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[The] nature of Gabrielle Roy's vision has … cut her off both from her fellow artists and from the popular audience. The typical heroes of Canadian fiction are intellectuals who search loquaciously for their own identity or Canada's, or "superior" observers who smile condescendingly at Canadian manners, or various sorts of crusaders, pioneers and rebels who face life boldly and bring it triumphantly to heel. Gabrielle Roy knows that such exceptional people do exist, but her whole concern is for the unnumbered thousands who "lead lives of quiet desperation"—the terrible meek. And she records their plight with a tolerance and compassion that rests not an patriotism, humanism or religiosity, but on a deep love of mankind. In the same way, though she shares the existential concern for the individual of such French contemporaries as Sartre, Camus, Malraux and De Beauvoir, she does not wield the scalpel of intellect with their clinical vigour. Gabrielle Roy feels rather than analyzes, and a sense of wonder and of mystery is always with her. She is a "witness" to the aches of her century and her culture rather than a reformer; and she believes that only Love can redeem the time.
Thus in her fiction Gabrielle Roy has held the mirror up to nature in the only way possible to her, but the image which she captures has been less and less a picture which Canadians understand or esteem. Her most popular book is The Tin Flute (Bonheur d'occasion, 1945), a story of Montreal slum dwellers. Its success, however, derives largely from its stunning documentary quality. Even in a decade enthralled by the exposé this book had a stinging authority. It arraigned the monster of big-city poverty with an accuracy that caught the last syllable of the market-vendor's cry and the tragic rhetoric of the Saint-Henri bum; and for English-speaking readers it revealed a backyard squalor which, though unpalatable at home, was vicariously exciting when spiced with un zeste de Québec. The works that followed, though welcomed by a few critics, lacked its topical appeal, and were proportionately less well received. Where Nests the Water Hen (La Petite Poule d'Eau, 1951) and Street of Riches (Rue Deschambault, 1957) were thought of as romantic retreats into a charmingly simple but irrecoverably passé frontier. And The Cashier (Alexandre Chenevert, 1955)—her most important work—was rejected as an altogether too painful case history. (pp. 47-8)
Gabrielle Roy's imaginative landscape, that is, big-city living, with its soot and noise, its mechanical routine and impersonality, suggests simultaneously both the pains of adulthood and the dislocations of this unhappy century. By contrast, the warm and simple life of the frontier and the provincial town is becoming a thing of the past—as dear, and as irrevocably lost as childhood or innocence.
This perception of the controlling pattern in Gabrielle Roy's work is essential to an understanding of her statement. The values of the garden, childhood, innocence, and the past, array themselves against the forces of the city, adulthood, "experience," and the present…. [However], Gabrielle Roy is unflinchingly aware that there is no real escape from the present. Here and now is where Everyman lives; and his greatest gifts in a world where both faith and justice have perished are his ability to endure and to love. The critics who have regarded Street of Riches and Where Nests the Water Hen as day-dreaming retreats from the present, then, are mistaken; these works are rediscoveries, deceptively gentle and subjective, of the meaning of valour, pain, aspiration and love. (p. 49)
If the garden and the past constantly draw her characters away from the cage—the grid-like pattern of the modern city—the prospect of the future constantly beckons to them and entices them. For the ingenuous Everyman, indeed, the future is a shining hope—a world of grandiose dream and fantasy in which suffering will magically end; and it is always just ahead…. The hope of the future is a greater consolation to Everyman than the dream of the past, but Gabrielle Roy's narrative makes it clear that both past and future are insecure anchors. The present is inescapable; it is now; the past and the future are delusions. (p. 50)
It is Everyman's character to hope and aspire; it is his fate, apparently, to learn that his power to achieve is tragically short of his ability to dream.
This is Gabrielle Roy's vision of life. It is far more significant, I think, than the vision of many novels which are more self-consciously "Canadian."…
Is the urbanized life which we are so busy creating totally dismal—a dark valley between the sunny hilltops of past and future—or can the cage of adult and urban life be made bearable? To answer this we must look searchingly at Gabrielle Roy's two novels of city life.
