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Reviewed by:
  • Lionel Groulx: le mythe du berger
  • Norman Cornett
Lionel Groulx: le mythe du berger. Marie-Pier Luneau. Montreal: Leméac, 2003. Pp. 226, $23.95

Luneau maintains that for historiographer, nationalist luminary, and ecclesiastical man of letters Lionel Groulx (1878–1967), 'the role of historian entails by definition that of the shepherd who must guide their people' (53, all translations mine). In this vein she notes that 'by publishing the tellingly entitled book Orientations (1935) Groulx concretized his leadership'(145), while its sequel, Directives (1937), 'reaffirmed the tacit agreement designating him "leader" of the nation' (153).

Yet Groulx's stature resulted from the cumulative effect of his manifold writings. To ensure their dissemination he left nothing to chance, despite piously attributing everything in his life to Providence. Indeed, Luneau argues that 'Groulx stands as one of the first best-selling authors in Quebec because he raised himself to the top of the charts through a literary strategy' (11).

She demonstrates her point by surveying Groulx's relevant correspondence with 'writers, journalists, critics, intellectuals, editors, newspaper owners, librarians, archivists, educational institutions, and governmental bodies' (20). Luneau then compares these letters with correlative passages in Groulx's posthumously published Mes mémoires (1970–4).

Her study discloses Groulx's astute publishing tactics and lays bare his boundless self-promotion, albeit veiled in the guise of religious and national welfare. Luneau unmasks the two-faced scheme whereby on one hand Groulx feigned authorial aloofness and academic dispassion, but on the other hand methodically orchestrated the dissemination of his works. Further, by examining Groulx's memoirs in the light of private correspondence, Luneau reveals how Groulx carefully crafted his public image for posterity. [End Page 146]

However, Luneau makes statements that require qualification. First, as a literary scholar she professes to 'leave historians with the task of judging [Groulx's] historical work' (217). Nevertheless she asserts that 'his history books at best evidence bias, if not dishonesty' (10). This hardly does justice to Groulx, 'the individual most responsible for the emergence of a historical profession in Quebec' (Ronald Rudin, Making History in Twentieth-Century Quebec, 1997, 220).

Second, regarding journalist and politician Henri Bourassa (1868–1953), Luneau claims that 'Groulx's correspondence derisively refers to him as the "master"' (65). Yet when nationalist author Raymond Barbeau (1930–92) criticized Bourassa, Groulx penned a letter in his defence, as evident from this excerpt:

For my contemporaries he represented the man sent by Providence, the one in those days whose powerful impetus roused our people. He delivered us from idolizing Laurier and temporarily healed us from the disease of partisanship. He restored the meaning of our French identity. The present generation must not forget his contribution. I wonder what would remain of our little people without the Bourassa era of our history and the burst of pride he inspired .

(Les cahiers d'histoire du Québec au XXesiècle 8 [automne 1997]: 173)

Third, Luneau declares, 'Groulx is obviously not a separatist' (152). However, in response to Barbeau's J'ai choisi l'indépendance (1961), Groulx confided to him,

I remain convinced that in forty, perhaps thirty or even twenty-five years – history goes so fast – independence will prove the inevitable solution. French Canadians' predicament seems tragic: can we stay in Confederation without forfeiting our existence? ... We must therefore prepare an entire generation – the generation of independence ... If I were you I would immediately incite young people in the name of economic liberation ... it has enough explosive potential to ignite youth.

(Les cahiers d'histoire du Québec au XXesiècle 8 [automne 1997]: 173–4).1 [End Page 147]

Finally, with respect to Chemins de l'avenir (1964), Groulx's critique of the Quiet Revolution, editor Claude Ryan (1925–2004) at worst called it a 'collection of indictments brought by one generation against another' (Le Devoir, 28 December 1964), but his review did not 'consign the book to flames' (216) as Luneau alleges. Such exaggeration ill suits her otherwise judicious monograph.

Norman Cornett
McGill University


1. 'Je demeure persuadé que, dans quarante, peut-être trente ou même vingt-cinq ans—l'histoire va si vite—l...


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