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Antonine Maillet: The bilingual mice, a fable

"I have avenged my ancestors," said author Antonine Maillet in 1979 with the publication of her book Pélagie-la-Charrette. Maillet broke new ground and became the voice of disenfranchised Acadians. She would tell the sad tale of the Acadian expulsion in the 18th century. She would also write about mothers, a washerwoman named la Sagouine, bootleggers, fishermen, dreamers — struggling to exist alongside the English majority. CBC Archives explores the career of Acadian author Antonine Maillet.

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Once upon a time, a mother mouse encouraged her children to leave home and face the wide world before them. The children ventured forth, came across a menacing cat, and scurried back home. The next day, the mother mouse persuaded her children to go out again. This time, she went with them. They came across the same menacing cat but this time, the mother mouse barked at the cat. Startled, the frightened cat ran away. Said the mother mouse to her children, "That's the advantage of being bilingual!"

Antonine Maillet tells this fable and discusses the joys of being a francophone in this CBC Radio interview. 
• In the lead-up to the 1995 Quebec referendum on separation, Maillet was asked her feelings about the vote. While she would not reveal how she intended to vote, she said the process of having a referendum was necessary. "Sometimes, I look at the stars and wonder what we are under all of that, and how we will see everything in a century, in two centuries or in a millennium from now. So I don't get overly worked up. I think that if there's a Yes or if there's a No, we'll continue to live the next day." - Macleans magazine, Oct. 20, 1992.

• "This country has a special mix of old and new. The two founding cultures came here at the height of their power: France settled in the 17th century, when it was a world leader; England put down roots in the 18th century, during its most powerful period. We were colonized by two great moments of history. In Canada, we have taken those Latin and Celtic elements and given them a northern visage, a new breath of life. The result is a very special culture." - Antonine Maillet in Macleans, Jan. 3, 1994.

• After completing her doctoral studies at the Université de Montreal, Maillet maintained two homes - one in Montreal, the other in New Brunswick.

• In this CBC Radio clip, Maillet gives a passionate convocation speech at the University of New Brunswick. Maillet describes her pride in New Brunswick, Canada's only officially bilingual province. She says the harmony between the French and English in her province is an example to the rest of the country. "Love is not to stare at each other, to look each other in the eyes," she says, "No, love is to look together at the same star."

• Maillet lives in Montreal, on a street named in her honour. The street was named Antonine Maillet Street in 1979 after the author won the Prix Goncourt. In this CBC Radio interview, Maillet recalled how this caused considerable confusion with her perplexed mail carrier who delivered the entire street's mail to her house. In another incident, she called 911 when a fire broke out in her kitchen. "I told them my address and where the fire was," she told the Montreal Gazette.  "They asked my name, so I told them. They said it's impossible. What was my name? I told them again. They argued some more. Finally, I sad, 'What difference does it make? We'll settle it later. The fire is spreading!" - Montreal Gazette, Nov 19, 1995.

• As of 2005, Maillet remains unmarried.

• Over the course of her career, Maillet has published more than 40 novels, plays and translations.
Medium: Radio
Program: C'est la vie
Broadcast Date: March 20, 1998
Guest: Antonine Maillet
Host: Bernard St. Laurent
Duration: 6:52
Photo: Photo courtesy of Communications New Brunswick

Last updated: August 7, 2014

Page consulted on August 7, 2014

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