Since The Tin Flute was Gabrielle Roy's first major statement, we shall turn to it first. Its original title, Bonheur d'occasion, has no English equivalent. The blues singer might translate it freely as "Happiness is a some-time thing", for it implies "chance" happiness, "grab-bag" happiness and "bargain" happiness—a deceptive, fleeting joy. Its heroine is Florentine Lacasse, daughter of a poverty-stricken Montreal family who live precariously amid the factory whistles, railway crossings, slaughter-house smells and soot of the St. Henri quartier. Appropriately, the name Lacasse suggests a "box" or "locker," for these people are thwarted—caged—born into a world of ugliness and want which they are powerless to escape. But all of them, in individual ways, dream of a happier world. (p. 51)
The central situation of the story records Florentine's seduction by a ruthless young orphan, Jean Lévesque (Mr. "Bishop"), her desperation when she learns that she is pregnant and unwanted, and her reluctant marriage to Lévesque's shy friend Emmanuel Létourneau ("a starling"). It is in this situation, and in the excruciating history of Florentine's parents, Rose-Anna and Azarius, that Gabrielle Roy's irony reaches its deepest level. Jean Lévesque is a calculating young opportunist; and Florentine is a yearning, empty-headed little fool. Yet they both, finally, strike us as disarmingly pathetic, for neither the opportunist nor his victim is really in control of his destiny, and neither realizes that wealth, if it is not somehow warmed by compassion and love, can be as hideous as poverty. The novel's central perception and its chief irony is its depiction of the nature of poverty, the scourge which blinds its victims to all motives but acquisition. (p. 52)
Rose-Anna, we feel, is an image of the universal mater dolorosa, the infinitely loving mother whose "poverty of spirit" will inherit the earth. Yet her secret is not a conscious formula; it is simply a question of unpremeditated giving. In existentialist terms she is totally engagé—committed to a way of life in which the moment is all-important, and in which fortitude, compassion and love are the essential values.
But if these are the only values that can triumph over the squalor of St. Henri, The Tin Flute does not affirm that the world will accept them easily as a remedy for mankind's suffering. Rose-Anna ends her career in the same pose as her mother, a woman who has lived her life in the "garden" of a Quebec farmstead…. Even Emmanuel Létourneau, whose vision is close to Rose-Anna's, finds no confident solution to the enigma of the human situation. His wife, Florentine, is incapable of understanding a love devoid of ulterior motives…. "Emmanuel" is prepared to give his life to save his fellows, but he cannot be certain that his sacrifice will redeem the time.
The statement of The Tin Flute is veiled; Gabrielle Roy allowed "the look of things" to convey its own meaning without authorial comment. In Street of Riches and Where Nests the Water Hen she adopts a highly personal, subjective manner. These are works of "spiritual autobiography", but their insights are not essentially different from the documentary histories of the Lacasse family and Alexandre Chenevert. Gabrielle Roy's experience has taught her that life offers an endless series of storms and mischances…. (The image of the storm, indeed, is a leading motif in these novels.) In country places, however, we see life in its simplest form—stripped of the complexities of the city.
But if country life is a spring of revelation, there is no stopping the cycle of history from frontier to provincial town to big city—or from canoe to Titanic to space-ship. Rightly or wrongly, wisely or stupidly, man aspires. And hence a final question arises. Is the idea of progress an illusion? Is there no possibility of turning the cage into a blessed garden? Gabrielle Roy answers this ultimate question by describing the ordeal of Alexandre Chenevert, the Cashier.
It would be difficult to imagine a less promising subject for fiction than the career of Alexandre Chenevert, for he is a man to whom virtually nothing happens—a nonentity who breaks down under the pressures of city life, escapes briefly to the "earthly paradise" of Lac Vert, and returns home to die. Yet from the very first sentence he has an almost hypnotic fascination for us…. This little man, his mind awash in an endless tide of anxieties, is much more than a nameless Montreal clerk who suffers from insomnia and the aches of urban life; he is the neighbor across the street or the stranger who sits across from us in the cafeteria. Alexandre is us—Everyman…. Alexandre's malady is simply the human condition.
