Thursday, September 04, 2014

Cartier week, #4: la femme de Cartier

(Does the PMO read this blog?  I've just heard that the prime minister and other members of the government will be in Quebec this weekend for the Cartier bicentennial. 'Course maybe it was planned months ago.)

In 2004, Montreal journalist and novelist Micheline Lachance published Lady Laurier, a big popular romance about, of all things (from an English-Canadian respective), the wife of George-Etienne Cartier. I only skimmed it in a bookstore the one time, I confess. It seemed like a costume drama, on the one hand, and, on the other, that Lachance's Hortense Fabre Cartier was set safely in the mould of a late 20th century nationalist, feminist, péquiste heroine.

But the author was on to something. Hortense Fabre was Cartier's fling with the mid-century radicalism that remains popular in Quebec nationalist opinion. The Fabres were booksellers, but also key figures in the Rouge movement and the lost-cause Papineau-worship circles of the 1850s. Cartier, a reformer more than a radical in the 1840s, was moving farther away from the radicals even when he married into that family.

So it was an awkward marriage politically, and soon became so on more levels than that, as Cartier began a long-lasting affair with Hortense's cousin and friend, Luce Cuvillier.  So Lachance had found a hell of a premise for a sudsy novel with lots of appeal to its target audience: a romantic triangle, high politics, lots of costumes, and at the centre a woman who represents Quebec, being seduced, betrayed, and humiliated by a husband she cannot leave who ... goes over to les anglais.

It's mostly just a sudsy novel, but in its own way an imaginative take on Cartier, too. For the rest of us, there are also Alastair Sweeny's mostly admiring biography George-Etienne Cartier (1976), which argues for Cartier's centrality in Canadian politics, Brian Young's more distanced George-Etienne Cartier, Montreal Bourgeois (1981), which is more focussed on his role in integrating Montreal into the Canadian industrial economy, and the 1972 DCB bio by Jean Charles Bonenfant. And I still like my own Cartier chapter in 1867: How the Fathers Made a Deal, which plays with the analogies between Cartier and Brother André.

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