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The American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec: Ideologies and Utopia in Antoine Gerin-Lajoie's 'Jean Rivard.'

Robert Major Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1996. xi + 253 pp. $60.00 (CAN)

LITTLE, IFS ANYTHING, of the nice scholarly cogency or wry polemical force of its original is lost in this adaptation/translation of Robert Major's `Jean Rivard' ou l'Art de reussir. Ideologies et utopie dans l'oeuvre d'Antoine Gerin-Lajoie (Presses de l'Universite Laval, 1991). Again vigorously, Major's recontextualizing of Gerin-Lajoie's "seminal" novel in two parts (Jean Rivard, le defricheur canadien [1862]; Jean Rivard, economiste [1864]) works to challenge the "accepted or standard way of reading nineteenth-century Quebec novels," which "have always been considered to be inspired by conservative and reactionary nationalism and patriotism, thus showing how French Canadians supposedly turned inwards after the crushing of the Patriotes' revolt in 1837 and 1838" (ix). The question this witty revisionist study sets is admirably clear: is the hero of Gerin-Lajoie's classic "a farmer and tiller of the soil, as he has been traditionally viewed by the critics"?--or is he more aptly recognized as "a producer and an industrialist, a capitalist visionary and an American pioneer (97)? For all the cautious pragmatism of the analysis that enables it, the answer The American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec has to give to that question takes no refuge in a weak disjuction, brooks no contradiction or mean: the creator of lean Rivard, so Major forcefully responds, is kin to such representative exponents of Anglo-American go-getting as Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Horatio Alger Jr. How difficult it must become, after The American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec, to take Jean Rivard in the usual way provides a measure of Major's effectiveness in arguing his case.

The sureness of Major's finding for an American-style visionary in the character of Jean Rivard and his author issues from a multifaceted sociocriticism in which prudence and passion are near allied (there are exclamation marks galore). Chapter 1 highlights the "influence" of anglophiles Father J.B.A. Ferland and Etienne Parent on Gerin-Lajoie's education and immediate intellectual milieu. Chapter 2 reads the ideological intention authorized by Jean Rivard's own paratext, and goes on to demonstrate Gerin-Lajoie's sympathetic reading of Franklin and the very likely "influence" on Jean Rivard of the Emersonian gospel for wealth, power, and self-reliance scripted in The Conduct of Life. Chapter 3 connects Jean Rivard with Robinson Crusoe in a religion of economics, and with the "`incarnate Democrat"' Napoleon, "undeniably the protagonist's most constant analogue," in a religion of power politics (121, 135). Chapter 4 argues for a recognition of Jean Rivard as "a remarkable atavar of a proven genre, an extremely American incarnation of a millenarian inspiration, a work that, in short, is at the meeting-point of a rich, utopian intertextuality" (144). The program of education Gerin-Lajoie's classic novel would advance is demonstrated to follow the "vision" of a certain Bishop Felix-Antoine-Philibert Dupanloup "in every detail" (169). And Chapter 5 establishes Jean Rivard as a text for "republicanism," not "feudalism," in a properly happy "Laurentia" (181). Major, in the end, is prudently sympathetic to the utopian dream of Gerin-Lajoie and his enlightened contemporaries in Quebec, who "cannot possibly be held responsible for the frequent exaggerations and excesses of their ideology, especially since their aim was precisely to give [their] . . . economic ambitions a human face: a republic of small landowners, development that is concerned with nature, gradual and structured urbanization, industrialization that is harmonious and integrated with its environment, diversified and comprehensive economic activity, and an intense civic and political life that would accentuate the sense of public responsibility in all citizens" (200). Vive le Quebec libre!--so the ideology The American Dream in Nineteenth-Century Quebec itself registers would seem quietly to uphold the value of a longstanding hope.

Given the number of references Major makes to writings in English (from Shakespeare, Sidney, Harrington, Cooper, Dickens, Hawthorne, Twain, Chesterton, Aldous Huxley, Faulkner, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, MacLennan, and Mailer, among others), to suggest that a closer attention to Anglo/American readings of Quebec would have further strengthened, yet complicated, his thesis might seem de trop, even churlish. And yet, the narrative that opens The American Dream in Nineteenth Century Quebec invites just such a suggestion. Major opens with a `take' on the "astonishment" the narrator of Moby-Dick experiences before the sight of pilot prophet Father Mapple's withdrawal into "`his little Quebec"' (3). "The reader may well ask what Quebec is doing in Melville's novel," asks Major, who immediately goes on to provide the answer: "For Americans, Quebec must have represented isolation and solitude, since this image sprang to the novelist's mind!" (3). Ironically enough, though, what Melville's "chosen metaphor" of "`little Quebec"' would in fact seem to indicate is a close comparison of Mapple's pulpit with those `capital' ships of state, the bloodthirsty, Quaker-owned Pequod, the United States man-of-war Neversink (White-Jacket) and the Mississippi steamboat Fidele, with its cargo of counterfeits and purveyors of confidence (The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade).(1) If America has often figured as "a foil for Quebec" (5), evidence for such a foiling is scarcely to be found in Melville's oeuvre. Major and Melville are of a mind on one score at least, on a positive co-relation of Quebec/Amerique.

A few words should also be said about the quality of the English that translates `Jean Rivard' ou l'Art de reussir: considered all in all, it seems not so very good. Here are a few examples:

For example, a distinctive feature to novelist and

essayist Victor-Levy Beaulieu's work is his

fascination with Melville, which drove him to

relentlessly pursue the American author in his life

and in his work, and to finally appropriate and

symbolically integrate him into Quebec. One can

readily recognize this feature, and afterwards

analyse it if it is so desired. (6)

The quotations that pepper this chapter--words of

those close to Gerin-Lajoie or of thinkers who

could have strongly influenced him--all of which

work toward a valorization of the conquering

qualities of the American, outline a true zeitgeist.(52)

The massive emigration of his fellow citizens to

the United States marked Gerin-Lajoie's maturity

at the time he wrote Jean Rivard (55)

All historians of settlement stress the vital role of

the clergy; though not the most flattering portrayal

of the settlers, their opinions are doubtless valid,

given their unanimity. (78)

In the second edition of his book, Gerin-Lajoie

omitted the four chapters (fifty three pages!) that

narrated Jean Rivard's parliamentary life.

Monsignor Roy was greatly interested in this

omission, which apparently annoyed him. (79)

`Jean Rivard' ou l'Art de reussir, winner of the Prix litteraire Henry-Desjardins in 1991, the Prix litteraire Gabrielle-Roy in 1992, and the Prix Champlain in 1994, deserved a better fate in its Englishing.


(1.) Some four years or so before completing Moby-Dick, Melville had written: "a man-of-war is a lofty, walled, and garrisoned town, like Quebec, where the thoroughfares are mostly ramparts, and peaceable citizens meet armed sentries at every corner" (White-Jacket, chap 18; cited from lay Leyda, The Melville Log [NY: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1951], 1.257). Melville's only visit to Quebec (city and province) that we know of was occasioned by his honeymoon with Elizabeth Shawl He evidently found there another figure of his homeland.
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Author:LaBossiere, Camille R.
Publication:Utopian Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1997
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