Antonine Maillet Criticism - Essay

Ben-Z Shek (review dale March 1980)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 outstanding interpretation of actress Viola Léger.

Maillet's writing career began more than 20 years ago. Her first book was Pointe-aux-Coques, a novel, published in 1958, and was followed by five other novels: On a mangé la dune (1968), Don l'Orignal (winner of the Governor General's Award, 1972), Mariaagélas, (1973), Emmanuel à Joseph à Dâvit (1975) and Les Cordes-de-bois (1977). Besides La Sagouine (1971), she has published six other plays, the short-story collection Par derrière chez mon père (1972), and her doctoral dissertation, Rabelais et les traditions populaires en Acadie (1971).

Antonine Maillet is both a product of, and a catalyst for, the cultural renewal among New Brunswick francophones. Her creative activity grew out of the burgeoning cultural and political awakening of the 1960's during which time the Université de Moncton was created, there took place the struggles of that city's one-third French-speaking population against the bigoted Mayor Leonard Jones, and, eventually, the Parti acadien was formed. Her books were published in parallel with the release of Pierre Perrault's film, L'Acadie, L'Acadie (1971), the records of Edith Butler, Calixte Duguay and Angèle Arsenault (who is from P.E.I.) and those of the musical group, "1755". Some feel that these movements of cross-fertilization have come too late to stem the tide of assimilation in New Brunswick, which has had a history of turbulent struggles to maintain the "French fact". Yet Antonine Maillet and the other creative forces of the Acadian renewal are determined to carry on. It should, however, be noted that they depend a great deal on material support from the institutions and public of Quebec, which certainly acts as the foyer of French-language culture in Canada, and whose own cultural flowering and growing self-confidence have been fundamental supports for the Acadian revival.

Maillet's novel, Pélagie-la-charrette, is in fact linked to a capital moment of her people's history, namely the expulsion in 1755 of the Acadians, mainly grouped then in Nova Scotia, by the British forces, and their scattering throughout the southern colonies of the Atlantic seaboard. This traumatic reference point is variably (and sometimes, euphemistically) called in the novel, La Déportation, le Grand Dérangement, l'Evénement, La Grande Echouerie, La Dispersion.

The novel is indelibly marked by the rhythm of continuity, which is its lifeblood and heart-beat. The dedication by the author is to her mother, Virginie Cormier, an identically named ancestor of whom is one of the characters, and the book ends with the inscription, "Bouctouche, le 23 juin, 1979, en cette année du 375e anniversaire d'Acadie". The very title, named after the heroine who will lead a ragamuffin band of remnants of her people back to Acadia during a 10-year-long trek on foot and in carts of all sizes and shapes, also underlines the dominant theme of continuity: "C'était coutume en Acadie d'apporter en dot une charrette à son homme, la charrette, signe de pérénnité."

The narrative structure, based on a lineage of chroniclers retelling the saga at a distance of 100 years (at the end of the 19th century and today, at the end of the 20th) is, too, one of continuity. The unobtrusive primary narrator in the present (who says symbolically "moi, qui fourbis [nettoie] chaque matin mes seize quartiers de charrette", relates most of the events of the epic return of the Acadians between 1770 and 1780 as they are told to her by her cousin, "le vieux Louis à Bélonie, dit le jeune",...

(The entire section is 2098 words.)

Pierre Gobin (review date March 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Antonine Maillet with Martine Jacquot (interview date 3 November 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1462 words.)

Marjorie A. Fitzpatrick (essay date 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Bernard Arésu (essay date 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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David Homel (review date June 1986)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1579 words.)

Paul G. Socken (essay date Summer 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michèle Lacombe (essay date Spring 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Eloise A. Brière (essay date 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 7190 words.)