Adrienne Choquette, did you say modern?

Once a month, from the pens of writers from Quebec, The duty of literature proposes to revisit, in the light of current events, works from the ancient and recent past of Quebec literature. Discoveries? Proofreadings? Different look? A choice. An initiative of the Académie des lettres du Québec, in collaboration with The duty.

Saturday morning, a world of smells and flavors, coffee, toast, jams, The duty as a tablecloth. Section ” The duty of literature” is an invitation to take your time, to savor the present as a suspended moment. At the table with us today: Adrienne Choquette. That she was born in Shawinigan, like the author of this article, is a detail. That the annual literary prize which bears his name was awarded at the end of March (award-winning work: The silence of the embers by Alec Serra-Wagneur, published by De la maison en feu) is not without interest. But more important is the fact that Adrienne Choquette published one of the first collections of short stories in Quebec, The night does not sleep, which can be described as modern: it was reissued in paperback by BQ a year ago, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the writer’s death. Because this one, a little cramped among the great figures of its time, is surprisingly current.

What is modernity? What does it mean to be of one’s time? And what does time mean for a work? The night does not sleep perhaps provides some answers.

It seems that Adrienne Choquette was discreet. She remained so. If it weren’t for the prize of the same name, we would probably no longer talk about her, which would be unfair, because sobriety of tone and restraint of intrigue are not in themselves faults. By the way, if she pales in comparison to her immediate contemporaries, like Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau, Françoise Loranger, Claire Martin, Yves Thériault, Roger Lemelin, Félix Leclerc, Anne Hébert, born like her in the 1910s, we cannot say that these are popular at the moment. In literature, purgatory is a well-populated place!

With these benchmarks established, this may not be the most appropriate way to approach The night does not sleep, nor the best reason to do so. Reading it, we will rather have the impression, once we have become familiar with a style that is no longer current, that Adrienne Choquette is our contemporary. From 1954, his collection is nourished by dramatic motifs which are familiar to us in what we now experience and see around us (the incommunicability in the couple and the family, the relations of domination of which women and children are victims) as much as than in what we read in many books that are being published today (the intimate in the story).

Of course, this is a convenient shortcut: if society has changed, particularly due to the growing presence of women in the professional sphere, the fact remains that inequality remains a concern, between other places in the subjects covered by the various columns which appear in this newspaper.

This observation requires a closer look at Adrienne Choquette’s collection.

An improbable parentage

At the time of publication of The night does not sleep (1954), the Quebec short story was not particularly flourishing. A collection here and there, too few to be able to determine the dominant trend of the genre, nor to show the conformity or originality of this particular collection in relation to its time. It is also difficult to establish the genealogy of Adrienne Choquette, to find her predecessors, even by broadening the pool of references to illustrious foreigners, whether they are long-standing, such as Maupassant, Chekhov and Fitzgerald, or more recent, like Paul Morand, Marcel Aymé or Marcel Arland.

Choquette doesn’t come out of nowhere, however. Radio presenter and producer, written journalist, she had previously published a collection of interviews, Confidences of French-Canadian writers (1939), the novel The empty cup (1948) and some short stories in magazines. It’s not much, you might say, but these are not times of editorial abundance. On this point, the unblocking will come later and will continue without interruption until now.

The primary interest in rereading a book published half a century ago could be the cross-sectional view it would provide of post-war society. We will have guessed that it is almost nothing of the sort. Certainly, Adrienne Choquette paints beautiful portraits of women and men best suited to the era of the Great Darkness as we usually imagine it, but her stories do not have a sociological vocation or illustrative value. .

His characters even seem anachronistic, outdated. They reflect less the time in which their author lives than they obey an order with a view to small dramas of 10 pages: a man who we want to shield from the emotions likely to break his sick heart becomes a tyrant (“Monsieur Franque “); a woman fears that her daughter will be struck by a hereditary defect present in her husband’s family (“The Broken Vase”); during the wedding night, the young wife feels excluded by her husband’s sleep after lovemaking (“Louis’ sleep”); a young boy is cruelly disappointed by a passing uncle (“The Traveler”); etc. What is at issue is larger than these narrow existences: it is the family, confinement, incommunicability, all themes which, certainly, can be anchored in a precise temporality, but which exist in themselves, without obligation. chronological framework, reference to reality.