But Gabrielle Roy does not, as a number of her critics have argued, intend her story as a simple condemnation of urban living, for the cage of the bank (and the city) in which Alexandre passes his days is in its deepest sense the cage of adult life—of experience. Thus his trip to Lac Vert and the pristine beauty of nature is not a rejection of the abrasive facts of experience but an attempt to reassure himself that happiness and peace are genuine possibilities. (pp. 52-4)
[The electrified statue of Christ] is the most ironic image in all of Gabrielle Roy's work. In modern life, even the figure of Christ—the symbol of brotherhood and love—has become a towering mechanical monster. (p. 55)
[The very core of Gabrielle Roy's vision is that there] can be no return to the garden, but meekness and love can plant flowers in the cage and the wasteland. The poor in spirit—Mahatmas Gandhi, Alexandre Chenevert—have the secret. A final knowledge of Love's power comes to Alexandre as he lies in a hospital bed dying of cancer: the visits of his simple friends and clients reveal to him that his life has not been worthless or meaningless. In the face of his childlike helplessness, his friends abandon all past pettiness and rivalry…. The money-counting world takes small notice of his passing, and yet this humble sufferer whose name suggests both a conqueror and sturdy, growing tree, achieves a curious kind of immortality. (pp. 55-6)
I have omitted mention … of the wry and tender under-statement of her humor; I have ignored her tendency towards episodic narrative, and the occasional awkwardness in chronology which breaks the unity of Where Nests the Water Hen and Street of Riches. I have also been unable to weigh the losses incurred in translation…. (p. 56)
At the moment these matters bulk large, because we are always in some degree the slaves of literary fashion. Our final judgment, however, will rest firmly on two things: has Gabrielle Roy had something significant to say? and has she said it well? She falls short, I think, of the panoramic sweep of our greatest novelists, and she lacks something of the intensity which enables a Katherine Mansfield to distill the meaning of a world in the microcosm of a moment. She has, however, given us a vision of ourselves which is immeasurably [powerful]…. (pp. 56-7)
Hugo McPherson, "The Garden and the Cage," in Canadian Literature, No. 1, Summer, 1959, pp. 46-57.
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What in effect [Gabrielle Roy tells is] a fairy-tale. In a fairy tale all manner of misfortunes may befall the protagonists, but we know that they are protected by magic talismans…. Her characters are shielded from the encounter with the stalking familiar. They are treated as children not yet capable of venturing into the more sombre areas of existence.
Essentially Gabrielle Roy possesses a mother's-eye view of the world. The area of action in which her characters move is limited and conditioned both spatially and psychologically by the imposition such a focus places upon them. The predominant figure of her books is the earth-mother. In relation to her own characters, in her loving and protective concern Gabrielle Roy is an extension of this earth-mother. It is this weltanschauung which gives her novels their distinctively "feminine" quality.
The settings of her novels are Montreal, St. Boniface, and the wilds of northern Canada. An extensive arena, admittedly. But if one examines her novels closely, are her characters free to range within as wide a region as appears at first sight?
Montreal is the background for her first and third novels, The Tin Flute and The Cashier. A large, pulsating city throbs behind the action: but how does it function in the lives of the characters? The major point Gabrielle Roy is making about the Lacasse family is the inhibiting confinement of their lives. The riches and the excitement of Montreal might as well be on the moon so far as they are available to the slum-dwellers of Saint-Henri. (pp. 7-8)
In The Tin Flute poverty assumes a terrifying presence that conditions lives and shapes character. Zola described his characters as subject to the same forces as the stone on the road—that is, helpless objects crushed by vast impersonal forces over which they have no control. A similar strain of fatalism runs through The Tin Flute. There are constant references to the feeling of imprisonment experienced by the inhabitants of Saint-Henri. Their only outlet is helpless rage, distorted ambitions, foolish day-dreams, or grim resignation. (p. 8)
Like a steady, gentle flame, the figure of Rose-Anna glows at the heart of the Lacasse family. Her tenacious strength and devotion provide the little ones with the only security they know. Yet she too represents imprisonment. When Florentine reacts in horror to the realization that her mother is expecting her twelfth child, Rose-Anna murmurs, "One can only do one's best."… Florentine herself perpetuates the cycle and it is significant that at the end of the book she returns to share a home with her mother. (pp. 8-9)
The question is, does Gabrielle Roy understand these implications in Rose-Anna? She depicts her as a figure of fortitude, an earth-mother whose natural habitat is in the country with growing things. Fecund and vigorous, her natural role is to produce children, but she is thwarted in her need for happy fulfilment.
