Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia




[For the citation, see the end of the text]


Those who think (as most probably do) of literature in French as existing only in France may be surprised to have their attention directed to a literature in French already quite voluminous and characterized by many remarkable qualities, produced outside of France and indeed under another flag.


This literature should interest especially not only Canadians, but also Americans, for while the French Canadian population in Canada is about two millions, there are one million five hundred thousand under the Stars and Stripes. Furthermore the international boundary line between the United States and Canada presents not the slightest barrier to travel and particularly in the Summer picturesque French Canada receives thousands of visitors.


The French Canadian people are determined to develop their language and literature. It is reasonable to suppose that they will be able to do this better and better as time progresses. This will be a distinct advantage generally, since they will thus make a contribution to variety of culture on a continent, where levelling and uniformizing processes are so powerful that most cities and communities thereon differ principally in climate.


It is a singular tribute to British administration that the French Canadian people, given an invitation to join the neighboring republic, unanimously refused. They found by experience that they possessed greater liberty where they were and more chance of developing in a smaller nation than as a small element in a much larger nation. There has been a certain amount of friction and memories of the conquest die hard. However, the way seems clear for cooperation of the two races in the development of a great commonwealth, the progress of which may be promoted better thus than by one race of homogeneous culture (1).


This may be greatly helped, if it should be generally realized by all English speaking races that the acquisition of the French language is for them whether for commercial, educational, diplomatic or military reasons a practical necessity, to say nothing of its desirability for cultural reasons (2). It is not too much to say that there is every reason for requiring every student in the high schools and universities of the English speaking countries to attain a good (including a speaking) knowledge of French. With English and French, it has been truly said, one can go anywhere and get along. Those familiar with the interesting development of literature in the English language outside of the mother country i.e. in the United States, Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc., who have observed the preservation of certain qualities deeply rooted in the common stock of a great race and literature and the combination therewith of other new qualities characteristic of the new domains, which the race has occupied, will be interested in observing a similar process in French Canadian literature. In each case the new product is different, yet not in any sense foreign.


There are good reasons for the comparatively slow development of French Canadian literature. This has one advantage for the literary critic. He can in a way distinctly unusual follow the entire course of development of a literary genre through the years without facing an almost hopeless task as to quantity. Not since ancient times has this been possible in exactly the same way as it is with French Canadian literature.


To work in a new field, however, is difficult, especially in a field of such comparatively recent development as the present study, the title of which the reader is asked to consider as somewhat elastic.


If this possesses any merits, credit therefor is due to the kindly and helpful advice of the abbé Camille Roy, professor of the Petit Séminaire of Quebec and of Laval University , whose work in advancing, interpreting and contributing to French Canadian letters is so well known and so generally appreciated. To him more is owed than can well be expressed. For the faults of this study the author alone is responsible.


(1) Cf. The farewell address of Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada , to the Legislative Assembly of Quebec, July, 1878, The History of the Administration of H. R. H. Frederick Dufferin . etc. Montreal , Lovell, 1878, p. 748.


(2) Cf recent developments in Gr. Britain as illustrated by reports of the Committee to inquire into the position of modern languages in the educational system of Gr. Britain and the Report on the Teaching of French in the Secondary Schools of London .


Charles Frederick Ward,

State University of Iowa .

March, 1921.

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Source: Charles Frederick WARD, "Preface", in The Récit and Chronique of French Canada , Montreal , Librairie G. Ducharme, 1921, 44p., pp. 9-10.


© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College