Wednesday 5 August 2020

Maria Chapdelaine

Finished August 1
Maria Chapdelaine: A Romance of French Canada by Louis Hémon, translated by Andrew MacPhail, illustrations by M.A. Suzor-Cote

This classic Canadian story is one that I've meant to read for a while, and part of the reason I chose it for my book club July pick. The copy I've got is quite an old one, with interesting illustrations scattered through it.
Maria Chapdelaine is the oldest daughter in her family. She has mostly brothers, and one much younger sister, Alma Rose.
Her father Samuel is a man who is more of a settler than a farmer. He has cleared land, and created a homestead before, but then felt the urge to move to a less settled area and start again. His wife has recognized and accepted this about him, though she would like to be closer to a parish. Maria is at the age when young women of her time and situation considered marriage, and as the book moves on, we see that there are three young men interested in her. They are quite different from each other, but all good young men. François Paradis is the first one that we meet. Their fathers knew each other well, and Maria met him when she was younger. Paradis has sold his farm and makes his living guiding other men through the Canadian wilderness and facilitating trading and sourcing resources. He is ambitious and and bright.
The next one we see is Eutrope Gagnon. He is the Chapdelaine's only neighbour, having taking a concessions two miles away with his brother the year before. His brother, like many of Maria's brothers, works in logging camps during the winter. He is clearing the land mostly on his own (we never see his brother in the novel), but making good headway and once the land is cleared, will build a better house so that he can begin a family. He is a hard worker and a good neighbour in hard times.
The third and last suitor we meet is Lorenzo Suprenant, a young man who has sold his father's farm in Quebec and gone to work in Maine in a factory. He speaks of the joys of urban living, the good wages he earns, and the large contingent of Canadians who live in the same area and provide a community. He wants to offer Maria an easier life than the one in the wilderness she lives in now.
As we watch Maria's family work to clear their land, gather crops, reap fruits from the surrounding wilderness, and hunt to provide meat, we see the reality of their lives and the hard work that goes into survival. Maria must evaluate her emotional connection and her vision of the future with each of these men, based on her experience this far. Her parents offer support, but do not advise her on this important choice.
I enjoyed the story and the independence that Maria had to choose her own life. Her family was a supportive one that worked together to make a good life for themselves and I could see how they cared for each other and worked as a team.

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