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Blais, Marie-Claire 1939–

Blais, Marie-Claire 1939–

PERSONAL: Born October 5, 1939, in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada; daughter of Fernando and Veronique (Nolin) Blais. Education: Attended Pensionnat St. Roch in Quebec and Harvard University; studied literature and philosophy at Laval University in Quebec. Religion: Catholic.

ADDRESSES: Agent—Agence Goodwin, 839, rue Sher-brooke Est., bureau 200, Montreal, Quebec H2L 1K6, Canada.

CAREER: Full-time writer. Did clerical work, 1956–57.

MEMBER: Academie Royale de la Belgique, Compagnon de l'Order du Canada, Order of Quebec, PEN, Union des Auteurs Dramatiques, Union des Ecrivains, Writers Union of Canada.

AWARDS, HONORS: Prix de la Langue Francaise, L'Academie Francaise, 1961, for La Belle bete; Guggenheim fellowships, 1963 and 1964; Le Prix France-Quebec (Paris) and Prix Medicis (Paris), both 1966, for Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel; Prix du Gouverneur General du Canada, 1969, for Les Manuscrits de Pauline Archange, 1979, for Le Sourd dans la ville, and 1996, for Soifs; elected member of Order of Canada, 1975; honorary doctorates, York University (Toronto), 1975, and Victoria University; Prix Belgique-Canada (Bruxelles), 1976, for body of work; named honorary professor of humanities, Calgary University, 1978; Prix Athanase-David, 1982, for body of work; Prix de L'Academie Francaise, 1983, for Visions d'Anna; Prix Wessim Habif, Academie Royale de langue et de litterature francaises de Belgique, 1990, for body of work; honorary doctorate, University of Victoria (British Columbia), 1990; Commemorative Medal of the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, 1992; Elue a L'Academie Royale de langue et de litterature francaises de Belgique, 1993; Ordre National du Quebec, 1995; Prix du Gouverneur General du Canada, 1996, for Soifs; W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize, 2000, for body of work.

WRITINGS:

FICTION

La Belle bete (novel), Institut Litteraire du Quebec, 1959, translation by Merloyd Lawrence published as Mad Shadows, Little, Brown (Boston), 1961.

Tete Blanche (novel), Institut Litteraire du Quebec, 1960, translation by Charles Fullman, Little, Brown, 1961.

Le Jour est noir (novella), Editions du Jour (Montreal), 1962, translated by Derek Coltman as The Day Is Dark, Farrar, Strauss (New York City), 1966.

Pays voiles (poems), Garneau (Quebec), 1964.

Existences (poems), Garneau, 1964.

Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (novel), Editions du Jour, 1965, translation by Derek Coltman published as A Season in the Life of Emmanuel, introduction by Edmund Wilson, Farrar, Straus, 1966.

Les Voyageurs sacres (novella; also see below), HMH Hurtubise (Montreal), 1966, translated by Coltman as The Three Travelers, Farrar, Strauss, 1966.

L'Insoumise (novel), Editions du Jour, 1966, translation by David Lobdell published as The Fugitive, Oberon (Toronto), 1978.

The Day Is Dark [and] The Three Travelers, Farrar, Straus, 1967.

David Sterne (novel), Editions du Jour, 1967, translation by David Lobdell, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto), 1972.

Pays voiles et Existences (poems), Les Editions de l'Homme (Montreal), 1967.

Les Manuscrits de Pauline Archange (novel), Editions du Jour, 1968, translation by Coltman published with translation of Vivre! Vivre!: La Suite des Manuscrits de Pauline Archange (also see below) as The Manuscripts of Pauline Archange, Farrar, Straus, 1970.

Vivre! Vivre!: La Suite des Manuscrits de Pauline Archange (novel), Editions du Jour, 1969.

Les Apparences (novel), Editions du Jour, 1971, translation by Lobdell published as Duerer's Angel, McClelland & Stewart, 1974.

Le Loup (novel), Editions du Jour, 1972, translation by Sheila Fischman published as The Wolf, McClelland & Stewart, 1974.

Un Joualonais sa Joualonie (novel), Editions du Jour, 1973, published as A Coeur joual, Robert Laffont, 1977, translation by Ralph Manheim published as St. Lawrence Blues, Farrar, Straus, 1975.

Une Liaison parisienne (novel), Editions Stanke/Quinze (Montreal), 1975, translation by Fischman published as A Literary Affair, McClelland & Stewart, 1979.

