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458 LETTERS IN CANADA 1977 mass of previously unpublished information, and points the way for similar studies of other nineteenth-century French writers from Chateaubriand to Zola. Surveys of literary attitudes, annotated editions of nineteenth-century novels, thematic analyses, and studies of foreign influences do not necessarily make for exciting reading. Yet, in the present state of our knowledge of nineteenth-century Canadian literature, such investigations , especially those that bring to light unpublished documents and references, are indispensable as a basis for fu ture inquiries. It is to be hoped that the modest harvest of such studies in 1977 will be followed by even richer and more varied crops in each future year. (DAVID M. HAYNE) Gilles Marcotte. Le Roman al'imparfait: essais sur Ie roman quebecois d'aujollrd'hui La Presse 1976. 195 Ben-Zion Shek, Social Realism in the French-Canadian Novel Harvest House. 326 The concept of social realism, and more generally the question of the 'reflection' of society provided by the novel form, is like the story of the blind men and the elephant - the term and its implications change according to the perceptions and ideology of its users. Two recent works in the area of Quebec literary criticism, Gilles Marcotte's Le Roman a ['impartait: essais sur Ie roman quebecois d'aujourd'hui and Ben-Zion Shek's Social Realism in th e French-Canadian Novel, take as their major point of reference the question of social realism and its presence or absence in the Quebec novel tradition, but, starting with different definitions of the term and different critical approaches, they arrive at very different conclusions . Surprisingly, given the titles of the two works, it is Marcotte who gives us a more precise definition of social realism. With the authority and ease we have come to expect of him as an 'elder statesman' of Quebec literary criticism, he summarizes the main contributions to the critical discussion of realism since Lukacs and argues that in these terms the Quebec novel since 1960 is the antithesis of social realism. For Marcotte the period of social realism in the French-Canadian novel was brief (1939- 49), corresponded to the transition from rural to urban society, and produced only one real masterpiece-Gabrielle Roy'sBonheurd'occasion . The novels of the preceding period, whether rural or urban, reflected the static ideology that was dominant in the province and lacked the sense of movement and possible change essential to true social HUMANITIES 459 realism. In post-1960 Quebec, with the breakup of the traditional ideology and the realization of Quebec's dependent status within Canada, we see a creative acceptance, this time conscious and often political, of the 'absence of history.' As a substitute for the coherent social-realist world view with its omniscient narrator and past definite verb tense, the modern Quebec novel proposes an 'imperfect' vision -a vision of time as open process (the imperfect verb tense becoming dominant), a broken universe moving constantly towards meaning, unity, and stasis but never reaching it, an invitation to the reader to participate in the cocreation of relative rather than absolute meaning. This new concept of the novel, which neatly corresponds to sociologist Marcel Rioux's description of the ideology of the 1960s as one of 'participation and development ' (depassement'), also differs from social realism in that it takes as its reference point not reality but language itself in its relation to reality. Having proposed this view of the relationship between the novel and its historical time and place, Marcotte moves away from the question of direct reference to social reality and explores the form and meaning of the fictional worlds of four major novelists - Gerard Bessette, Rejean Ducharme, Marie-Claire Blais, and Jacques Godbout. The chapter on Bessette, whose evolution as a novelist captures the transition from the 'traditional' to the 'modern' vision, is a fascinating study of the 'impossibility ' of realism. Bessette's first novel, La Bagarre, uses the classic social realist form of narration and refers directly to reality. Yet the problem it poses through the experience of the narrator is that of how to write a realistic novel, how to insert the actions, gestures, and characters of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 458-462
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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