Unfortunately, I will not be able to participate in your discussion,
virtually or otherwise. Perhaps, however, you might like to draw your
participants' attention to my article, "Maria and Her Mother: Conflict
and Continuity in Maria Chapdelaine," Symposium 50 (1996): 88-100.
Good luck with this interesting project.
Bonjour...Is there a possibility that the article is posted online? And if it is, where can I access it? I will be more than glad to share this with the readers...merci!Ý Rhea
Sorry, I have no idea. However, I am reasonably confident that the
University of Maine subscribes to Symposium which is published by Syracuse
|Title: MARIA AND HER MOTHER: CONFLICT AND CONTINUITY IN MARIA CHAPDELAINE
, By: Brault, Gerard J., Symposium, 00397709, Summer96, Vol. 50, Issue
Database: Academic Search Premier
MARIA AND HER MOTHER: CONFLICT AND CONTINUITY IN MARIA CHAPDELAINE
EIGHTY-ONE YEARS after it first appeared on the eve of World War I and with over ten million copies sold, Louis Hemon's Maria Chapdelaine is among the all-time French-language best-sellers. A grim tale of life and death in the rugged Lake Saint John country, the novel initially met with a mixed reception in Quebec and, over the years, has given rise to much controversy. It cannot be gainsaid, however, that Hemon, a Frenchman who worked for a year as a farm hand at Peribonka shortly before meeting death in a railroad accident at the age of 33, succeeded in capturing the accents, the rhythm of work, and the mind-set of pioneers engaged in an enterprise that was doomed to failure.
The central character is clearly Maria, a sturdy and attractive young woman--15 years old when the story opens--who loses the man that she loves and is secretly planning to wed, the adventurous Francois Paradis, when he dies in a tragic winter accident. Maria then debates for a long time whether to favor an energetic and articulate emigrant to New England, Lorenzo Surprenant, who holds out the promise of a better life and dazzles her with the prospect of bright city lights; or marry her other suitor, Eutrope Gagnon, an earnest, steady, but unexciting neighbor.
Still entertaining doubts but on the verge of succumbing to Lorenzo's blandishments ("Pourquoi rester la [i.e., in Quebec]," she asks herself, "et tant peiner, et rant souffrir? . . . Pourquoi? . . . " ), Maria, in the penultimate chapter, hears three mysterious voices as, lost in thought, she keeps vigil over the body of her mother who has died suddenly. The first voice reminds her of the beauty of each passing season in Quebec; the second recalls the sweet and familiar sounds of French; the third and most compelling voice, "la voix du pays de Quebec," tells her where her duty lies: "Nous sommes venus il y a trots cents ans, et nous sommes restes . . ." (197). The faith, language, and moral qualities we brought with us have become sacred to us. Others came and seized all they could. But we persisted, we held on. "Nous sommes un temoignage"--the phrase is used twice--for those who will come after us. And that is why we must remain (197-98).
This passage, which I have merely summarized, is often cited because of its remarkable poetic quality and because, for many, its soaring affirmation of Quebecois ideology still rings true today. However, it stands out in sharp contrast with the rest of the narrative, and the somber, one-page conclusion in which Maria accepts Eutrope's proposal of marriage is more in keeping with the novel's stark realism.
What reason can be given for the sudden and curious change of style and tone? Is it sufficient to state that these voices merely echo turn-of-the-century patriotic orations and manifestos? The answers to these questions, I believe, lie in Maria's complex relationship with her mother Laura. Critics have generally concerned themselves with the multiple courtships and with the political significance of Maria's decision and have ignored the all-important moth-er-daughter connection. Filial devotion more than physical attraction or ideology motivates Maria's eventual choice of a husband, and the voices she hears echo that of her dead mother.
