Kamouraska Additional Summary

Anne Hebert

Summary

Elisabeth d’Aulnières, the only child of Marie-Louise d’Aulnières, a widowed teenager, has been reared by three unmarried aunts, whose imaginations are formed by romance reading and by piety. The household of Elisabeth’s childhood has been a feminine abode, notable by its absence of men. Shielded from the raw facts of life, Elisabeth has been taught that babies are dumped into the beds of ladies by “Indians.” In her daydreams, marriage is a swirling collage: the marriage at Cana of Galilee in the Gospels, the bride of Lammermoor in Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel, and the romantic French folk song “À la claire fontaine.”

Elisabeth’s aunts prepare their niece lovingly for the governor’s ball, where her beauty attracts the eye of Antoine Tassy, the squire of Kamouraska, a picturesque village four hundred miles from Elisabeth’s home in Sorel. Antoine’s mother, Caroline, asks Madame d’Aulnières for the hand of Elisabeth, and the proposed match is considered advantageous, despite the young squire’s admitted bad reputation.

The two are married.

Madame Tassy counsels her new daughter-in-law to ignore the drunkenness and debauchery of the squire, whom she pronounces basically “a good man.” Despite the affluence of the Tassys, their home is austere, dominated by the mother-in-law, a harsh woman with a club foot who insists on simple meals, rough clothing, and a Puritanical simplicity of residence. She dismisses all emotional displays.

After the birth of two sons, Elisabeth can no longer endure her husband’s drunkenness, carousing, and brutality. She retreats to her former home in Sorel and the protection of her three adoring aunts. There she meets George Nelson, an American physician practicing in Sorel. Nelson is from a royalist family that has converted to Catholicism so thoroughly that his brother is now a Jesuit priest, while his sister is an Ursuline nun. Nelson, however, soon undergoes a religious crisis when his sister appears to lose her faith on her deathbed. Consequently, he chooses to devote his life to science and to the alleviation of...

(The entire section is 870 words.)

Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Kamouraska is based upon the murder in 1839 of Achille Taché, squire of Kamouraska, which was plotted and carried out by Doctor George Holmes, the lover of Madame Taché, Elisabeth d’Estimauville. Holmes escaped prosecution by fleeing to Vermont, and in 1841 Madame Taché was found not guilty of the murder of her husband. In 1843, she married Léon-Charles Clément, a notary and later in his life a member of the Canadian parliament. Hébert alters the true events somewhat. In Hébert’s novel, Elisabeth’s flashbacks are the means by which the past floods into the present. Elisabeth d’Aulnières’s psyche is the means through which the plot unfolds. In Hébert’s work, the first husband is named Antoine Tassy, and the lover George Nelson.

The novel, divided into unnumbered chapters, opens as Elisabeth sits at the bedside of her dying husband, Jérôme Rolland, in the family home in Quebec City. Thinking of her tearless eyes behind the black crepe veil she will wear in mourning, Elisabeth recalls the murder of her first husband, and the subsequent two months spent in prison. A dutiful wife for the past eighteen years, living an honorable and upright life, she appears in the eyes of the dying man as a triumphant figure of transfigured death. Flashbacks, daydreams, and nightmares express her repressed rage at standing trial for poisoning Tassy and for being abandoned by her lover, who raced wildly to freedom across the snow in a bloodied...

(The entire section is 438 words.)

Bibliography

Boak, Denis “Kamouraska, Kamouraska!Essays in French Literature 14 (1977): 69-104. An excellent overview of important motifs in the novel, focusing on the themes of witchcraft, absence, and love.

Knight, Kelton W. Anne Hébert: In Search of the First Garden. New York: Lang, 1998. A thorough examination of how Hébert uses memory to reconstruct the past and thus explain her characters’ present moral dilemmas.

McPherson, Karen S. Incriminations: Guilty Women/Telling Stories. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. This comparative study of the process and language of incrimination looks at crime, culpability, and survival in modern novels by women, including Kamouraska.

Northey, Margot. The Haunted Wilderness: The Gothic and Grotesque in Canadian Fiction. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1976. The chapter on Kamouraska, though brief, is an insightful analysis of Hébert’s particular kind of psychological gothic.

Russell, Delbert W. Anne Hébert. Boston: Twayne, 1983. A good starting point to and survey of Hébert’s life and works to the early 1980’s. Useful bibliography, mostly of French-language sources.

Shek, Ben-Z. French-Canadian and Québécois Novels. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1991. A short but highly readable introduction to a rich body of fiction, including Kamouraska.