Antonine Maillet

Antonine Maillet, novelist, playwright, scholar (born at Bouctouche, NB 10 May 1929). Antonine Maillet earned a BA (1950) and MA (1959) from the UNIVERSITÉ DE MONCTON and a PhD in literature from LAVAL in 1970, where she then taught literature and folklore. She has also taught at the Universities of MONTREAL, Berkeley, SUNY Albany and Moncton, and has worked for CBC Radio-Canada in Moncton. A prolific writer of more than a dozen plays and almost 20 novels, Maillet published her first play, Poire-Acre, and first novel, Pointe-aux-Coques, in 1958. Her works celebrate the dialect and heritage of the Acadian people; Maillet herself has been called "the soul of contemporary Acadian literature."

After the success of her play La Sagouine (1971; tr 1979) and the novel PÉLAGIE-LA-CHARRETTE (1979), which charts the triumphant return home of the Acadian people after the 1755 expulsion, or le Grand Dérangement (seeACADIA, HISTORY OF), Maillet dominated contemporary Acadian literature. The latter won the Prix Goncourt, bringing her overnight fame in France, where it sold over 1 million copies. Maillet has famously remarked that with the publication of the novel she "avenged [her] ancestors." Maillet's imaginary universe is rooted in the geography, history and people of ACADIA. Her novels, often reworked for the theatre, fuse adventure, desire, frustration, agony and joy to offer a new image of the original Acadia, restructured to fit an epic vision. She presents a simple event (conflict between 2 characters, a collective struggle to conquer the land, the long trip back to the homeland), rich in every kind of development. As the characters work through these developments, they become symbols. The language of these pieces, a fusion of "ancient and sonorous words" and literary language, is an original creation. The narrator is often presented not as an individual but as a collective being - the memory of the Acadian people. Maillet is a storyteller; but La Sagouine is not a narration. Here the character is autonomous and has an authenticity and complexity that lifts her above the other characters in the piece.

Maillet's renown coincides with an Acadian cultural revival (seeACADIA, CONTEMPORARY): La Sagouine, as well as being a genuine literary success, appeared at the right moment to give voice to a renewed sense of Acadian cultural distinctiveness and pride (seeACADIA, CULTURE OF). We find in the voice of its central character, an earthy charwoman, former prostitute and fisherman's wife, wisdom and lucidity, verve and reserve, humour and anger. As the author herself says, to recognize her works is to recognize the people to whom she belongs. Among Maillet's other works are Don l'Orignal (1972, GOVERNOR GENERAL'S LITERARY AWARD for Fiction), Mariaagélas (1973, Prix France-Canada), L'Acadie pour quasiment rien (1973), Évangeline Deusse (1975), Les Cordes-de-bois (1977), La Gribouille (1982), Le Huitième Jour (1986, tr 1987), L'Oursiade (1990), Comme un cri du couer (1992), Les Confessions de Jeanne de Valois (1992), Le Chemin Saint-Jacques (1996), Chronique d'une sorciere de vent (1999), and Madame Perfecta, which was a finalist for the 2002 Prix Odysse. Maillet has also adapted and translated works by Jonson, Shakespeare, Shaw and others, and has written for children (Christophe Cartier de la Noisette dit Nounours, 1981).

Antonine Maillet is a Companion of the ORDER OF CANADA (1981), a member of the Order of New Brunswick (2005) and an Officier des Arts et des Lettres de France. She was awarded the ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA's Lorne Pierce Medal in 1980, and has received honourary degrees from more than 20 universities in Canada and internationally. L'Ecole elementaire Antonine-Maillet in Oshawa, ON is named in her honour; she served as chancellor of the Université de Moncton from 1989-2001. Bouctouche, NB is now home to "Le Pays de La Sagouine," a theme park which celebrates Acadian language, heritage and culture. Maillet currently lives in Montreal.