Roy, Gabrielle (Vol. 10)
Roy, Gabrielle 1909–
A French-Canadian novelist, Roy was twice the winner of the Canadian Governor General's Award. Her fiction is nationalistic in character, treating themes such as the adverse effect of progress on Canada and its people. Although Roy writes in French, most of her novels have been translated into English. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56.)
Paula Gilbert Lewis
What Gabrielle Roy has … accomplished in La Route d'Altamont is to place together in a close rapport a young and an old person, both of whom express a deep need to communicate and to understand one another. In the four "short stories" that compose what the author has classified as a novel, the reader sees a narrator, Christine, first as an eight-year-old child in her relationships with her eighty-year-old grandmother and then with the eighty-four-year-old Monsieur Sanit-Hilaire, and, in the final story, as a mature woman, desirous of communicating with her seventy-year-old mother. (pp. 457-58)
It is … themes of memory and death which are so vivid to the characters of La Route d'Altamont and which Gabrielle Roy succeeds in rendering so vivid to her own readers.
There are several distinct levels of memory to be found throughout La Route d'Altamont. All of them, however, are closely interwoven into the circle of time where particular moments or experiences appear to be frozen into one instant equaling all time or where history is seen in a repetitive fashion. Such timelessness is accomplished either through one's own remembrances of oneself and of another or through heredity, the transmitting of certain traits from the old to the young. (p. 458)
In describing the varied attributes of memories, it is made clear that they are generally deep and intimate secrets in our minds and are activated in an instinctive and involuntary manner. In "La Route d'Altamont," for example, Christine, as an adult, accidentally discovers a road which passes through the sole mountain chain in Manitoba. The sight of these mountains causes Eveline, accompanying her daughter, to recall the mountains of the Province of Québec that she had so dearly loved during her childhood. What this "road through the town of Altamont" actually represents is the route to the past, accidentally or involuntarily discovered by youth on behalf of the old. When Christine tries consciously to find this road again, she has difficulty. Rediscovery is not within her will. (pp. 458-59)
Precisely because of their involuntary nature, memories need a key in order to be stimulated. Symbolically in "La Route d'Altamont," this key will be the town itself…. But even this key, as has been seen, must be involuntarily rediscovered. (p. 459)
It is inevitable that, with … [an] emphasis on the themes of youth, old age, and memory, death also be presented strongly in La Route d'Altamont. In addition to the actual presence of death in the stories, that of the grandmother and those impending of M. Saint-Hilaire and of Eveline, Gabrielle Roy uses several symbols in order to describe or to underline the overriding power of death....
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I have stolen the title of my essay from the Dossiers de Documentation sur la Littérature Canadienne-Française…. But my working title, in bad French, was "Gabrielle Roy: Chère Maître." Gabrielle Roy has nothing in common with Henry James except mastery and a deep concern with emerging national character. Her one short-term expatriate, Pierre Cadorai of La Montagne Secrète, dies of homesickness. Casting around for helpful comparisons, I thought of Flaubert—but Roy has sympathy. Of Willa Cather—but Roy has subtlety. Of Katherine Mansfield—but she has force. Of George Eliot—well, yes, but hardly canoeing down the Mackenzie. Finally I paused at Tchekov, and was rewarded when my research heard her say
I lived part of my life under the secret charm of a nouvelle that I read when very young…. For a long while this early reading penetrated my thoughts, fashioned in me, so to speak, a way of seeing, of observing and grasping the real…. A nouvelle of Tchekov, The Steppe…. Perhaps my penchant for uniting landscapes and states of mind (âme) dates from this time.
In the following introduction to Roy's work, I have grouped the novels and tales without regard to chronology: The City, The Plain, and the Territory are my categories, transected by the Innocence/Experience or Garden/City theme…. This grouping seems to be the commanding one, though other groupings suggest themselves. (pp. 2-3)
The City, in Bonheur d'Occasion and Alexandre Chenevert, is Montreal; in the former the French working-quarter of St.-Henri, which looks from the docks and the railroad-tracks up toward the more affluent and more English West-mount…. [Bonheur d'Occasion] is both compassionate and angry (though not in tone). It was denounced in a Montreal pulpit and sold to Hollywood. Though in every sense a novel, it marks the transition, I think, from Gabrielle Roy journalist to Gabrielle Roy artist….
[Alexandre Chenevert] is realistic, but its realism is touched by both humour and poetry. A sympathetic, unsentimental, unself-conscious imagination penetrates it;...
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