Here, none of these large families from the beginning of what would later be called the baby boom. There is no need for a horde of children when we want to show the truly tragic situation of a kid who feels closer to the torturer in his class than to his intransigent parents who claim to help him (“The Strangers”). Brevity is the law, and the distress, the moral misery of the little ones benefit from the situation being concentrated, and abandonment, from the readers finding themselves alone in front of the victim. Living in 10 pages, what a challenge! The characters don’t have much time on their hands, they have to take their coffee black, and too bad for hot milk, sugar and chocolate!

What emerges and is confirmed throughout the collection, as we will have understood, is the point of view of a writer and, specifically, of a short story writer. First remark: with the exception of the last one (“The Evil Eye”, 37 pages), the texts are brief, a cramped space immediately restrictive for the characters, but conducive to reporting the existence of a being from of a moment in his life (a visiting uncle, the wedding night) sometimes everything that is most ordinary (an evening at home, a family dinner), throughout the seven short stories. An exception, however, which is, so to speak, formalism avant la lettre: “Miscellaneous news item”, told contrary to what the title seems to announce.

The broken mirror

Beyond the speed of execution and the possibility of closing the plot forcefully, with the help of the famous punchline, the first benefit of the short story is perhaps due to the variety of approaches it allows within the framework of the same book. We are in a universe of conjugation, not of random assembly: the news exists in itself, in the name of their autonomy, but at the same time they exist through the link which, from the sum of the parts, makes a whole. But it’s a fractured whole. The notion of shards, as in a broken mirror, often mentioned to reflect the particular nature of the collection of short stories, applies here.

If we wanted to approach The night does not sleep from a thematic angle, the motif of solitude would emerge, a solitude rendered, so to speak, structural within the family unit. To this end, the reading notes of Professors Dufour, Lefebvre and Mottet, who presided over the reissue of last year’s collection, in paperback, offer a detailed analysis of a harmful patriarchy which, in fact, never sleeps . Night is at the same time the moment when one could, pure illusion, escape far from the husband, the father or the brother, and the unhealthy, bad part, which is continually active in the shadow, and which draws part of its strength from its invisibility. The conciseness of the short story will have freed the short story writer from filling his book with dated elements, which contributes to its contemporaneity with our times.

Moreover, as realistic as her manner is, Adrienne Choquette seems to approach the question of representation in reverse of the desire to eliminate the distance between reality and writing that is often found among realistic writers. At home, we are kept at a distance from the facts. These are clearly reported. An aphorism here, there, pithy comments like moralists make, images almost everywhere: the narration does not seek to be forgotten; on the contrary, we hear a voice. Despite variations in point of view and angle of presentation of the plots, we recognize this voice from one end of the collection to the other. I talked about sobriety; sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a drop of austerity, of astringency. If I had to establish a continuum, I would place this tall, disheveled Jacques Ferron at the opposite end of the spectrum from Adrienne Choquette.

* * * * *

I hope I haven’t made any The night does not sleep a unique piece in every respect, even unusual. Who read the novel Alexandre Chenevert by Gabrielle Roy, also published in 1954, will find proximity in the desire for rejuvenation in the countryside (“The Evil Eye”). Relationship there is also with the collection The torrent by Anne Hébert, published independently in 1950, and whose short stories The Esplanade house Or A big wedding evoke the decrepit bourgeoisie of the upper town of Quebec, although it is more evident in Laura Cloueta long short story that our writer would publish a few years later.

Without specific ancestors, Adrienne Choquette will not have left any direct “descendants”. His heirs are in fact the winners of the annual short story prize which bears his name.

Well worth another coffee, right?

The night does not sleep

Adrienne Choquette, The Literary Institute of Quebec, Quebec, 1954, 153 pages. Included in pocket format in Bibliothèque québécoise (2023).

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