The Chapdelaines live 12 miles in the woods above Peribonka. When the novel opens it is April, and Maria has just returned from a month-long visit with her mother's relatives, the Bouchards, across the lake at Saint-Prime. It soon becomes apparent that the Chapdelaines' neighbor, Eutrope Gagnon, has been courting Maria for a year and is working up to a marriage proposal. Maria is acutely aware that her parents look with favor upon this union because it means that she would live nearby and Would also confirm their deep-seated conviction that farming is superior to all other forms of existence (154).
Although too tactful to mention this belief as Maria struggles to make the right choice, Laura has articulated it on two earlier occasions, both in the presence of her daughter: in a conversation with Francois (35), who has sold his father's farm and prefers working as a lumberjack or earning a living hunting, serving as a guide, or trading with the Indians; and in a discussion with Lorenzo (134-35), who has also disposed of the family farm but emigrated to New England. In each exchange--one of the dialogues with Lorenzo constitutes a kind of debate--Laura simply and stubbornly maintains that nothing in the world can compare with the peace and security of rural life: "La mere Chapdelaine pourtant secouait encore la tete. 'Ne me dites pas ca; il n'y a pas de plus belle vie que celle d'un habitant qui a une bonne terre'" (137).
At one point, Laura becomes ecstatic ("elle montra une sorte d'exstase mystique" ) at the sight of the land the men have cleared, her rapture anticipating the tone of the nocturnal voices:
Elle se fit le chantre des gestes heroiques des quatre Chapdelaine et d'Edwige Legare [the hired hand], de leur bataille contre la nature barbare et de leur victoire de ce jour. Elle distribua les louanges et proclama son legitime orgueil, cependant que les cinq hommes fumaient silencieusement leur pipe de bois ou de platre, immobiles comme des effigies apres leur longue besogne--des effigies couleur d'argile, aux yeux creux de fatigue (49).
Another remark Laura makes in her daughter's presence, this time to Lorenzo, also later reverberates in Maria's reverie: "'Samuel a pense a aller dans l'Ouest, un temps,' dit la mere Chapdelaine, 'mais je n'aurais jamais voulu. Au milieu de monde qui ne parle que l'anglais, j'aurais ete malheureuse tout mon regne. Je lui ai toujours dit: "Samuel, c'est encore parmi les Canadiens que les Canadiens sont le mieux'" (60).
Despite her effusions, Laura qualifies her statements concerning the advantages of rural living in one important respect: she would dearly love to reside in a built-up area. Although she affirms this over and over again (20,26,35,93,99,134,137), Laura, the long-suffering pioneer wife, nevertheless resolutely follows her husband every time he gets the urge to pull up stakes. (The family is currently living on its fifth homestead, all of them consisting of land laboriously cleared by hand and of a cabin and adjacent structures built from scratch.)
Growing up, Maria shared her mother's longing for the comforts and the security of village life (35) but, captivated by Francois, now sees things differently. Although she has a divergent view of what constitutes the good life, Laura herself is quite taken with the tall, handsome, and venturesome Francois, who reminds her of Samuel (34). After Francois has departed, Laura confides to her daughter:
. . . Du temps que j'etais fille, a Saint-Gedeon, la maison etait pleine de veilleux quasiment tous les samedis soirs et tous les dimanches: Adelard Saint-Onge, qui m'a courtisee si longtemps; Wilfrid Tremblay, le marchand, qui avait une si belle facon et essayait toujours de parler comme les Francais; et d'autres . . . sans compter ton pere, qui est venu nous voit quasiment toutes les semaines pendant trois ans avant que je ne me decide . . . . (38-39)
During a veillee attended by all three of Maria's beaux, Laura teases her daughter about her shyness: "'Maria n'a pas une bien belle facon a soir,' dit la mere Chapdelaine comme pour l'excuser. 'Elle n'est guere accoutumee aux veilleux, voyezvous . . . '" (66). Hemon, however, remarks that, in the eyes of her suitors, the young girl has undreamed of charms (66).
