The character of Elisabeth in Kamouraska does not elicit much empathy from the reader. Although she conspired to commit murder, she seems to have experienced very few negative consequences from having her first husband, Tassy, killed. Knowing that he married a killer, her current husband, Rolland, fears coming to a similar end himself. Her lover, Nelson, who actually carried out the killing, apparently had second thoughts and subsequently abandoned her.

Overall, Elisabeth comes across as a person whose emotional development was arrested at an early age. Author Anne Hébert does not fully clarify the extent to which Elisabeth’s immaturity was connected to the lack of emotional fulfillment in her abusive first marriage. Elisabeth continues to seem in love with the idea of love. She has apparently never stopped loving Nelson—as the child he fathered is her favorite—even though he left her to face the consequences alone when he returned to the United States. The notion of true love, more than the need to escape the abuse, provides the rationalization for premeditated homicide.

In modern times, spousal abuse is often considered grounds for a self-defense plea. Often, this means that the spouse reacted at the moment they were physically threatened. However, a delayed reaction also may be associated with self-defense, sometimes in association with post-traumatic stress.

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