Jacques Ferron 1921–1985
French-Canadian novelist, short story writer, novella writer, playwright, and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Ferron's career.
Known for his medical accomplishments and political activities as well as his literary works, Ferron was a vocal supporter of Quebec separatism and the author of novels and short stories that combine the fantastic with the mundane in celebration of Quebec's cultural heritage. He received a Governor General's Award in 1963 for his short story collection Contes du pays incertain (1962) and was selected by the Front de Libération du Québec (FLQ) to act as mediator during the 1970 October Crisis, during which the FLQ kidnapped a British official and the Canadian minister of labor. Remarking on the author's career, Paul Matthew St. Pierre has written that "Ferron's contributions to Quebecois literature [not only] point to his admirable involvements in medicine and politics but they also manage to reflect the cultural development of Quebec over the past forty years."
Ferron was born on January 20, 1921, in Louisville, Quebec, and received his early education at Trois-Rivières before attending the Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal. His mother died from tuberculosis when Ferron was ten, and critics have traced his literary fascination with death to this event. Two of Ferron's sisters also became artists: Madeleine, a novelist, and Marcelle, an Automatiste painter. During his time at Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, Ferron developed an interest in Quebec's cultural heritage and was also introduced to socialism. In 1943, while studying medicine at Université Laval in Quebec City, he married a communist, Madeleine Therrien, whom he later divorced. After graduating in 1945, Ferron entered the Canadian army, serving as a doctor in camps in Quebec and New Brunswick. In 1946 he established a private practice in Rivière Madeleine on the Gaspé Peninsula; two years later he set up practice in the working-class Montreal suburb of Ville Jacques-Cartier, which later became known as Longueuil. Ferron published his first play L'ogre in 1949 and followed it with several more dramas and a collection of poetry before achieving widespread success with Contes du pays incertain. Beginning in 1951 and continuing for the next thirty years, Ferron became a regular contributor of literary, medical, philosophical, and political essays to the journal L'information medicale et paramedicale. In 1952 he married Madelaine Lavallée. Aside from his many essays published in various periodicals and newspapers, his political activities included founding the Rhinoceros Party—a satirical political organization—in 1963; acting as mediator between the FLQ and the Canadian government following the kidnapping of Pierre Laporte during the 1970 October Crisis; and co-founding in 1980 the Regroupement des Ecrivains pour le OUI—an organization of writers who favored Quebec separatism. Despite Ferron's success with Contes du pays incertain and the numerous novels, novellas, and short story collections which followed, his reputation outside Quebec has developed slowly. He died of a heart attack on April 22, 1985, leaving behind a collection of short stories and an autobiographical essay which were published together as La conference inachevée in 1988.
Ferron's interest in medicine and politics pervades much of his literary work, and the image of Quebec as an exiled country—suggested in the title of his first short story collection Contes du pays incertain ("Tales of the Uncertain Country")—is employed throughout his writing. The major themes in Ferron's stories and novels include death, sanity versus madness, and the complex relationship between Quebec and English Canada. A pervasive theme throughout his fiction, death is the principal subject for two of his novels—Cotnoir (1962, Dr. Cotnoir) and La charette (1968, The Cart)—and is often linked with salvation and redemption. In
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