Later that same evening, Laura invites Francois to stay overnight:
"Tu couches icitte a soir, Francois?" demanda le pere Chapdelaine. Sa femme n'attendit pas une reponse. "Comme de raison!" fitelle. "Et demain on ira tous ramasser des bleuets. C'est la fete de sainte Anne." (66-67)
The following morning, after the visitor has washed, shaved, and donned clean clothes borrowed from Maria's brothers, Laura compliments him on his appearance (67).
To interpret Laura's behavior as coquettish or to conclude that she is a rival for Francois's affections would distort the meaning of this passage: Maria's mother is starved for company and is merely being hospitable. Even when considered in the light of other clues, such words and deeds do not necessarily betray real conflict in the mother-daughter relationship.
The breadmaking episode, in which only one sentence is spoken, is a case in point. Baking is a weekly ritual in the Chapdelaine household, and two ovenfuls are required to supply the needs of the eight family members and their hired hand. The dough is prepared indoors but baked outside in a cement oven covered with a small ridge roof made of boards, a few yards away from the kitchen door.
Maria se chargeait invariablement de la premiere fournee; invariablement aussi, quand la deuxieme fournee etait prete et que la soiree s'a-vancait deja, la mere Chapdelaine disair charitablement:
"Tu peux te coucher, Maria, je guetterai la deuxieme cuite."
Maria ne repondait rien; elle savait fort bien que sa mere allait tout a l'heure s'allonger sur son lit tout habillee, pour se reposer un instant, et qu'elle ne se reveillerait qu'au matin. Eile se contentait doric de raviver la boucane qu'on faisait tousles soirs dans le vieux seau perce [to ward off mosquitoes], enfournait la deuxieme cuite et venait s'asseoir sur le seuil, le menton dans ses mains, gardant a travers les heures de la nuit son inepuisable patience. (77-78)
Jean-Claude Dupont has written a useful compendium of French-Canadian folktales, songs, and lore about breadmaking. In the nineteenth century, old-fashioned outdoor ovens became a powerful symbol of the great regard many Quebecois have for their traditional values (61-62), and to this day they are a tourist attraction along the roadside in rural areas of Quebec.
However, Dupont has shown that baking is also a sexual metaphor and the basis for many amusing popular French-Canadian expressions (67-72).
Quand il s'agit de nommer une partie du corps ou de designer un geste relatifs a la procreation, on a cree des mots ou des expressions empruntes au four a pain. L'homme qui demandera a sa femme si elle veut avoir des relations sexuelles dira: "C'est-y a soir qu'on chauffe le four?" Et la femme repondra parfois: "Il n'y a plus de bois fendu" ou "Il n'y a plus de bois sec." Ce sont la deux reponses negatives. Si la femme est menstruee, elle repondra: "Le bois est mouille" ou "Le bois est vert." La meme demande faire a la femme par le mari peut aussi devenir: "On enfourne le pain?" ou "On rougit le tisonnier?" ou "On tisonne?" Il y a encore une autre facon de demander a sa femme si elle accepte d'avoir des relations sexuelles; le mari dira: "Astu frotte la porte du four?" La femme repondra alors: "La porte du four est luisante," signe de sa disponibilite. Lorsqu'on est satisfait de la jouissance obtenue, on dira: "On a reussi une bonne cuite!" (68-69)
There is no overt eroticism in the breadmaking scene in Maria Chapdelaine, but Freudians might detect hints of sexual rivalry in Laura's words and especially in the oven symbol. Baking in an oven is associated with the so-called womb fantasy, the mental image of remaining in, or returning to, the womb. Freud interprets this thought process as the wish to replace the mother in regard to the father. It is possible, then, to read something altogether different and disturbing into this scene: rivalry for the father's affections.
