Introduction

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Anne Hébert 1916–

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French-Canadian poet, novelist, short story writer, and dramatist.

Hébert's work is imbued with traditional French-Canadian themes: solitude, the burden of the past, sin, and spiritual struggle.

Poèmes, which won the Governor General's Award in 1960, contains Le tombeau des rois (1953; The Tomb of the Kings) and previously unpublished poems. In this volume, the tension between pleasant childhood reminiscences and adult inhibitions is evoked in powerful imagery of confinement and suffocation. Critics compare the themes and imagery of The Tomb of the Kings to those in Hébert's first novel, Les chambres de bois (1958; The Silent Rooms).

In her recent novels, Les enfants du sabbat (1975; Children of the Black Sabbath), another Governor General's Award winner, and Héloise (1982), Hébert adds a supernatural dimension to her familiar themes of sin and spiritual crisis. Children of the Black Sabbath is a chilling tale of demonic possession and Héloise is a story of vampirism set in the Paris Métro.

(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 13 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)

PATRICIA PURCELL [later PATRICIA SMART]

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The writing of Anne Hébert records an intense interior drama of poetic and spiritual evolution, though in volume her poetic output has been quite small….

Miss Hébert's first volume of poetry, Les Songes en Equilibre, reveals to us a young girl in the first stages of physical, artistic and spiritual evolution. The style likewise is as yet unformed; on the whole it is thin and frail, but occasionally it gives a foretaste of the clearcut, unadorned style of Miss Hébert's more mature poetry.

The girl evoked in the pages of Les Songes en Equilibre is one who, like [her cousin] Saint-Denys-Garneau, deeply loves the natural joys of life, but who, like him, feels that her salvation and her inspiration lie in renouncing these joys and embracing the anguish of solitude. She has been capable of suspending herself in the present moment, of experiencing a joy not over-cast by the awareness of eternity…. (p. 51)

With the stirrings of maturity, however, comes the realization of poetic and spiritual duty. She wonders at her audacity in believing that the things of the world existed to amuse her; suddenly natural joys fade at the arrival of a calm figure which usurps their place…. (pp. 51-2)

In a series of unequal poems Miss Hébert traces the gradual growth within her of the sorrow of the adult, the poet, and the saint…. (p. 52)

Certain key images are employed in Les Songes en Equilibre, images which will become symbols of profound meaning in Le Tombeau des Rois. In one of the earliest poems, "Les Deux Mains", Miss Hébert introduces the image of the outstretched hands, representing self-oblation. At this stage of her devel-opment, the giving of self is incomplete and only one hand is extended…. The tree image, so prominent yet so obscure in Le Tombeau des Rois, is clarified by Les Songes en Equilibre, and takes on a spiritual connotation by being identified with the cross…. The last poem of the volume, "L'Oiseau du Poète", introduces the bird symbol of the later volume. The bird is the poet, as well as the poem produced…. (p. 53)

A reader of Les Songes en Equilibre who opens Le Tombeau des Rois interested to see the fruits of the intervening eleven years will probably notice first of all a radical tightening of style…. Les Songes en Equilibre has traced the path of the poet into solitude; the poems of Le Tombeau des Rois are songs of this solitude—its sweet sadness and its unbearable anguish.

Anne Hébert's isolation is invariably likened to that of Saint-Denys-Garneau. There is, however, a basic difference. Their development can be paralleled up to a certain point: both delight in the joys of the world but are drawn to reject them and enter into the suffering of solitude. Both are attracted to mystical experience,...

(The entire section contains 17157 words.)

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Hébert, Anne (Vol. 13)

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