MARIA CHAPDELAINE: RECIT DU CANADA FRANCAIS (English translation, 1921) is, in part, autobiographical. Louis Hemon, born, reared, and educated in France, emigrated to the Canadian Lake St. John country in 1912. There he worked as a laborer for eight dollars a month on a farm near Peribonka, the village which is named in MARIA CHAPDELAINE and which forms part of the background of the novel. On a neighboring farm lived a young woman, Eva Bouchard, who became the heroine of Hemon’s novel. Maria Chapdelaine’s parents were modeled on Samuel Bedard and his wife, the owners of the farm on which Hemon was employed. The novel had astounding success during the early 1920’s, although the author, killed by a train shortly after posting the manuscript, did not live to see that success. As a result of the popularity of this novel, a search was made of Hemon’s manuscripts and four other volumes were published.
Reading MARIA CHAPDELAINE, one would assume that Hemon was a native of northern Quebec; surely only long familiarity with the weather, the land, the people, and their speech and customs could have prepared him for the moving descriptions in the novel and for his realistic portrayal of pioneer characters. Actually, however, he lived in the northern wilderness for only a few months, and his earlier articles and sports stories for French newspapers, written while he lived in England, scarcely seem predecessors of the novel that was...
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