Gabrielle Roy seems to accept the traditional French-Canadian view of the mother as the strong centrifugal force in the home. Rose-Anna is planted firmly at the centre of the novel. (p. 9)
Now what is the situation in The Cashier? Alexandre Chenevert works in the heart of the heart of the city—the Savings Bank of the City and Island of Montreal. He feels completely trapped in his Kafka-like cell within the vault of a building into which a sudden shaft of sunlight arouses startled heads. On the streets and in the bus, he finds only further forms of imprisonment. He is incapable of handling a bewildering urban environment. Unable to sleep, he stands helplessly before the cold impersonality of the refrigerator: "Alexandre sensed his utter inferiority as a man, with all his little stomach troubles, his endless colds, his confused problems." He has never managed to function outside the protection of the womb. His continual self-pampering is an extension of the uterine embrace. In the dream-fantasy that finally sends him off to sleep, "A feeling of restfulness overwhelmed his soul as it found ease in the absence of all but vegetable life." Again, when he falls asleep at Lac Vert, the Freudian imagery is unmistakable:
The intoxication of sinking between secret shores, more thickly green than the night! How ravishing the blue fronds which curled about his limbs and then slipped by! The quality of the silence in this muffled land! The unutterable absence of all life, except for the water's even and continuous murmur.
The memory of his strong-minded mother threads in and out of his thoughts…. Is it too much to speculate that in the robustly healthy Edmondine he finds the mother he had always craved? (pp. 9-10)
The two books set in the wide open spaces might seem exceptions to the theme of enclosure. The structure of Where Nests the Water Hen, however, is revealing. The first section, "Luzina Takes a Holiday," is an account of Luzina's annual pilgrimage from her lonely island to the comparative civilization of Sainte Rose du Lac to give birth to another addition to her enormous family. The next section, "The School on the Little Water Hen," is concerned with Luzina's attempts to bring learning to their isolation. The final section, "The Capuchin from Toutes Aides," while it centres on the activities of Father Joseph-Marie, is linked structurally and thematically to the earlier episodes.
The first section opens with a sense of remote isolation, of an immensity beyond the beyond. Yet note the pattern of development: we move progressively from open space to the inner island to our final destination, the enveloping warmth of the Tousignants' cabin. (p. 10)
The earth-mother is the centrifugal force, the centre of a loving radius, embracing all those whose lives she touches.
Incidentally, after the unrelieved bleakness of The Tin Flute, Where Nests the Water Hen exhibits a genuinely humourous vein. The type of humour is significant. Gabrielle Roy laughs affectionately at the child-like qualities of Luzina and Father Joseph-Marie. The laugh has the ring of a parent's indulgent tolerance of a child's solemnity.
The Hidden Mountain is one book by Gabrielle Roy in which we do not find the figure of the protective strong woman. Here she is concerned with man alone in the freest possible environment. But it is only through contact with other people that character can be revealed and developed. Even in novels in which the interior monologue technique is employed, the character reveals himself through his reactions to the external populated world. Pierre remains a cipher because there are no other characters on whom he can home himself.
The last part of the book, the account of Pierre's life in Paris, is a lamentable failure. It is a disaster precisely because there has been no opportunity in the major part of the book for his character to be established. His friendship with the young artist Stanislas is inadequate artistically, entirely unconvincing emotionally, since it is simply hero-worship on the younger man's part.
Pierre is completely incapable of adapting himself to an urban environment…. In sum, there is a failure of nerve on his creator's part. She cannot trust him to launch out into the world with a complex personality and independent life of his own.
The two recollections of her childhood, Street of Riches and The Road Past Altamont, contain Gabrielle Roy's most overt treatment of dominant, protective motherhood. Although it is never named, one assumes that the town in the background is St. Boniface. Yet what a shadowy place it is! Christine's family live on the edge of town. In "The Move," one of the stories in The Road Past Altamont, Christine only on this single occasion passes through the town, but from the top of the cart it has the appearance of a mirage: "All the houses seemed to be still asleep, bathed in a curious and peaceful atmosphere of withdrawal. I had never seen our little town wearing this absent, gentle air of remoteness."
All the action radiates from the house on Rue Deschambault in which Maman plays the central role. In The Road Past Altamont Christine talks of breaking away to the wider world. In Street of Riches she moves only as far as Cardinal, but in The Road Past Altamont she speaks of having journeyed as far as Europe. However, we have never seen her leave and we have no idea what life on her own would be like…. In this book for the first time Gabrielle Roy faces the imprisoning noose of motherhood. In part she is endeavouring to understand and perhaps to forgive. Yet her attitude is ambiguous for home also means the security to which we all look back nostalgically from time to time. The Road Past Altamont is written in retrospect; we assume that Christine has already lived far away, yet the writing of the book is a pilgrimage to her past, to the roots that bind and cling.