Les Nuits de l'underground (novel), Les Editions Internationales Alain Stanke (Montreal), 1978, translation by Ray Ellenwood published as Nights in the Underground: An Exploration of Love, General Publishing (Toronto), 1979.

Le Sourd dans la ville (novel), Les Editions Internationales Alain Stanke, 1979, translation by Carol Dunlop published as Deaf to the City, Lester & Orpen Dennys (Toronto), 1980.

(Editor with Richard Teleky) The Oxford Book of French-Canadian Short Stories, Oxford University Press (Toronto), 1980.

Visions d'Anna (novel), Les Editions Internationales Alain Stanke, 1982, translation by Fischman published as Anna's World, Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1985.

Pays voiles-Existences, Stanke, 1983, translation by Michael Harris published as Veiled Countries in Veiled Countries [and] Lives, Vehicule Press, 1984.

Pierre ou la guerre du printemps 81, Primeur (Montreal), 1984, translation by David Lobdell and Philip Stradford, Oberon, 1993.

L'Ange de la Solitude, VLB Editeur (Montreal), 1989, translation by Laura Hodes published as The Angel of Solitude, Talonbooks (Vancouver), 1993.

L'Exile (short stories; sequel to Les Voyageurs sacres), Bibliotheque Quebecoise (Montreal), 1992, translation by Nigel Spencer published as The Exile & The Sacred Travellers, Ronsdale Press (Vancouver, Canada), 2000.

Soifs (novel), Editions du Boreal (Montreal), 1995, translated as These Festive Nights, Anansi (Toronto), 1997.

L'instant fragile, Humanitas, 1995.

Oeuvre poetique, Editions du Boreal, 1997.

Thunder and Light, translation by Nigel Spencer, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Canada), 2001.

PLAYS

La roulotte aux poupees, produced in Quebec, 1960, translation televised as The Puppet Caravan, 1967.

Eleanor, produced in Quebec, 1962.

L'execution (two-act; produced at Theatre du Rideau Vert, Montreal, 1968), Editions du Jour, 1968, translation by David Lobdell published as The Execution, Talonbooks, 1976.

(With Nicole Brossard, Marthe Blackburn, Luce Guilbeault, France Theoret, Odette Gagnon, and Pol Pelletier) Marcelle in La nef des sorcieres (produced at Theatre du Nouveau Monde, 1976), Quinze Editeurs, 1977, translation by Linda Gaboriau published as A Clash of Symbols, Coach House Press (Toronto), 1979.

Sommeil d'hiver, Editions de la Pleine Lune (Montreal), 1986, translated as Wintersleep, Ronsdale (Vancouver), 1998.

L'ile (produced at Theatre l'Eskabel, 1988), VLB Editeur (Montreal), 1988, translated as The Island, Operon (Vancouver), 1991.

(Collection) Theatre, Editions du Boreal, 1998.

Also author of Fiere, 1985, and Un Jardin dans la tempete (broadcast in 1990), translated by David Lobdell as A Garden in the Storm.

RADIO PLAYS

Le disparu, Radio-Canada, 1971.

L'envahisseur, Radio-Canada, 1972.

Deux destins, Radio-Canada, 1973.

Fievre, Radio-Canada, 1973.

Une autre Vie, Radio-Canada, 1974.

Fievre, et autres textes dramatiques: theatre radiophonique (includes L'envahisseur, Le disparu, Deux destins, and Un couple), Editions du Jour, 1974.

Un couple, Radio-Canada, 1975.

Une femme et les autres, Radio-Canada, 1976.

L'enfant-video, Radio-Canada, 1977.

Murmures, Radio-Canada, 1977.

L'ocean suivi de Murmures (produced by Radio-Canada, 1976), Quinze (Montreal), 1977, translation of L'ocean by Ray Chamberlain published as The Ocean, Exile, 1977, translation of Murmures by Margaret Rose published in Canadian Drama/L' art dramatique Canadien, fall, 1979.

Journal en images froides, Radio-Canada, 1978.

L'exile, L'escale, Radio-Canada, 1979.

Le fantome d'une voix, Radio-Canada, 1980.

Textes radiophoniques, Boreal, 1999.

OTHER

Voies de peres, voix de filles, Lacombe, 1988.

Parcours d'un ecrivain notes americaines (autobiographic notebooks), VLB Editeur, 1993, translated as American Notebooks: A Writer's Journey, Talon-books, 1996.

