Vol. 3 No. 2 (Fall 1982)

ETIENNE-F. DUVAL,"Anthologie thématique du théâtre québécois au XIXe siècle," Montréal: Leméac, 1978. 458 p and Etienne-F. Duval, "Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société dans le théâtre québécois 1900-1950," Trois-Rivières: Collection Théâtre d'hier et théâtre d'aujourd'hui, 1981, 247 p

Louise Forsyth

Etienne-F. Duval of the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières has just published his second anthology of plays from the Quebec repertory. The first volume, which appeared in 1978, presented extracts of nineteenth century plays, while the second volume covers the first half of the twentieth century. These two volumes represent a significant attempt to reconstitute the corpus of dramatic texts from Quebec for a period of 150 years. It is a major undertaking, since, until quite recently, most of these plays have been extremely difficult to find and have remained largely forgotten. Duval indicates that he was able to undertake the project thanks to the four volumes of Edouard G. Rinfret, Le Théâtre canadien d'expression française, Répertoire analytique des origines à nos jours and to the collection of archives and other documents at the Université Laval and the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. The two volumes of anthology extracts published by Duval make a major contribution to theatre history in Quebec and Canada, despite the fact that the organization and presentation of his considerable body of material presents several disadvantages for scholars working in the field.

In order to appreciate the significance of Duval's work, it helps to recognize the extent of research which he and his colleagues are doing at Trois-Rivières in the area of theatre history. In 1970 the Centre de documentation en théâtre et littérature québécoise de l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières was created, its first Director being Etienne-F. Duval. Since that time several projects have been undertaken there, one of the most significant being L'Eglise et le théâtre au Québec by Jean Laflamme and Rémi Tourangeau (Fides, 1979). In addition, Duval has created the series 'Collection Théâtre d'hier et théâtre d'ajourd'hui'. This series has encouraged research and made significant texts available to students of Quebec theatre and theatre historians. The first volume in the series appeared in 1973. It was a lecture given by Gustave Lamarche, probably the best known dramatist and theatre producer in Quebec during the first half of the twentieth century: Le théâtre québécois dans notre littérature. The most significant volume to date in the series, as far as theatre historians are concerned, was Aspects du théâtre québécois, edited by Duval, which appeared in 1978. This is a collection of research papers given at the 1977 meeting of L'Association canadienne-française pour l'avancement des sciences (ACFAS), when the Literature section chose the theme of Quebec theatre, suggesting to speakers that they present their research in the following fields: the history of Quebec theatre in the nineteenth century, dramatic authors of Quebec, the history of dramatic literature in Quebec, the evolution of the Quebec stage and theatre companies. The result of this initiative was the presentation of an extraordinary quantity of highly original research in previously unexplored fields. None of these research papers is available elsewhere. Among the most significant articles published in Aspects du théâtre québécois are: Beaudoin Burger, 'Théâtre, littérature et politique en 1837-1838'; Raymond Pagé, 'Le héros dans le théâtre québécois au dix-neuvième siècle'; Raymond F. Montpetit, 'La Construction des théâtres à Montréal, au dix-neuvième siècle. Critique de l'historiographie'; John Hare, 'Le Choix d'un répertoire théâtral et le goût du public. Recherche d'une méthode sociologique'; Jean-Cléo Godin, 'Le Grand Cirque Ordinaire'. Duval's latest publication, Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société dans le théâtre québécois 1900-1950, is published in the same series, which he still edits.

Both the Anthologie thématique and Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société are thematic in methodological approach. Duval claims to have read at least 893 plays as part of the preparation for them, and his choice of themes - nationalism and patriotism - arises out of his impression that this is what most of the texts share in common. Duval is interested above all in Quebec social history as it emerges out of the dramatic texts he has chosen. Both books are divided into two major parts: 'Histoire nationale', which is organized around major events and figures of the past in chronological order according to the events rather than the dates of the plays, and 'Société québécoise', which is divided into such sub-themes as la politique, 1'économie, l'éducation, la famille, vices et travers sociaux. Duval's aim in presenting a number of dramatic extracts in these areas is to invite students and scholars to read, with sympathy and understanding of the socio-political context, the entire works and to appreciate what he believes has been the constant message of Quebec theatre throughout the 150 years: national pride and the will of Quebec society to survive as a unique cultural community. The plays may not be masterpieces, but they were at the time they were written and continue to be today a 'Ieçon vivante' of the national dream:


