Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
energy and motivation after a long period of inactivity. Indeed, he had
enjoyed his status above that of the lowly farmer so much that he now
imagines himself as a merchant, an equal of the priest, the doctor, and
the notary, and constituting among the four of them the village 'aristoc-
racy' (56). In short, he seeks to detach himself from farmers and the
farm, which he rents out, and for some time his new affairs flourish,
until the family is ruined by a crop shortage and financial debts exacer-
bated by a moneylender, 'fléau plus nuisible et plus redoutable aux cul-
tivateurs que tous les ravages ensemble de la mouche et de la rouille'
(57; a scourge more harmful and more dreaded by the peasant than all
the ravages together of insects and disease). Finally, 'la terre paternelle,
sur laquelle les ancêtres de Chauvin avaient dormi pendant de si longues
années, fut foulée par les pas d'un étranger.' (58; the paternal land, on
which Chauvin's ancestors had slept for so many long years, fell under
the footsteps of a foreigner.) The word 'étranger' can mean both stranger
and foreigner, and its meaning will be clarified later in the novel; it is not
difficult, however, even at this point to see in the family's dispossession
a reflection of the French-Canadian nation after the Conquest.
When we rejoin the Chauvin family ten years later, they are prey to
the same combination of forces that initiated their undoing; they now
subsist in dire poverty, as a detailed description of their humble dwell-
ing in a harsh neighbourhood of Montreal attests. Chauvin and his son,
with no other training or education, have become humble water bear-
ers, and the narrator is quick to point out that Chauvin's situation is far
from unique: 'Il avait en cela imité l'exemple d'autres cultivateurs qui,
chassés de leurs terres par les mauvaises récoltes et attirés à la ville par
l'espoir de gagner leur vie, en s'employant aux nombreux travaux qui
s'y font depuis quelques années, sont venus s'y abattre en grand nom-
bre, et ont presque doublé la population de nos faubourgs.' (61; In that
he had imitated the example of other peasants who, chased from their
land by poor harvests and attracted to the city by the hope of earning
their livelihood by assuming one of the numerous tasks undertaken
there for some time, had come to rest there in large numbers, almost
doubling the population of our suburbs.) Far from a personal drama,
the situation of the Chauvin family represents a national tragedy,
caused by economic and climatic forces and leading to a dis-place-ment
from the welcoming countryside to the forbidding city, a contrast Sirois
likens to that between 'Eden and Babylon' (29).
In a fascinating rereading of the novel, usually seen as a reactionary
tract upholding rural resignation, Bernard Andrès interprets the family's
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