Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Chapter Nine
From Coninement to Constellation:
Le premier jardin
Like Gabrielle Roy's La montagne secrète (chapter eight), Anne Hébert's
novel Le premier jardin (1988) casts as its main character an artist figure
in quest of identity. 1 In both cases, whatever meaning the protagonist
discovers is encased in memory and emerges through an encounter
with the landscape, mediated by art. In the case of Roy's painter Pierre,
origins are found in nature; for Hébert's actress Flora, on the other
hand, identity is housed in the city, a repository of memories, which she
initially seeks to avoid, but ultimately must confront. Set in 1976, in the
wake of the Quiet Revolution and in the midst of the women's libera-
tion movement in Quebec, Hébert's novel depicts national, gender, and
personal identity as inextricably entwined and ultimately culminating
in a constellation of multiple, even contradictory, points.
An Identitary Mystery
The question (if not yet quest) of identity is posed from the outset of Le
premier jardin , since the main character is unnamed in the first sentence
and identified by two different names in the second sentence: her legal
name - Pierrette Paul - and her stage name - Flora Fontanges (9). Not
only does her status as an actress further complicate matters, since she
plays multiple roles and assumes theatrical identities through method
acting, but her legal name is also problematic, since she was named for
the saints of her birth day, Pierre and Paul, a common occurrence for
first names, but hardly for last names, which are normally inherited
from one's parents and then serve as markers of family and ethnic ori-
gin. In short, the possibility that the protagonist is an orphan is sug-
gested from the start for the vigilant reader, left in dim light if not total
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