There are other aspects of this circumscribed world which should be considered. Repeatedly Gabrielle Roy explores the illusion of individual freedom. Her characters are frequently torn between a longing for a more expansive existence and the undeniable circumstances which restrict them. This dichotomy is particularly true of Maman in the two St. Boniface books. Sometimes man is depicted as engaged in a struggle for existence which sets daily bounds on the opportunities available to him. Rose-Anna has mutely accepted the toil and the responsibility, the burdens that will accompany her as far as the grave. In The Hidden Mountain Pierre seems the freest of Gabrielle Roy's characters yet he is forced to accept the cruel fact that he must kill in order to survive.
In a sense Gabrielle Roy maintains the same loving yet firm control on her characters as her various earth-mothers exert over their offspring. The virtues which she extols are fortitude, endurance, concern for others; these are the negative virtues, those necessary in a world in which man is at the mercy of forces beyond his control. Her characters act intuitively; they do not engage in rational or irrational analysis; they are not torn by mental conflict; they are uninterested in ideas. We find obsession in Pierre's creative urge and in Maman's eagerness to embrace a life she has not yet comprehended. But we never see any of them devastated by sexual desire, exalted by religious ardour, excited by intellectual passion or stirred by the darker passions. Gabrielle Roy's is not an easy world for her characters; yet its challenges are comparatively straightforward. (pp. 11-13)
[They] are never faced with agonizing moral problems…. Her characters are lovable, gentle creatures, but they are simple and childlike. Gabrielle Roy totally ignores the darker spectres that inhabit men's souls; only occasionally … she allows her characters to experience one of those sudden revelations which unexpectedly opens a precipice at our feet. Alexandre Chenevert frets about the death of Gandhi; yet there is some justification for Eugénie's remonstrance, "After all, he was no relative of ours!"
It is for these limitations that we must deny her a place with the greatest novelists….
One cannot say that Gabrielle Roy's is a vision of the world before the Fall, even in what critics have described as her "pastoral" novels. Man is not in a garden where all good things are simply within reach. Her characters have been banished from Eden, but the most important step in the process has been ignored. These childlike creatures have never tasted the forbidden fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. They are bewildered, innocent exiles banished by a capricious God. (p. 13)
Phyllis Grosskurth, "Gabrielle Roy and the Silken Noose," in Canadian Literature, No. 42, Autumn, 1969, pp. 6-13.
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In "Bonheur d'Occasion" poverty is not an incidental factor: it is basic to the situation of every character in the book. Poverty transcends the individual and becomes the problem of a whole district, of the whole world, when it is traced to its source, the Depression. (p. 69)
The smell of poverty, the grime of poverty, the deprivation of poverty permeate the whole book and the dream of an upward ascension in society is the dream of an escape from poverty….
In "Bonheur d'Occasion" the working-people are individuals but they are also members of a working-class community. One has the sense of the existence of an industrial proletariat. Their lives and loves are closely interwoven with larger social forces which dominate and condition them—the Depression, the War. Their problems as individuals and their varied search for solutions cannot be separated from this larger framework….
Unemployment has left its havoc in the wake of the lives of every character in "Bonheur d'Occasion" and the war becomes everyone's concern for selfish and other reasons. Every person in the book takes a stand and makes a decision with regard to the war, either directly or indirectly through the decisions of others. Love, personal emotions, personal problems intermesh intimately with large social forces….
In Gabrielle Roy's books all the families are large, except for that of Alexandre Chenevert and of Elsa in "La Rivière sans repos". The very size of the family creates problems for the wife and mother, financial problems as well as those relating to personal fulfillment. On the positive side the large family helps to develop strong characters and warm hearts…. Mme Roy's mature women find their fullest expression, not as wives or individuals, but as mothers. (p. 70)
Mme Roy shows that sex which should be one of the main-springs of married joy is an inhibiting factor in the marriage relationship. For the women it is something to avoid because it results in a rapid increase of their family. For the men it is something of a burden, given the wife's resistance and the attitudes of sin and secrecy that society associates with its performance…. Having endowed men with the desires of the flesh, it is nonetheless the saints that are revered, the men who abstain from such desires.