 
Est-ce dire qu'on ait fini par trouver à ces textes et à leurs auteurs une plus grande valeur sur le plan littéraire? Certes non.... Mais une fois replacé dans sa juste perspective, celle qui dépasse l'exercice littéraire ou artistique pour déboucher sur le geste de communication, le théâtre québécois du dix-neuvième [et du vingtième] siècle est apparu comme la manifestation éloquente de la conscience du peuple, comme l'expression tenace de sa volonté de survivre comme nation ... cette production scénique conserve surtout l'image d'un théâtre de fierté nationale, trouvant dans l'amour du pays sa source première et profonde d'inspiration. (Anthologie thématique, pp 27-28 Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société, p XIV)


In the Anthologie thématique, Duval presents extracts of 50 dramatic works written by 31 different authors. This represents about one-half of the total number of plays known to have been written in the 19th century. For each text he has provided a bio-bibliographical note done in collaboration with Jean Laflamme. While these notes are helpful, they do not give full bibliographical information on the authors' works, on critical studies of them nor on production history. A brief summary of the play allows the reader to situate the extract given in its dramatic context, and the extracts are, in the main, sufficiently long to give the reader a sense of the plays' diverse qualities. The volume is completed by an Index of the works included in the anthology, an Index of the authors and a detailed Table of Contents, which allow the reader quick reference to the book's contents, its organization and structure.

Duval has reproduced verbatim almost the entire 'Introduction' from the Anthologie thématique in the second volume Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société, modified only by the frequent addition of the somewhat annoying footnote 'et du XXe'. The use of the same introductory text underlines the continuity of the presentation from volume to volume but tends to create the misleading impression that there was no change in kind in Quebec dramatic production and theatre activity for 150 years. A new second part of the 'Introduction' reviews the thematic content of the 20th century texts, but, as in the Anthologie thématique, provides incomplete and scattered information for those primarily interested in theatre history, since Duval's primary focus remains on the moral values presented by the plays.

Because Duval maintains his thematic approach in both volumes of the anthology, they share many of the same qualities and disadvantages. It is perhaps unfair to reproach the author for these disadvantages, since he indicates that he is fully aware of them. Nevertheless, the theatre historian will find a good deal of useful information missing and will probably feel considerable frustration in reading both volumes, particularly due to the order of the texts, which makes it impossible to establish the historical evolution of theatre activity, to establish relationships between plays and current events, or to identify the most important authors and moments. In addition, Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société has other weaknesses, in that it provides less information than the first volume. The bio-bibliographical note for each author, which was one of the strengths of the Anthologie thématique, has not been included in the second book. For each author and play, Duval has given only publication information on that particular text, sometimes with an indication of when and where the play was first produced, along with two or three paragraphs which summarize events of the play with special emphasis on the thematic point being stressed. This can give a distorted perspective on both the author and the text.

Duval gives extracts of 143 works, written by 102 authors, in Le Jeu de l'histoire et de la société. He indicates that there are about 813 dramatic texts known to have been written in Quebec between 1900 and 1950 by 193 authors. Since this volume is only about half as long as the Anthologie thématique, while containing extracts from about three times as many plays, the extracts are all very short. The impression of this reader is that they are not sufficiently long to give the reader an adequate taste of the plays themselves.

The shortness of the extracts, along with the non-chronological order of the plays, the dominance of one thematic perspective and the absence of any discrimination between major and minor writers, run the risk of creating misconceptions regarding theatre activity in Quebec during the first half of the twentieth century. Thus, for example, Louvigny de Montigny's Les Boules de neige is not included at all, a relatively unknown author such as Victor Barrette is included five different times, while Gustave Lamarche receives only two mentions. Even more serious, significant plays which signal changes in both the cultural climate and theatre activity are difficult to notice. Eloi de Grandmont's Un Fils à tuer is somewhat lost under the general category of 'Autorité paternelle', and Gratien Gélinas' Tit-Coq is classed under 'L'Enfant naturel', without even a mention of its production history, a presentation which underlines none of the capital importance of the play in Quebec theatre history.