Anne Hébert was born on August 1, 1916, at her family’s summer home in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault. She was the daughter of Marguerite Marie Tache and Maurice-Lang Hébert, a provincial official in nearby Quebec City, Canada. Various illnesses kept Anne at Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault during much of her childhood, studying with a private tutor. However, Anne grew up in an intellectually stimulating atmosphere. Her mother loved the theater, and her father was a well-known poet and literary critic. Through his efforts, Anne developed the mastery of grammar and syntax which is evident in both her poetry and her prose. During her adolescence, one of her best friends was her cousin, Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, who was just four years older than Anne but had already attained recognition as a poet.
As a member of a devout Roman Catholic family, Hébert was given a strict Catholic education. She was enrolled in a primary school in Quebec City taught by the Surs du Bon-Pasteur, and later she attended the Collège Notre-Dame de Bellevue and the Collège Mérici in Quebec. While she was in secondary school, she became associated with her cousin’s literary circle. Her involvement in theatrical productions dates from this time, as do her first poems, which from 1939 on appeared in various journals. They were collected in 1942 in her first book, Les Songes en équilibre (dreams in equilibrium), which won the Prix David the following year. However, after the death of her beloved cousin in 1943, Hébert went into seclusion and turned from poetry to prose. In 1950, she self-published her first...
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The subject of Anne Hébert’s later poetry and of all her fiction is a religious one: the sinful nature of human beings. In almost every case, what begins as love ends in rejection or betrayal; meanwhile, the human hunger for power over others manifests itself in religious leaders, in husbands, and in parents. Unfortunately, those who flee to freedom almost always end up as unhappy as those who remain obedient to repressive institutions. If one rejects the doctrine of redemption, as Anne Hébert did, it may be that her decision was a good one: to live in solitude, producing works of lasting worth.
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