But bread is also, of course, a Christian symbol representing communion. Attaching religious meaning to this passage is much more in keeping with the deep-rooted beliefs of the main characters in Maria Chapdelaine, who are all devout Catholics. For rural French-Canadians of Hemon's day, making bread often took on profound spiritual significance. As Dupont has pointed out:
Le veritable sens de l'existence terrestre etait celui de l'union avec Dieu et le pain du four etait tres apparente au pain eucharistique. De la meme facon que le pretre benissait l'hostie de sa main, celui qui enfournait le pain benissait la pate pour qu'elle rapporte au centuple. Cette meme tradition existait aussi chez les Acadiens et elle est relevee au Madawaska francais des Etats-Unis: "There used to be a lovely tradition of tracing a cross on the loaves before baking."
La tradition semblable de benir le pain de la main avec un couteau avant d'entamer une miche est beaucoup plus connue au Quebec. Avant de tailler le pain, le chef de la table, le pere ordinairement, nettoyait les deux cotes de la lame de son couteau sur sa chemise, du cote gauche de sa poitrine vis-a-vis du coeur. (84)
It appears, then, that the breadmaking scene in Maria Chapdelaine, rather than suggesting any conflict between mother and daughter, symbolizes, on the contrary, communion, that is, the union of two souls. It illustrates the respect and warm feelings that the two women have for each other.
On Christmas eve, Maria and her mother participate in a touching display of Chapdelaine solidarity. When a blizzard prevents the family from venturing out of doors, Laura regrets aloud not being able to attend midnight mass (98). Feeling guilty about what is perhaps on his wife's mind, Samuel sheepishly allows that she would have had a happier life married to someone else content to stay on a farm near a village. Not so, she quickly reassures him:
"Non, Samuel; le bon Dieu fait bien tout ce qu'il fait. Je me lamente . . . comme de raison je me lamente. Qui estce qui ne se lamente pas? Mais nous n'avons pas ete bien malheureux jamais, tousles deux; nous avons vecu sans trop patir; les garcons sont de bons garcons, vaillants, et qui nous rapportent quasiment tout ce qu'ils gagnent, et Maria est une bonne fille aussi . . . " (99)
Samuel then cradles his younger daughter Alma-Rose in his lap and starts singing Christmas carols to her softly. Everyone, except Maria, who is quietly reciting a thousand Hail Marys for Francois's safe return in the spring, soon joins in. One has the distinct impression that Maria would like to be held, too.
The love that suffuses this passage emanates from the tender words the spouses say to each other and is mixed with religious fervor which, for this pious family, naturally accompanies anticipation of the birth of Christ (99). But the children's affection in this scene is mainly directed toward the father:
[Maria's younger brother] Telesphore vint s'asseoir pres de lui et le regarda avec adoration. Pour ces enfants eleves dans une maison solitaire, sans autres compagnons que leurs parents, Samuel Chapdelaine incarnait toute la sagesse et toute la puissance du monde, et comme il etait avec eux doux et patient, toujours pret a les prendre sur ses genoux et a chanter pour eux les cantiques ou les innombrables chansons naives d'autrefois qu'il leur apprenait l'une apres l'autre, ils l'aimaient d'une affection singuliere. . . . Maria ne put s'empecher d'interrompre quelques instants ses prieres pour regarder et ecouter . . . . (100-01)
When Samuel segues to a familiar folksong ("A la claire fontaine") with its plaintive refrain ("il y a longtemps que je t'aime / Jamais je ne t'oublierai"), Maria once again pauses in her silent prayers to listen with rapt attention:
Maria regardait par la fenetre les champs blancs que cerclait le bois solennel; la ferveur religieuse, la montee de son amour adolescent, le son remuant des voix familieres se fondaient dans son coeur en une seule emotion. En verite, le monde etait tout plein d'amour ce soirla, d'amour profane et d'amour sacre, egalement simples et forts, envisages tous deux comme des choses naturelles et necessaires; ils etaient tout meles l'un a l'autre, de sorte que les prieres qui appelaient la bienveillance de la divinite sur des etres chers n'etaient guere que des moyens de manifester l'amour humain, et que les nai'ves complaintes amoureuses etalent chantees avec la voix grave et solennelle et l'air d'extase des invocations surhumaines. (102-03)
In her intensely emotional state, Maria is thinking of Francois, but this longing is confused with love for her father. Freudians might perhaps find a suggestion of an Electra complex on the daughter's part in this scene, but Hemon was clearly stressing here the sublimation of Maria's desire for her absent lover into a mystical experience.
