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Antonine Maillet: The unknown Acadian

"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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After winning France's prestigious Prix Goncourt, Antonine Maillet is a star in France. Fans have enthusiastically snapped up copies of her book Pélagie-la-Charrette and attend her book signings en masse. But in Canada, it's a completely different story. While Quebecers and Acadians have celebrated Maillet's win, English Canada seems to have barely noticed. This CBC Television documentary explores this bizarre phenomenon. 
• In a Globe and Mail editorial titled "English Canada misses the literary event," columnist William Johnson also commented on the lack of fanfare for Maillet. He noted that in Montreal's La Presse, reporter Louis-Bernard Robataille remarked, "They have put her in a tiny salon where the journalists see her at the rate of one or two and hour. Right ahead of me is the correspondent for a paper in Malaysia." - Globe and Mail, Nov. 29, 1979.

• Johnson continued by criticizing his own paper for running a wire service story on the award. He wrote, "What kind of country is this? A Canadian wins one of the world's major literary prizes and our literary establishment is unable to give an appropriate account of it. It's like being blind in one eye, hearing only in one ear. If it happens in French we give it second- or third-class treatment - or none at all." - Globe and Mail, Nov. 29, 1979.

• "For me the matière litteraire [literary matter] of l'Acadie is every bit as rich as the matière litteraire of Brittany - which produced the Arthurian legends - or the matière litteraire of France of the Middle Ages. And I'm not just dredging up the past, I'm dredging up the past, the present and the future of a people. La Sagouine and Pélagie are timeless characters as far as I'm concerned." - Antonine Maillet, the Montreal Gazette, Sept. 27, 1986.
Medium: Television
Program: The Fifth Estate
Broadcast Date: Feb. 19, 1980
Guest(s): William Johnson, Viola Léger , Antonine Maillet
Host: Adrienne Clarkson
Duration: 14:08
Photos courtesy of Communications New Brunswick. La Sagouine published by Leméac Editeur Inc. This clip has been edited for copyright reasons.

Last updated: November 21, 2014

Page consulted on November 21, 2014

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