La Scouine, by Albert Laberge (1918), a series of discrete, interlocking sketches forming a novel, is French Canada's first example of naturalism.
La Scouine, by Albert Laberge (1918), a series of discrete, interlocking sketches forming a novel, is French Canada's first example of naturalism. Demythologizing the romantic portrait of 19th-century peasant life promoted by the church, it blends close descriptive detail, local speech and humour, and a pessimistic attitude toward human nature. Paulima, the daughter of Urgèle and Maco Deschamps, is nicknamed "La Scouine" because of her strong, unpleasant odour; the sobriquet reflects her character as an avaricious, gossipy spinster. Traditional scenes such as harvest, the fall fair and the pastoral visit are introduced with Christian imagery which is immediately undermined by the peasant's unsavoury earthiness. The publication of excerpts in 1903 resulted in censorship and a private edition (1918) of only 60 copies. Gérard Bessette's anthology of Laberge's writing led to a facsimile edition (1968), which was withdrawn from circulation at the insistence of Laberge's son. Finally published in 1972, the underground classic La Scouine was then translated by C. Dion as Bitter Bread (1977).