On the occasion of his 60me anniversary, the Department of Literature in the French Language of the Université de Montréal highlighted the immense work of Marie-Claire Blais during an evening on September 9, held at the Faculty of Music. The author, doctorate from the University honorary cause in 2012, he came to the mountain campus to meet the students on multiple occasions with the same generosity each time.
The evening began with an interview by Francis Gingras, professor at the French Language Department of Literature, with the author Hélène Dorion about the writing of the opera libretto. Yourcenar: an island of passions, co-written with Marie-Claire Blais. This was followed by a moving recital by the mezzo-soprano Stéphanie Pothier, a graduate of the Faculty of Music, accompanied on piano by Francis Perron, professor of the faculty. Finally, a round table on the work of Marie-Claire Blais directed by Élisabeth Nardout-Lafarge brought together Jean Bernier, Lise Gauvin, Kevin Lambert and Catherine Mavrikakis.
Highlights the prodigious presence of Marie-Claire Blais
Lise Gauvin, honorary professor in the Department of French Language Literature, recalled Marie-Claire Blais with emotion: “She has always been for me the prodigious friend whose presence has never failed to accompany me. What I remember about her is her presence. She is a presence for her friends, but also a presence for her characters and for the vast world, which she translates through a choral writing that we find both in A season in the life of Emmanuel than in his other books.
She also remembered her listening. “Marie-Claire Blais offered each of her interlocutors an exceptional quality of listening. And in her books there is a cast of voices between various characters as if it were a game of multiple echoes. Moreover, she was able to detect in each one the singularities that determine them. In her novels, she lets others speak, that is, her characters, leading them into a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions,” she said.
The editor of the writer who died in 2021, Jean Bernier, spoke of “this tiny woman with this fragile voice who engages in dialogue with the whole world.”
Give a place to the excluded, the marginalized
In a very contemporary way, Marie-Claire Blais gives a voice in her novels to the excluded, to those we never talk about and reveals the depth of each one. “All the characters, regardless of their origin or social background, are entitled to great thoughts about the human condition, about the fate of existence, about inequalities, about the beauty of art, about poetry,” said Kevin Lambert, Graduated from the Department of Literature in the French Language.
Marie-Claire Blais had, according to Jean Bernier, “this desire to make literature an instrument for the inclusion of different groups. There is a desire to affirm the rights of these people in her books to give them more space in life, so that this translates into a change of morals, a change of laws”.
“I had the strange feeling of coming into contact with someone who invented a form when I started reading Thirstyin 1995”, mentions Kevin Lambert about this writer who plays with temporalities and skilfully mixes potential and reality.
Also noteworthy is the art of the subsection in Marie-Claire Blais. We thus pass from one subjectivity to another without realizing it, as in the incipit ofA season in the life of Emmanuel:
“Grandma Antoinette’s feet dominated the room. There they were, calm and astute as two lying beasts, hardly trembling in their black boots, always ready to rise: they were feet bruised by long years of work in the fields (the one who first opened his eyes in the morning dust I still didn’t see them, I still didn’t know the secret wound in the leg, under the wool stocking, the swollen ankle under the prison of lace and leather…), noble and pious feet (n no, do all women go to church? mornings in winter?) […]»
An opera written by Marie-Claire Blais and Hélène Dorion
Hélène Dorion wrote with Marie-Claire Blais Yourcenar: an island of passions, an opera on the life and works of Marguerite Yourcenar. Weird fact: they wrote the booklet before the music was composed. Éric Champagne then set the work to music and it was presented for the first time in 2021 at the Quebec Opera Festival and the Montreal Opera. Stéphanie Pothier, a graduate of the UdeM School of Music, played the lead role of Marguerite.