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184 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 Maurice Lemire et al. lA Vie littlraire au Quebec. Vol. 1: 1764-1805, la voix fram;aise des nouveaux sujets britanniques Presses de l'Universite Laval. 498. Embarking on a new assessment of traditional French-Canadian literature, Maurice Lemire and his team have projected five volumes going from the origins to the Great War. The first volume opens with a theoretical introduction and a section on the discovery period, and then examines writing in Quebec from the introduction of printing to the foundation of Le Canadien. Before analysing extant publications, more than half the volume describes cultural life in general terms, stressing the unfavourable conditions for literature in the entire period, the authoritarianism of the old regime and the conflict of directions under the new. At first sight, these seem like the old historical/determinist arguments, but they are developed with a wealth of original information and nuance, even a modicum of self-contradiction. Far from reducing historical forces to a simplistic pattern (such as the old hypothesis ofcultural decapitation), the authors demonstrate a wide range of oppositions within Quebec society, from which there came neither a competent elite nor any clear direction. The title words 'vie litteraire' avoid restricting the authors to any canonical definition of 'literature'; they denote the broad spectrum of activities of a literary nature. In fact, the authors often comment that the materials they have found are 'not acceptable' as literature; nor are they all unequivocally Canadian. Gerard Tougas's judgment that there is no Canadian literature to discuss in this period is invoked, but neither endorsed nor refuted. The volume provides positive evidence of writing, reading, publishing, and some continuity through this confused period, constituting as it were a cultural subsoil (my metaphor) out of which a national literature is to grow at some point in the next four volumes. The approach is partly by chronological slices but mainly by the concept of literary institution manifest in such functions as material production and communication, status of the writer, destinateur-destinataire feedback, selection and control of content, recognition and adaptation of models and genres. This does become rather repetitious, since the same few names recur in each different section. The positive gain is a unique study of the emergence of publishing practices in a specific society where most of the materials are retrievable. Analysis of these materials shows that written stories scarcely went beyond narrative journalism, theatre was a faint old-fashioned echo of France with some local content, political discourse and religious rhetoric had their congruent part, and poetry was the- favourite genre. Much of this circulated in manuscript readings and is lost, but enough survives to show its popularity and character. It was mostly occasional verse commenting on events in the colony or in the world; pre-Romantic and ele- HUMANITIES 185 giac sentiments also found a modest place. The lives and opinions of a few individual printers were among the decisive factors in the transition to a printed literary culture. Cultural continuity is also found in lampoons and songs; however, their adaptation from France to Canada is slight. This approach does not examine such questions as the continuity of characteristic myths and non-institutionalized culture. Some major ideas emerge in what is essentially a survey. The French regime was not supportive of a fully developed colonial culture with its own elites (particularly in the economic sector, since Protestant businessmen were not allowed in). British and clerical mistrust of French liberalism, accentuated by the Revolution and First Empire, stifled the spread of the Englightenment. Canada entered the nineteenth century still looking for a tradition, but possessing the infrastructure of an embryonic literary culture. The documentation, index, and chronology make this volume an invaluable reference work. (JACK WARWICK) Claude Galarneau et Maurice Lemire, editeurs. Livre et lecture au Quebec (1800-1850) lnstitut quebecois de recherche sur la culture 1988. 269 Longtemps negligee, l'etude de la culture de l'imprime au Quebec, au siecle dernier, retient depuis une trentaine d'annees }'attention de bon nombre de chercheurs quebecois. C'est dans le but de reunir quelquesuns de ces demiers et de leur permettre d'echanger le fruit de leurs...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 184-185
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-25
Open Access
No
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