Des rencontres humaines (biography), Editions Trois-Pistoles (Paroisse Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, Quebec, Canada), 2002.

A collection of Blais's manuscripts is housed in the National Library of Canada, Ottawa.

ADAPTATIONS: Une Saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel, directed by Claude Weisz, 1968; Le Sourd dans la ville, directed by Mireille Dansereau, 1987; L'Ocean was adapted for television, directed by Jean Faucher, Radio-Canada, 1971.

SIDELIGHTS: Marie-Claire Blais, according to Edmund Wilson in O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture, is "a writer in a class by herself." Although each of her novels is written in a different style and mood, "we know immediately," writes Raymond Rosenthal, "that we are entering a fully imagined world when we start reading any of her books." In 1964 Wilson wrote that Blais is a "true 'phenomenon'; she may possibly be a genius. At the age of twenty-four, she has produced four remarkable books of a passionate and poetic force that, as far as my reading goes, is not otherwise to be found in French Canadian fiction." When Wilson read A Season in the Life of Emmanuel in 1965, he compared the novel to works by J.M. Synge and William Faulkner.

A Season in the Life of Emmanuel is "a particularly Canadian work of art," writes David Stouck, "for the sense of winter and of life's limitations (especially defined by poverty) are nowhere felt more strongly. Yet … these physical limitations serve to define the emotional deprivation that is being dramatized. That eroding sense of poverty is never externalized as a social issue, nor is the harshness of the Quebec landscape seen as an existentialist 'condition.' Rather, in the oblique and relentless manner of her writing Miss Blais remains faithful stylistically to the painful vision of her imagination and in so doing has created both a fully dramatic and genuinely Canadian work of art."

Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Robertson Davies claims that The Day Is Dark and Three Travelers are "less substantial than A Season in the Life of Emmanuel," but, he adds, "all the writing of this extraordinary young woman is so individual, so unlike anything else being written on this continent, that admirers of her poetic vision of life may find them even more to their taste." Laurent LeSage, writing in Saturday Review, says of the two novellas: "Although the basic structures of fiction are still recognizable, they have been weakened and distorted to prevent any illusion of realistic dimension or true-to-life anecdote from distracting us from the author's intention. Without warning the narrative shifts from one character to another, chronology is jumbled, events are sometimes contradictory, and the fancied is never clearly separated from the real. By a series of interior monologues Mlle. Blais works along the lower levels of consciousness, and only rarely does she come to the surface. The world of her revery is the somber, shadowy one of primitive urges and responses…. Each [character] obeys a force that resembles a tragic predestination, leading [him] in a lonely quest through life to [his] final destruction." The novellas are actually prose poems, similar in some respects to works by Walter de la Mare. Rosenthal defines the genre as "a piece of prose that should be read more than once, preferably several times. If after reading it in the prescribed fashion," says Rosenthal, "the work assumes depth and color and value it did not have at the first reading, then the author has written a successful prose poem. In a prose poem each word counts and Mlle. Blais generally doesn't waste a syllable."

Rosenthal emphasizes that Blais has done much to "put Canada on the literary map." He says of her work: "Mlle. Blais leaves out a great deal, almost all the familiar furniture of fiction, and yet her characters have a tenacious life and her themes, though often convoluted and as evanescent as the mist that dominates so much of her imagination, strike home with surprising force." "With David Sterne," writes Brian Vincent, "Mlle. Blais has placed herself firmly and uncompromisingly in the literary tradition of the French moralists leading back through Camus, Genet and Gide to Baudelaire. The book deals in one way or another with many of the themes explored by these writers, and this makes it somewhat derivative. It owes most, perhaps, to the more abstract and less sensational works of Jean Genet, in which the passionate existential wranglings, the rebellion, the life of crime and sensation are so prominent." The critic adds: "The confessional and didactic style of the book will also strike echoes in the reader's mind. But David Sterne survives and transcends these comparisons. What allows it to do so is the immense compassion and tenderness Mlle. Blais displays for her characters in their whirlwind of struggle and suffering. The hard cold eye she casts on the cruel world of Mad Shadows has grown into one full of pity and profound sadness for the fate of men condemned to do battle with themselves."