When Francois meets his death in the wilderness, Maria falls into a state of deep depression and vents her anger and frustration by hating the wintry landscape, especially the threatening forest that surrounds her (128). Woods exercised a powerful attraction on her lover and thus constituted a rival for Maria. However, the heroine also now begins to question some of her mother's most cherished beliefs. Here in Maria Chapdelaine, then, the forest is a maternal symbol signaling an emergent mother-daughter conflict. The forest is certainly a maternal image in much of French-Canadian literature:
L'inconscient revit en foret la magnifique aventure de la vie individuelle et collective. La solitude et l'opulence de la nature sylvestre qui fournit nourriture et vetement, les dangers et les risques sans cesse renaissants, la mort qui guette sa proie et qui finit toujours par vaincre, representent a la fois le mystere de la vie uterine, le sens du sacre, la mere nourriciere, les aventures du heros avant la rentree dans le sein maternel de la terre. A l'inconscient collectif, la foret rappelle la vie primitive alors que l'homme cherchait abri dans les cavernes et les grottes pour se pro-teger des betes fauves dont les cris sinistres eveillent les echos des bois et de la peur. La foret totalise ces impressions et les heros epris de ces charmes rendent compte de la valeur du mythe. (18)
Maria eventually overcomes her dejection but not her animosity for the snowbound woods (138,144,155). More significantly, her attitude toward her mother's firmly established values continues to evolve.
When Lorenzo appears on the scene and endeavors to sweep her off her feet with visions of a life of ease in Lowell, Massachusetts, the seeds have already been sown for the great aversion Maria now feels to her mother's humdrum and overworked existence (149-50).
A travers la neige qui tombait, Maria regardait l'unique construction de planches--mietable et migrange--que son pere et ses freres avaient eleves cinq ans plus tot, et elle lui trouvait un aspect a la fois repugnant et miserable, maintenant qu'elle avait commence a se figurer les edifices merveilleux des cites. L'interieur chaud et fetide, le sol couvert de fumier et de paille souillee, la pompe dans un coin, dure a manceuvrer et qui grincait si fort, l'exterieur desole, tourmente par le vent froid, soufflete par la neige incessante: c'etait le symbole de ce qui l'attendait si elle epousait un garcon comme Eutrope Gagnon--une vie de labeur grossier dans un pays triste et sauvage. (151-52)
While Maria, as highlighted by the excretal imagery of the last passage, is becoming increasingly disgusted with her mother's way of life, other indications point to a continuity of excellent rapport between the two women. Maria, who had always taken her mother for granted (191), grows to appreciate and admire Laura's heroic qualities, and ends up resolved to follow in her footsteps.
Busy with endless household chores and giving the men a hand outdoors whenever possible, Laura and her daughter do not have time to bare their souls or even talk to each other very much. Like everyone else in the family, they work together in harmony. A warm personal relationship is evident in Laura's heartfelt effort to help her daughter overcome her sorrow when Francois dies. After hearing the shocking news, Laura places a hand on her daughter's shoulder and invites her to join the rest of the family in evening prayers (116). Afterward, Maria sums up her parents' dealings with her in these trying circumstances: "Comme ils ont ete bons! Ayant devine son secret, comme ils ont su se taire!" (119).
