Kamouraska is generally considered Hébert’s finest novel. Certainly it is her most complex. It is based on a historical event: the murder in December, 1839, of Achille Taché, Seigneur de Kamouraska. The crime was committed not far from where the author’s grandmother lived, and the murdered man was a distant relative of Hébert’s mother. In her novel, Hébert changed the name of Achille Taché to Antoine Tassy. However, much of her novel is derived from family discussions she heard during childhood.
The story begins in Quebec at the home of Jérôme Rolland. It is told in the first person by Madame Elisabeth Rolland, who has been his dutiful wife for almost eighteen years and has given him eight children. The narrator is in a highly emotional state, but not just because of her husband’s impending death. The fact that she is about to be freed from her marriage brings back memories of an earlier liberation and of all that followed.
In a series of flashbacks, Madame Rolland relives her trial for the murder of her first husband, Antoine Tassy. Her marriage to him was a terrible mistake. He was a drunkard, routinely unfaithful, and physically abusive, sometimes even threatening to kill both himself and his wife. However, Madame d’Aulniéres, a widow at seventeen, and her three spinster sisters, who together reared young Elisabeth in the small town of Sorel, Quebec, saw in the dashing, well-to-do squire of Kamouraska a highly suitable match for fifteen-year-old Elisabeth. Just before the wedding, for a fleeting moment Elisabeth wonders why she is...
(The entire section is 647 words.)