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Reading Albania Reading Chauvet: Solidarity and the Publication of Amour, Colère et Folie

From: Women in French Studies
Special Issue, 2012
pp. 228-247 | 10.1353/wfs.2012.0036

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In a seminar on Canadian literature, my students and I analyzed a short story by Alice Munro entitled “How I Met My Husband,” the story of an older woman, Edie, recalling her youth and the way she, indeed, met her husband. The peculiarity of this story lies in the fact that Edie’s entire story—her meeting with a pilot who lands by the house where she is housekeeper and nanny while she is wearing her employer’s evening gown and makeup, her infatuation with him, her expectation of a letter from him, and her eventual marriage to the mailman whom she meets in her fruitless wait for this letter—must remain a secret. She concludes her narrative: “He [her husband] always tells the children the story of how I went after him by sitting by the mailbox every day, and naturally I laugh and let him, because I like for people to think what pleases them and makes them happy” (66). She treats her husband with the same kind of circumspection previously reserved for the family where she served as a nanny-housekeeper, of whom she explains, “They like to think you aren’t curious. Not just that you aren’t dishonest, that isn’t enough. They like to feel you don’t notice things, that you don’t think or wonder about anything but what they liked [sic] to eat and how they like things ironed, and so on” (52). Edie’s narrative is laden with secrets that cannot be revealed because of her position as a dutiful and selflessly dedicated housekeeper and wife; for this reason, their revelation troubles narrative structures. Edie’s first-person narration is audience-less; she is not writing the story to herself in journal form, nor can she address it to a friend, an acquaintance, or even a stranger. The telling contradicts all we know of her character—her discretion, her reticence, her concern for others. We, as readers, are put in the impossible position of eavesdropping on a tale that cannot be told, of intercepting a pass to no one. This has the effect of bringing us into solidarity with Edie; we admire her fortitude and generosity, but we also understand the delicacy of her willed isolation as a woman and as a member of the serving-class, and we bristle for her at the subservience on which her contentment depends. Ultimately, the solidarity transcends Edie’s narrative to her inexistent audience and links us with an “Alice Munro” in whom we sense the desire to expose the nuances of women’s subservience in post-World War II rural Ontario; in its published form, the short story conveys information and opinions to a wider public whose opinions, in turn, are adapted and molded by the narrative.

The narration of the three short novels comprising Marie Chauvet’s Amour, Colère et Folie is also problematic to place in terms of an audience, a circumstance that was in fact accentuated by the book’s long-delayed release. Amour is the intimate diary of Claire Clamont, a thirty-nine-year-old unmarried woman marked by the darkness of her skin in a mixed-race bourgeois family. She struggles with her jealousy for her lighter sisters and her secret passion for her brother-in-law, all in the context of a growing rebellion against the brutal noiriste leader Calédu. Colère, oscillating between first- and third-person voices, recounts the story of a bourgeois family whose land is suddenly occupied by “men in black” led by a sinister “gorilla”; this animal-like man negotiates the return of the family’s land in exchange for a one-month brutal liaison with the family’s teenage daughter. And Folie, the closing section of the book, presents as “madness” the metaphorized vision of devils through which four “mad” poets understand the ruthless militia that governs their town and ultimately executes them as traitors. Thus the forms of narration of the three sections of the triptych range from an intimate diary (Amour), to an alternatively first- and third-person narration (Colère), and finally to a first-person delirium alternating with a dialogue notated as a play...



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