Two months later, Maria is still grieving. The furtive glance Samuel exchanges with his wife (121) when he casually offers to take her to mass speaks volumes: it is a pretext to get her to the village priest, a gruff but effective counselor. Most revealing, perhaps, of the high regard they have for their daughter, neither parent pries as Maria grapples with her decision as to whether to accept Lorenzo's or Eutrope's proposal of marriage:
Les journees qui suivirent furent pour Maria toutes pareilles aux journees d'autrefois, ramenant les memes taches accomplies de la meme maniere; mais les soirees devinrent differentes, remplies par un effort de pensee pathetique. Sans doute ses parents avaientils devine ce qui s'etait passe; mais, respectant son silence, ils ne lui offraient pas de conseils et elle n'en demandait pas. Elle avait conscience qu'il n'appartenait qu'a elle de faire son choix et d'arreter sa vie, et se sentair pareille a une eleve debout sur une estrade devant des yeux attentifs, chargee de resoudre sans aide un probleme difficile. (152-53)
Finally, deep affection can also be seen in the gentle and selfless care Maria gives her mother when Laura falls sick and passes away.
The climax of the narrative is reached when Maria and her father are watching over Laura's body. In a series of free associations, Samuel pours out his heart to his daughter, telling her anecdote after anecdote about Laura's courage and devotion, culminating in a story Maria has never heard before. One September afternoon, early in his marriage, says Samuel--"en regardant Maria fixement comme s'il voulait lui faire bien comprendre ce qu'il allait dire" (186)--an acquaintance dropped by to warn the couple about bears roaming the area looking for lambs.
That evening, Samuel and his wife go looking for their animals to gather them into the fold for safety. Suddenly, Samuel hears Laura screaming: "Ah! les maudits!" (187). Laura has just discovered two bears devouring a dead lamb. Samuel comes running, but Laura is already rushing the bears with nothing but a stick in her hand, shouting: "'Nos beaux moutons gras! . . . Sauvezvous, grands voleux, ou je vais vous faire du mal!'" The bears beat a hasty retreat, "tout piteux, parce qu'elle les avait epeures comme il faut . . . " (187).
This stirring tale makes a profound impression upon Maria and paves the way for the denouement. A few moments later, her father having fallen asleep in his chair, Maria hears voices that have a distinctly maternal resonance. Unlike the tone in many other parts of the novel, which reflects the harsh realities of the French-Canadian frontier, the human sounds Maria perceives are sweetly lyrical and romantic, and afterward she feels as if her mother has just taken her into her confidence: "Les flammes des deux chandelles fichees dans le chandelier de metal et dans la coupe de verre vacillaient sous la brise tiede, de sorte que des ombres dansaient sur le visage de la morte et que ses levres semblaient murmurer des prieres ou chuchoter des secrets" (199).
In a celebrated phrase, Hemon describes "la voix du pays de Quebec" as "a moitie un chant de femme et a moitie un sermon de pretre" (197). At the end of Maria's dreamlike state, it is clearly a priest who is speaking, doubtless the no-nonsense cure she visited earlier who sternly outlined her duty to help her parents, to marry, and to raise a family (126).
"C'est pourquoi il faut rester dans la province ou nos peres sont restes, et vivre comme ils ont vecu, pour obeir au commandement inexprime qui s'est forme dans leurs coeurs, qui a passe dans les notres et que nous devons transmettre a notre tour a de nombreux enfants: Au pays de Quebec rien ne doit mourir et rien ne doit changer . . . . " (198)
It is significant that, when Maria emerges from her self-communing, her thoughts are not about marriage but about staying in Quebec and about the responsibilities the cure has underscored:
"Alors je vais rester ici . . . de meme!" car les voix avaient parle clairement et elle sentait qu'il fallait obeir. Le souvenir de ses autres devoirs ne vint qu'ensuite, apres qu'elle se fut resignee, avec un soupir. Alma-Rose etait encore toute petite; sa mere etait morte et il fallait bien qu'il restat une femme a la maison. Mais en verite c'etaient les voix qui lui avaient enseigne son chemin. (199)
The cure's straightforward and peremptory counsel plays a large part, then, in Maria's fateful decision to reside "ou il lui etait commande de vivre" (199). However, it should also be underlined that Maria, subconsciously still dependent on her mother, embarks upon a life that will be a continuation of Laura's own. She will remain true to her mother's ideal of rural living and, by marrying a sedentaire, she will realize Laura's dream of settling down in an established area.