One wonders whether Mme Roy herself is not a little affected by this over-all climate of discomfort and restriction when one reads the description of the scene [in "Bonheur d'Occasion"] where Florentine is seduced by Jean. There are only bare indications of what takes place; none of these details are sensual in nature. In addition their love-making takes place under the accusing glances of the Madonna and the saints that adorn the room….
[The] work of Gabrielle Roy abounds with various aspects of the "woman question". In "Rue Deschambault" the perceptive young Christine makes some penetrating observations concerning the social status of women. In the visit with Mme Nault she perceives how much more importance is attached to a woman who is married than to one who is not and she reflects on the injustice of this…. (p. 71)
The inequality between men and women is brought out in a different way in Eveline's comments to her son Robert when he encourages Christine's passion for flashy jewelry by giving her some money. She laments the fact that men stimulate the development of certain qualities in women, such as deception and cunning, and certain types of behaviour from which they are the first to suffer. It is a double standard which places a premium on ruse and scheming in a woman rather than frankness and a straight-forward simplicity. (pp. 71-2)
Mme Roy explores in a variety of ways the prestige bestowed on marriage as a state: the conflicts and double standards applied to the sexes, the problem of retaining and developing one's identity and aspirations within the framework of marriage. These questions cross language barriers and apply equally to French-Canadian and English-Canadian women….
[One finds in general that Gabrielle Roy's] women are not only the stronger and more developed personalities, they are depicted with greater skill and a surer touch [than are the men]. (p. 72)
Mme Roy immerses us directly in the suffering of her characters: we feel, we think, we live with them. The appeal is directly to the heart…. One has the impression so often that Mme Roy's books are distillations of sorrow and human suffering made tolerable only by moments of joy and love that transcend them. (p. 73)
Jeannette Urbas, "Equations and Flutes," in Journal of Canadian Fiction (reprinted by permission from Journal of Canadian Fiction, 2050 Mackay St., Montreal, Quebec H3G 2J1, Canada), Vol. I, No. 2, 1972, pp. 69-73.∗
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Gabrielle Roy's novels and collections of short stories, from her celebrated first novel Bonheur d'occasion (1945), to the present [Garden in the Wind], form a coherent body of thought and system of values….
"A Tramp at the Door" is the story of a man who comes to the family's home posing as a relative from the East. His presence serves as a catalyst for the father's memories which flood to the surface. By the end of the tale the reader realizes that the stranger has become a member of the family, demonstrating once again the concept of the "family of man" that is at the heart of Gabrielle Roy's vision.
"Where Will You Go, Sam Lee Wong" recounts the life of a Chinese immigrant who sets up shop in a tiny Western town and lives there for twenty-five years. Like a number of Gabrielle Roy's characters in her other works, Sam Lee Wong is a man displaced both physically and spiritually yet never abandoning his hope to be at one with himself, "to reestablish contact between himself and his own reality."
The nearly mystical quality of "Hoodoo Valley," in which a group of Doukhobors find their "promised land," recalls the ideal land of peace and harmony in "The Old Man and the Child" (The Road Past Altamont).
The last story …, "Garden in the Wind," is quintessentially Gabrielle Roy. Images of gardens abound in Gabrielle Roy's works and represent the tenacious hope, amidst ostensibly insuperable odds, that man can live in harmony with his surroundings and with himself.
The link between these stories is the same one that connects all the volumes; people's lifelong struggle to understand the integrity of their own lives, to see their lives as a whole, and their need to create bridges of concern and understanding between themselves and others. The result is a dynamic tension between two different and yet fundamental aspects of the author's fictional world: the introspective and the outward looking. It is this very tension, and the success that she has demonstrated in dramatizing it, that makes Gabrielle Roy unique among Canadian writers.
Her writing is both Proustian, in its accent on self-discovery, and humanistic in the philosophical sense of that term. Everywhere there are roads, paths and, consequently, voyages, since all her characters are traveling the route of self-awareness. Those characters who finally become conscious of the reality of their own lives, like Alexandre Chenevert in The Cashier, are then in a position to understand their bonds with others.
Paul Socken, "Fellowship," in The Canadian Forum, Vol. LVII, No. 678, February, 1978, p. 36.
