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  • Passées sous silence : onze femmes écrivains à relire ed. by Patrick Bergeron
  • Mary Anne Garnett
Bergeron, Patrick, ed. Passées sous silence : onze femmes écrivains à relire. Valenciennes : Presses Universitaires de Valenciennes, 2015. Pp 207. ISBN 9-782364-240285. 22€ (Paper).

The eleven authors we are invited to rediscover in this volume of essays edited by Patrick Bergeron include three Canadians (Julie Bruneau-Papineau, Éva Circé-Côté, Adrienne Maillet), one Swiss (Catherine Colomb), and seven French writers (Marcelle Tinayre, Judith Cladel, Thérèse Bentzon, Lucie Delarue-Mardrus, Mireille Havet, Jane de la Vaudère, Valentine de Saint-Point). As Béatrice Didier notes in her foreword, the common thread that unites these women is “le silence et l’oubli,” a silencing related to their sex but also with multiple related causes that this collection seeks to illuminate (11). These causes include self-censorship, marginality (geographical, social, professional), and choice of genre. The selection of authors is partly fortuitous, the idea for the volume having emerged from a workshop, “Grandes oubliées de l’histoire littéraire,” held in Fredericton, New Brunswick, in 2011. In his preface, Bergeron affirms the possibility and necessity of a reassessment of these writers considered in their “contextes historiques, idéologiques et sociaux” (20) [his italics].

A number of the essays focus on a single work. François Ouellet devotes most of his article on Catherine Colomb to an analysis of her novel Les esprits de la terre (1953), “l’une des plus belles expressions romanesques du tragique qu’on trouve dans la littérature du XXe siècle” (33). Thérèse Bentzon is the subject of Jean Anderson’s study in which she compares Bentzon’s novel L’Émancipée (1887) to Sarah Orne-Jewett’s A Country Doctor (1884). A woman poet’s struggle for emancipation is the theme of Lucie Delarue-Mardrus’s Rédalga (1928). Melanie Collado shows how the story of the novel’s heroine was inspired by the life of the author’s acquaintance, the British poet Anna Wickham. France Grenaudier-Klijn’s essay highlights Marcelle Tinayre’s La femme et son secret (1933), a non-fictional text that constituted an ideological “revirement” on the part of the advocate of women’s rights (47).

Judith Cladel belongs, like Tinayre and Delarue-Mardrus, to what Margot Irvine defines as “une génération de transition” that came of age in the Belle Époque and whose careers sometimes lasted through the interwar period and beyond. Irvine demonstrates the importance of both family and professional networks for Cladel, particularly her role as a member of the jury of the Prix Femina from 1916 to 1958. Another period of transition, this time in Québec, is represented by Adrienne Maillet, author of popular sentimental novels published between 1937 and 1954. Cynthia Lemieux argues that Maillet’s novels, although [End Page 142] still “soumis à la logique normative et morale de l’Église catholique, traditionaliste et patriarcale,” (163) also reflected the emergence of a new elite whose values were “plus modernes, urbaines et intellectuelles” (161). Literally transitioning between two worlds, the avant-garde of Belle Époque Paris and later Cairo as a convert to Islam, Valentine de Saint-Point remains a controversial figure, “mal connue” (189). Élodie Gaden makes a convincing case for the relevance of Saint-Point to readers today.

The posthumous publication of écrits intimes has brought recognition to two women whose lives could not have been more diverse: Julie Bruneau-Papineau and Mireille Havet. Mylène Bédard offers a re-evaluation of the correspondence of Bruneau-Papineau (1823–1862), positing that her construction of a melancholic self-image was “une posture d’écriture se situant à la source du romantisme canadien” and “une stratégie d’écriture de résistance à une identité assignée” (99). The intimate journals of Mireille Havet, covering the period 1918 to 1928, only came to light in 2003. Emmanuelle Retaillaud-Bajac provides an overview of the life and an appreciation of the works of this “figure remarquable, tout à la fois lesbienne à la vie sulfureuse et diariste aussi prolixe qu’inspirée” (127).

Few of the writings of the Montréal journalist, poet and playwright...


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