The novel's most important narrative structures are obvious: The story is centered on Maria, follows closely the cycle of life in rural Quebec for a year, opposes pionniers and sedentaires (35), and highlights the crisis in turn-of-the-century French-Canadian society torn between dogged loyalty to its homeland and the powerful attraction of emigration to the United States? I should now like to offer two interpretations of Maria's relationship with her mother, a connection that has not received the scholarly attention it deserves.
I have suggested that there is ambivalence in this relationship, especially after Francois dies: on the one hand, opposition and even hostility toward a way of life Laura exemplifies, but on the other, admirable rapport. Freud's theories regarding female sexuality, as refined in recent feminist psychoanalytic studies of the mother-daughter bond, offer a possible explanation of this seemingly contradictory state of affairs.
According to these views, the oedipal phase of infantile development, during which the male child seeks to eliminate the father and possess the mother (vice versa for females), is preceded by another stage characterized by strong attachment to the mother. As conveniently summarized by Marianne Hirsch:
Boys experience only rivalry with the same-sex parent; threatened with castration, they resolve the oedipal conflict very rapidly. Girls, in contrast, feel ambivalent toward the mother who is both rival and object of desire. In fact, Freud emphasizes that the pre-oedipal attachment to the mother is never totally superseded by the desire for the father; neither is the oedipal rejection of the mother ever overcome. This ambivalent relationship dominates a woman's entire life, especially her relationship with her husband or lover. (205-06)
Hirsch has argued that a number of fictional works by female authors can best be elucidated by these findings. I refer in particular to her interesting article on La Princesse de Cleves, in which she maintains that the dyad of Mme. de Chartres and her daughter, the future Princesse de Cleves, surpasses in importance the love-triangle in this novel (Prince de Cleves--Princesse de Cleves--Duc de Nemours):
The mother's admonitions, especially those uttered at her deathbed, represent a fixed point in its social, psychological, and moral topography, a fixed point which determines the heroine's subsequent development. Critics since Fontenelle have commented on the work's rigorous geometric precision. It is my contention that the mother's lesson is at the center of a nexus of scenes that reflect and echo one another, trapping the heroine in a structure of repetitions which ultimately preclude development and progression. (73)
The mother's lesson, then, is double-edged: on the one hand, it seems to offer Mme. de Cleves the possibility of autonomy and even transcendence; on the other, it traps her in a state of continued dependency and emotional infancy. (81)
In her final confrontation with Nemours, the Princess admits that the "duty" which prevents her from marrying "only exists in [her] imagination." This makes it all the more powerful a force, however, because, introduced there by her mother, it becomes the core of her self-image. All of the reasons she gives Nemours are almost exact repetitions of her mother's and her husband's phrases. (82-83)
Freud's theories about individual development may shed light on Maria Chapdelaine, a novel in which, as in La Princesse de Cleves, a mother plays an important role in determining her daughter's decision relative to marriage. In both works, the daughter wrestles with her conscience, seems on the brink of rejecting her mother's values, but in the end adapts to them. The two narratives are not alike in many other respects, of course, but the theme to which I refer offers a useful vantage point from which to analyze the main character. (Space does not allow discussion here of the implications for Hirsch's theory of the fact that Maria Chapdelaine was written by a man, not a woman.)
The parallel that I have drawn between the two novels and the psychoanalytical interpretation that I have tentatively provided of Maria's behavior, interesting as they may be, do not in themselves constitute an adequate explanation of the voices the heroine hears at the wake. I believe that archetypal criticism offers greater insight into what transpires in Maria Chapdelaine.
The tale of Demeter and Persephone (Proserpina and Ceres in Roman mythology) is one of the most enduring mother-daughter narratives and the one that has perhaps exercised the greatest influence on Western literature. Reduced to its essentials, the story relates that one day, while gathering flowers, Persephone was carried away by Hades, god of the underworld, who forced her to partake of a sweet pomegranate seed against her will. After a frantic search and an act of desperation--making the earth barren--Demeter managed to have her daughter returned to her warm embrace, but was forever obliged to allow her to spend a third of the year with Hades. Thereafter, Demeter let the plain bring forth grain again every spring.
