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The leaves of the tree were fluttering. Their gentle murmur gave voice to a
song of tenderness. Pierre listened for a while. He would have loved to let
some portion of that voice be heard through the lines of his drawing. But
what indeed was his purpose, ever more insistently exacting, more daring,
the farther he himself moved onward? Oh, well! No matter! Perhaps there
was nothing more involved than the job of making this individual tree
distinct from all other trees, to be the author of its revelation. He began his
sketch with lines extraordinarily quick and nervous, despite himself pro-
bing the motive cause of what he was doing. What, more than all else, held
his interest captive? The solitary, lonely, abandoned side of things? (14)]
In her description, Roy attempts to depict Pierre's quest to learn about
himself, nature, and art by intertwining his questions with his perceptions
of the tree and his concomitant efforts to capture it on paper. The life lesson
learned here through confrontation with the lone aspen is the overriding
one of the first part of the novel: solitude ('le côté solitaire, abandonné de
la création'). Since, at this point, Pierre's artistic medium is drawing, Roy
again limits herself to suggestions of form and avoids any mention of co-
lour. One might also say that her use of free indirect discourse in short el-
liptical phrases ('Ah, mais n'importe!') imitates the drawing style ('en
traits extraordinairement rapides') she attributes to Pierre, 5 based no doubt
on her perception of René Richard's own manner.
Among the twenty-six lithographs in the portfolio for the illustrated
edition of La montagne secrète , divided among landscapes, portraits, and
animal studies, Richard includes this landscape, entitled Homme adossé
à un arbre (figure 8.1). 6
Here, as in Roy's description, the solitude and fragility of the tree are
matched by those of the man leaning on it, and are accentuated by the
empty space surrounding the conjoined figures in the foreground, which
seem at some remove from the equally isolated trees in the background.
The sparse drawing style further emphasizes the barrenness of the set-
ting and sets the stage for a primitive encounter of man and nature. 7
The entire first part of Roy's novel is, like the quaking aspen scene,
based on a series of similarly constructed episodes, anchored by a land-
scape description in which the perception of a natural phenomenon
(usually accompanied by a cultural artefact) causes Pierre to learn
something about life and concurrently something about art: if not an-
swers then ongoing questions.
In chapter four, for example, having joined his friend Steve for a win-
ter of trapping, Pierre sees and paints their cabin, again with a sense of
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