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The very heterogeneity of Canadian prairie life is well illustrated by [the four tales in Garden in the Wind], two of which deal with Doukhobor and Ukrainian immigrants, one with a Chinese immigrant, and only one with French-Canadians. The title story deals tenderly with the plight of an aged Ukrainian couple wholly lost in the modern world, forgotten by their children, barely surviving on their minuscule farm…. The poignancy of the story is great, and Roy's tasteful handling of the subtle tensions between husband and wife is superb.
Somewhat the same kind of utopian hope is present in [the tale of] Sam Lee Wong….
The other two stories, while effective, seem less significant, if for no other reason than the relative lack of plot; Roy's skill with atmosphere is as sharply realized as in the others….
There is no doubt that Gabrielle Roy is consummately skilled in the craft of storytelling. These four tales at their best approach the work for which she is best known, but each one is a fine introduction to her skill as a writer.
Paul Schlueter, "Fiction: 'Garden in the Wind'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1978 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 38, No. 5, August, 1978, p. 147.
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There are books so poignant and so intense that it is hard to believe they do not spring out of personal experience, and one's problem is not to determine the ultimate source but to decide how directly actual events in the author's life are being presented. Gabrielle Roy's latest book, Children of My Heart, is—in my view—one of these rare works. I began to read it with apprehension, since the very subject—a young teacher's relationship with the children she taught—seemed at first fraught with all the perils of sentiment melting into sentimentality; I ended with the sense of surprised satisfaction one experiences when, in this cynical and knowing world of ours, a romantic vision is convincingly carried through into a work of art, when the real and the lyrical are effectively united.
Since it has a single uniting character, the anonymous young woman teacher who tells her own story, Children of My Heart can be regarded as a novel…. (p. 50)
[One] wonders how closely it resembles the kind of memoir Gabrielle Roy might have written of her own life in those years before she became a famous novelist, when she taught in the kinds of schools she describes. Perhaps it is the most notable sign of her artistry that we are not long concerned with this question, for it is the girl in the story as she stands in our mind's eye who holds our attention and not the writer whose persona she may and may not be. Children of My Heart stands, as all fiction should, on its own without the need to refer to its author's life. (p. 51)
The last and longest episode is the most complex, taking up more than a third of the book and telling of Médéric, a rebellious thirteen-year-old boy who is tamed, if that is the right term, by the teacher…. As the novel ends Médéric rides wildly beside her departing train and throws into the window a bouquet of prairie flowers, many of them rare ones. "It spoke of the young and fragile summer, barely born but it begins to die."
And this is the general feeling of Children of My Heart, the feeling of one of those lost summers of growing up when everything was seen and experienced with preternatural intensity and the world seemed to be divided as sharply into the dark and the luminous as the prairie village when the narrator first saw it, with its dingy houses of embittered old people in a setting of "desert spaces and the marvellous silence." There is an almost Wordsworthian progress from the light of innocence so clearly ignited in the younger children to the darkness of experience that Médéric begins to enter, and it is this knowledge that even love cannot wholly proof the spirit against adversity that makes so real the romanticism of Children of My Heart. Gabrielle Roy writes here at the height of her form. (p. 52)
George Woodcock, "Gabrielle Roy at the Height of Her Form," in Saturday Night (copyright © 1979 by Saturday Night), Vol. 94, No. 4, May, 1979, pp. 50-2.
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At first glance a reader might think that Ces Enfants de ma vie [Children of My Heart] is a collection of short stories, and indeed Roy does present us with six nouvelles, each of which could conceivably stand on its own….
[Yet] each of the stories is a part of an organic whole, which finds its ultimate expression in the final and longest chapter. This is the story of the narrator's discreet and almost painful attachment for a fourteen-year-old pupil, Médéric. Médéric is the symbol of youth; he has within him most of the characteristics of the children in the other stories, and this overt symbolism makes the last chapter of the book less vraisemblable (though none the less effective for its dream-like quality) than the preceding chapters…. The bouquet of wildflowers thrown to the school mistress as the book closes comes to symbolize … [the] complex and painful period of life between adolescence and adulthood….
Gabrielle Roy has given us a beautiful and delicate vision of the world of a woman entrusted with children not her own, and whom she loves in ways which are undefined and which can hardly even be admitted. This book further confirms Roy's stature as one of the most important of contemporary French Canadian authors. (p. 157)
Jonathan M. Weiss, "Creative Arts: 'Ces enfants de ma vie'," in The French Review (copyright 1979 by the American Association of Teachers of French), Vol. 53, No. 1, October, 1979, pp. 156-57.