Marie-Claire Blais (blay) was born on October 5, 1939, in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, the first of five children of Fernando and Veronique Notin Blais. She began writing at the age of ten, an obsession that was discouraged both at home and at school. As the oldest child in a large working-class family, she was burdened by the need to help her family financially. She began her secondary education at a Catholic convent school but left at the age of fifteen, at her parents’ request, to attend a secretarial school. From the age of fifteen to age eighteen, Blais worked as a stenographer for many different employers. Writing, though, was her passion and solace, and she continued to work in the evenings at her parents’ home, which was always crowded and noisy. At nineteen, Blais moved to a rented room in Quebec City. She studied French literature at the Université Laval, reading Honoré de Balzac, Marcel Proust, Jean Genet, and the Surrealists and Symbolists, such as Arthur Rimbaud. She also made the acquaintance of Jeanne Lapointe and Père Georges-Henri Lévesque, both of whom would be instrumental to the success of her literary career.
Lévesque was impressed with Blais’s early stories and urged her to continue writing. Blais completed La Belle bête (1959; Mad Shadows, 1960), and through Lévesque’s influence and belief in her promise as a writer, Blais’s controversial novel was published in Canada. Because she was so young at the time of her first success, Blais was considered something of a precocious schoolgirl. Mad Shadows elicited both admiration and outrage in Quebec. A nightmarish fable, the violent emotions of envy and hatred and the consequences of the failure of maternal love are vividly dark and poetic. Tête blanche (1960; English translation, 1961) is another story embracing the theme of a childhood of isolation and despair, told in rich, poetic language.
Blais received a fellowship from the Conseil des Arts du Canada in 1960 and spent the following year in Paris, where she continued her education through literature and film. In 1962, she returned to Quebec and completed Le Jour est noir (1962; English translation published in The Day Is Dark and Three Travelers: Two Novellas, 1967). In 1963, with the support of the highly respected American critic Edmund Wilson, she was awarded the first of two Guggenheim Fellowships, which allowed her to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she lived and wrote for several years. While in Massachusetts, Blais wrote Les Voyageurs sacrés (1966; English translation published in The Day Is Dark and Three Travelers: Two Novellas), an attempt to combine music, poetry, and sculpture....
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