Hébert's road to maturity as a poet had three stages. In 1942 she published her first collection, Les Songes en équilibre in which she portrays herself as existing in a dreamlike torpor. In 1953Le Tombeau des rois appeared, in which the self triumphs over the powerful dead who rule our dreams. Finally, in 1960 (when Québec was in the spring of the QUIET REVOLUTION), the powerful verse of Mystère de laparole reveals the liberated self. Her first volume of prose, Le Torrent, a collection of tales that appeared in 1950, shocked the reading public and the violence in the unsaid and values of a Québec society in upheaval disconcerted several publishers, but it has since become a classic. Her first novel, Les Chambres de bois (1958), contained particularly original imagery, exploring mortally constrained worlds in which interaction is based on brutal passion and primitive violence, although it was not until 1970 that Hébert convincingly demonstrated her virtuosity in the great novel Kamouraska. Here she skillfully combines two plots in a 19th-century Québec setting. The writing has a breathless, anguished and romantic rhythm that underlines well-controlled suspense. The novel earned her France's Prix des Libraires and the Royal Belgian Academy's Prix littéraire hors de France (1971) and was made into a film by Claude JUTRA using a screenplay on which she collaborated. Like almost all of Hébert's works, Kamouraska has been translated into English.
In Les Enfants du sabbat (1975), Hébert tells a tale of sorcery in Québec. The novel won her a Governor General's Award in 1975, the Prix de l'Académie française in 1976 and the Prix de la fondation Pierre-de-Monaco for her collective works.Héloïse (1980) is about ghost-vampires in the Paris subway.Les Fous de Bassan (1982, Prix Fémina, and filmed by Yves Simoneau, 1986) is set in Gaspé, where two teenagers from an Anglo-Protestant village are killed. Hébert wrote several plays, published as Le Temps sauvage; in the play of that name a mother vainly attempts to shield her children from the outside world. Hébert is thought to have dedicated her last years to further distilling her style and exploring the world of dreams and mystery through her characters and poetry (Le Premier jardin, 1988; L'Enfant chargé de songes, 1992; Le Jour n'a d'égal que la nuit, 1992). Her last work was the prophetically titled Un habit de lumière.
Anne Hébert's career, studded with literary honours and awards (including the MOLSON PRIZE in 1967, election to the Royal Society of Canada in 1960 and a Governor General's Award in 1975), was founded on a disciplined life devoted to writing. Her poetry and prose have become models for other writers and have been analysed in hundreds of studies, particularly in Québec, but also in France and English Canada.
Author PIERRE H. LEMIEUX