The myth's resonance has been detected by literary scholars in many stories, for example of a mother's refusal to accept the loss of a child, of women's struggle to have a voice in male-dominated society, and most important here, of the identification between mother and daughter. In Greek art, Demeter and Persephone are so alike as to be indistinguishable. This is mirrored in the female world of preindustrial society, where mothers impart values to their daughters and teach them the domestic skills they fully expect and count on them to maintain in their own lives. As Josephine Donovan points out: "The women's identity is integral because the nonoedipal condition of women's traditional life is one of repetition and stasis: the daughter is mother of the daughter. There is no change, no progress, no development" (3).
When, in the late nineteenth century, economic and social change offered daughters alternative life styles, generational conflict ensued. In her play entitled Pomegranate Seed (1912), Edith Wharton was perhaps most perceptive in viewing this opposition as a reflection of the abduction of Persephone, but the theme is also present in many novels of the day.
Maria Chapdelaine is a striking illustration of the Demeter-Persephone myth. It also fits the pattern more completely than most stories that are said to share this imagery, for not only is the daughter symbolically abducted from her mother's world when she falls in love with and plans to wed the roving Francois, and later seems about to emigrate to New England with Lorenzo Surprenant, but she also returns, Persephone-like, as it were, to her mother's arms, embracing, albeit resignedly, her way of life.
Feminist scholars have dwelled on the political aspect of the forced separation of mother and daughter by a male, viewing it as "the archetypal experience of women in a patriarchy, for we see in the myth powerful male figures who sexually and emotionally abuse women at will without so much as recognizing their actions as abusive." Maria is pressured by Lorenzo, but his entreaties can scarcely be characterized as improper. Hemon clearly intended the heroine's decision to marry Eutrope and remain in Quebec to be viewed as heroic. Today's reader must decide whether, given the ideological and social constraints of her particular milieu, Maria really had the choice of leaving or not, and must also, of course, determine what to make of these forces.
Though Hemon's use of the Demeter-Persephone myth as a narrative structure has not previously been recognized, it is curious to note one instance in which Maria was viewed, somewhat bizarrely, as incarnating Demeter. In 1927, Joseph-Edouard Perreault, minister of colonization of the Province of Quebec, addressed a gathering of the Association of Canadian Women at Montreal. The minister's speech, entitled "Maria Chapdelaine, wife and mother," alluded to Mme. Philip Croteau, widowed mother of 13 children, who had recently been honored by the Province for having cleared 300 acres of land for cultivation in Abitibi, "the Promised Land." Nowhere in the published version of his lecture embroidering on the conceit that Mme. Croteau is a latter-day Maria Chapdelaine is there any elucidation of the illustration on the cover depicting the heroine of Hemon's novel in the guise of a smiling Demeter, holding a sickle and sheaf of wheat in her right hand, and a basketful of fruit and flowers in her left.
The Pennsylvania State University
1. Gerard Bessette, Lucien Geslin, and Charles Parent, Histoire de la
litterature canadienne-francaise par les textes (Montreal: Centre Educatif
et Culturel, 1968) 344: "Avant la Deuxieme Guerre Mondiale, c'est le roman
francais qui atteignit le plus fort tirage." All textual references are
to Louis Hemon, Maria Chapdelaine, ed. Nicole Deschamps (Montreal: Boreal
Express, 1983). Maria Chapdelaine was first serialized in the Parisian
daily Le Temps, 27 January through 19 February 1914. The first Canadian
edition appeared in Montreal (J.-A. LeFevre) in 1916; the first European
edition was published in Paris by Bernard Grasset in 1921 ("Les Cahiers
verts"). The original typescript is preserved in the Bibliotheque de l'Universite
By GERARD J. BRAULT