Jean Charles Harvey.
Volume 11 Number 4.
Les demi-civilisés, in its first faithful English translation since its publication in 1934, 1962, and 1966, seems more like a nineteenth-century French romantic novel transplanted to Quebec than a modern novel of manners. The love story of Max and Dorothee is closely linked to the historical setting of Taschereau's Quebec, in which Max's freedom of expression is curtailed by the forces of the Establishment, just as Harvey's own journalistic career was stifled and his novel pu| on the local Index.
The transformation of autobiography into fiction is sometimes difficult but profitable, as proved by Kathleen Ross's roman à clé in the novel; however, Harvey was not aiming to blackmail the targets of his satire. His scope is wider than the mere lampooning of politics, manners, and education: his vision of a strong, free, and independent nation of "civilisés" springing from the peasant virtues of Quebec did not match the harsh reality of the backward province, and the real theme is the inevitable erosion of innocence and optimism, a kind of "education sentimentale."
Unfortunately, Harvey's prose, even in a skilful translation by the poet John Glassco, does not rival Flaubert's, nor save the novel from being considered primarily of social and historical interest. The satirical dream sequence (in chapter VIII, "The Land Where Thought Is Forbidden," for example) is lost in the mixture of polemical journalism and melodrama. The book deserves to be read but should be judged as a product of its period.
Philip K. Harber, Toronto Board of Education, Toronto, ON.
1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995
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