Thursday, March 10, 2011

Andree Levesque on Robert Rumilly

Andrée Levesque's review of Jean-Francois Nadeau's biography Robert Rumilly, l'homme de Duplessis at H-Canada starts with an arresting sentence:
Who at some time in their life has not picked up one of the forty-one volumes of Rumilly's History of the Province of Quebec? [my translation]
Among anglophone historians, I think the answer would be "Practically everyone!"

Levesque provides not only a vigorous review of Nadeau but also a striking precis of the life of Robert Rumilly. I thought he was a kind of Quebec precursor to Pierre Berton. The successful and prolific non-academic historian of Quebec turns out to have had a French military colonial childhood (born Martinique 1897) and a past as a street-fight organizer for the extreme rightwing Action Francaise in the interwar years. He was thirty when he came to Quebec, which appealed to him precisely because it seemed still to partake of the traditional, royalist, reactionary France he supported. Rumilly then turned into an writer of what Levesque calls almost bulemic productivity, and declared himself an independent dispassionate chronicler of Quebec while maintaining an active career as an eminence grise to Maurice Duplessis, and filling his works with anti-semitism and other hatreds.

Amazing story, and the long review in French is worth the effort, not least because Andrée Levesque writes the most elegant French.
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