In 1979 Blais saw publication of Deaf to the City, a novel told in one book-length paragraph. "Blais," Marjorie A. Fitzpatrick explains in the French Review, "brings to life—and then to death—the inhabitants of the gloomy little Montreal hotel that serves as the novel's setting. Like voices in a fugue or threads in a well-made tapestry, their lives weave in and out through each other to form a harmonious (though depressing) whole." Writing in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Eva-Marie Kroeller states that Deaf to the City "fuses prose and poetry even more radically than Blais's earlier works." Fitzpatrick concludes that "If Blais can sustain in future works the combination of human authenticity and tight technical mastery that she found in [A Season in the Life of Emmanuel] and has achieved again in [Deaf to the City], she may well come to stand out as one of the most powerful fiction writers of French expression of this generation."

A Virginia Quarterly Review writer concludes that Blais's novels are "to be read slowly and carefully for the unusual insights they present in often difficult but provocative images and sometimes demanding but intriguing technical innovations. This is a serious, talented and deeply effective writer." Kroeller calls Blais "one of the most prolific and influential authors of Quebec's literary scene since the late 1950s." Blais, Kroeller believes, "has firmly established an international reputa-tion as a writer who combines strong roots in the literary tradition of her province with an affinity to existentialist fiction of Western Europe and the United States."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 4, Thomson Gale (Detroit), 1986.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 22, 1982.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, First Series, Thomson Gale, 1986.

Fabi, Therese, Le Monde perturbe des jeunes dans l'oeuvre romanesque de Marie-Claire Blais: sa vie, son oeuvre, la critique, Editions Agence d'Arc (Montreal), 1973.

Feminist Writers, St. James Press (Detroit), 1996.

Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press, 1994.

Goldmann, Lucien, Structures mentales et creation culturelle, Editions Anthropos (Paris), 1970.

Green, Mary Jean, Marie-Claire Blais, Twayne, 1995.

Marcotte, Gilles, Notre roman a l'imparfait, La Presse (Montreal), 1976.

Meigs, Mary, Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait, Talonbooks, 1981.

Meigs, The Medusa Head, Talonbooks, 1983.

Nadeau, Vincent, Marie-Claire Blais: le noir et le tendre, Presses de l'Universite de Montreal, 1974.

Oore, Irene, and Oriel C.L. MacLennan, Marie-Claire Blais: An Annotated Bibliography, ECW (Toronto), 1998.

Stratford, Philip, Marie-Claire Blais, Forum House, 1971.

Tilby, Michael, editor, Beyond the Nouveau Roman, Berg, 1990.

Wilson, Edmund, O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture, Farrar, Straus, 1965.

PERIODICALS

Books Abroad, winter, 1968.

Books in Canada, February, 1979, pp. 8-10.

Book Week, June 18, 1967.

Canadian Literature, spring, 1972.

Chatelaine, August, 1966.

Cite libre, July-August, 1966.

Coincidences, May-December, 1980.

Culture, March, 1968.

Dalhousie Review, summer, 1995, pp. 1-9; spring, 1997, pp. 143-52.

La Dryade, summer, 1967.

Etudes, February, 1967.

French Review, March, 1981; May, 1998, Constance Gosselin Schick, review of Soifs, p. 1088.

Globe and Mail (Toronto), March 30, 1985.

Journal of Canadian Fiction, Volume 2, number 4, 1973; number 25-26, 1979, pp. 186-98.

Journal of Popular Culture, winter, 1981, pp. 14-27.

La Revue de Paris, February, 1967.

Lettres Quebecoises, winter, 1979–80.

Livres et Auteurs Quebecois, 1972.

Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1987.

New Statesman, March 3l, 1967.

New York Times Book Review, April 30, 1967; November 16, 1980, review of A Season in the Life of Emmanuel, p. 47; October 20, 1985, C. Gerald Fraser, review of The Day Is Dark and Three Travelers, p. 60; September 20, 1987, Paul West, Death to the City, p. 12.

Nous, June, 1973.

Novel, autumn, 1972, pp. 73-78.

Observer (London), April 2, 1967.

Quebec Studies, number 2, 1984.

Recherches Sociographiques, September-December, 1966.

Revue de l'Institut de Sociologie, Volume 42, number 3, 1969.

Romance Notes, autumn, 1973.

Saturday Review, April 29, 1967.

Sphinx, number 7, 1977.

Times Literary Supplement, March 30, 1967.

Virginia Quarterly Review, autumn, 1967.

Voix et Images, winter, 1983.

Weekend Magazine, October 23, 1976.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1997, Chantal Zabus, review of Soifs, p. 745.

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