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Gabrielle Roy: Splendour and tragedy

Eloquent and thoughtful, novelist Gabrielle Roy hardly needs prompting to share her thoughts on beauty, passion, truth and understanding. Since the release of her acclaimed novel Bonheur d'occasion in 1945 (translated into English as The Tin Flute in 1947), Roy has been a major literary figure in Canada. In this 1972 interview, Roy says her writing tries to blend beauty and tragedy. "I have no sooner seen that splendour of life that I'm physically obliged to look down and see something quite tragic and sad," says Roy.
• Born to a French-Canadian family in St. Boniface, Man. on Mar. 22, 1909, Gabrielle Roy taught school in Manitoba as a young woman. In her twenties she started writing, and her short stories were published in English and French. Roy was also an actor with a St. Boniface theatre troupe, Cercle Molière, and its English-language equivalent, the Winnipeg Little Theatre, in the 1930s. • Roy moved to Europe in 1937 and remained there less than two years, returning to Canada before the outbreak of the Second World War. She became an actor and journalist in Montreal, where she would gather the material that would become her greatest achievement as a novelist: 1945's Bonheur d'occasion. The book tells the story of waitress Florentine Lacasse and her family in the poor Montreal neighbourhood of St-Henri.

Bonheur d'occasion would be translated into 15 languages, and was published in English as The Tin Flute in 1947. It was showered with Canadian and international accolades, winning the Governor General's Award, France's Prix Fémina and the Literary Guild of America Award.

• In the years to follow, Roy would write many more novels and memoirs, including Children of My Heart, which was among the books on CBC Radio's Canada Reads slate in 2007.

• Roy sat on a panel of thinkers at a conference in Montebello, Que. in 1963, charged with fleshing out the theme of "Man and His World" for Expo 67, the Montreal world's fair.

• When the Order of Canada was created in 1967, Roy was named as a Companion.

• This interview was later published in a book called Conversations with Canadian Novelists.

• On July 13, 1983, Gabrielle Roy died of a heart attack in Quebec City, which she had called home for 30 years. After suffering a previous attack in 1979, she had started writing her memoirs, which would be posthumously published as La detresse et l'enchantement (Enchantment and Sorrow) in 1984.

• In 2004 the Bank of Canada chose a quotation by Roy for the obverse of the new Canadian $20 bill. From her 1961 novel The Hidden Mountain (La Montagne secrète), it reads: "Could we ever know each other in the slightest without the arts?"

Medium: Radio
Program: Anthology
Broadcast Date: Oct. 14, 1972
Guest: Gabrielle Roy
Interviewer: Donald Cameron
Duration: 7:12

Last updated: October 10, 2013

Page consulted on March 10, 2014

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