Quebec Literature

Taken from:

See also:

English Translations of lyrics and poems:


16th and 17th centuries

During this period, the society of New France was being built with great difficulty. The French merchants contracted to transport colonists did not respect their end of the bargain, and the French and their Indian allies were at war with the Iroquois, allied to the English until 1701, etc. To add to these difficulties, the printing press was officially forbidden in Canada until the British Conquest.

In spite of this, some notable documents were produced in the early days of colonization and were passed down from generation to generation until today. The Voyage of Jacques Cartier, the Muses de la Nouvelle-France of Marc Lescarbot, the Voyages of Samuel de Champlain are memories of the exploration of North America and the foundation of New France.

The Relations des jésuites, Le Grand voyage au pays des Hurons of Gabriel Sagard, the Écrits of Marguerite Bourgeois were written by the many religious founders of New France who had undertaken the task of converting the Sauvages to Christianity.

Many songs and poems were transmitted orally by the early French settlers. A popular French ballad, À la claire fontaine was adapted by the voyageurs and gave us the version that is known today in Quebec.

The first patriotic song of Quebec (then known as le Canada) was written by a soldier, François Mariauchau d'Esgly. Entitled C'est le Général de Flip, it paid tribute to the resistance of the French at Quebec during the siege of General William Phips in 1690.

In France, Canada and New France in general caught the interest of many writers, notably François Rabelais who refers to Cartier and Roberval in Pantagruel.

18th century

Until 1760, the themes of nature, explorations, and the Sauvages continued to mark the imagination of the civilization of New France. The Moeurs des sauvages américains of Joseph Lafiteau, Histoire de l'Amérique septentrionale of Bacqueville de la Potherie and the Histoire et description générale de la Nouvelle-France are in continuity with the writings of the preceding century.

The first verified use of the term Canadien to designate the descendants of French settlers in Canada was written in a song composed in 1756 in honor of Governor Vaudreuil after the military victory of Fort Chouaguen. In 1758, Étienne Marchand wrote a famous poem in Le carillon de la Nouvelle-France. This song tells the story of the victorious battle of Fort Carillon.

The first poem written by a Canadien after the cession of Canada to Great Britain is Quand Georges trois pris l'Canada written by an anonymous author in 1763.

The Quebec Gazette newspaper was founded in Quebec City by William Brown on June 21, 1764. The bilingual paper was published in both the French language and the English language and over the years survived to be the oldest newspaper still publishing in North America.

The literary trends of Europe and the rest of America slowly penetrated the cities, primarily Quebec City and Montreal. The writings of the Enlightenment and those produced at the time of the American and French revolutions were dominant in the available literature.

Valentin Jautard and Fleury Mesplet published the first journal of Quebec, the Gazette du commerce et littéraire, in 1778–79. Valentin Jautard, a disciple of Voltaire and sympathizer with the American cause, published many poems under different pseudonyms.

Some notable names of the time are Joseph-Octave Plessis, Ross Cuthbert, Joseph Quesnel and Pierre de Sales Laterrière.

In France, Voltaire wrote L'Ingénu, the tale of a Huron who visits France and also Chateaubriand, a French noble exiled in America, wrote Atala and René.

19th century

The 19th century marks the beginning of the first real literary works published by Quebecers, including Michel Bibaud, Pierre Boucher de Boucherville, François Réal Angers, Philippe Aubert de Gaspé (son), Amédée Papineau, Joseph Doutre, François-Xavier Garneau, Pierre Jean Olivier Chauveau, Louis-Antoine Dessaulles, H.-Émile Chevalier.

By 1860s, Quebec authors were able to acquire a certain autonomy. It was now easier to publish a book and mass produce it.

Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, Philippe-Joseph Aubert de Gaspé, Louis Fréchette, Arthur Buies, William Kirby, Honoré Beaugrand, Laure Conan, Edith Maude Eaton, William Chapman, Jules-Paul Tardivel, Winnifred Eaton, Pamphile Lemay were some of the key writers in this era.

An anonymous song, Les Raftsmen, became popular at the beginning of this century.

19th Century (Selections)


Philippe Aubert de Gaspé - La légende de la Corriveau

En musique :  (look under discographie)

Honoré Beaugrand  - La chasse galerie

En musique :


Antoine Gérin-Lajoie : Un Canadien Errant

En musique :


20th Century

Yves Beauchemin (born 26 June 1941) is a Quebec novelist. Beauchemin's first novel, L'enfirouapé (1974), won the Prix France-Québec. His second novel, Le matou (1981), became the all-time best-selling novel in Quebec literature and has been translated into seventeen languages. Beauchemin won the Prix Jean Giono for his third novel, Juliette Pormerleau (1989).

Paul-Émile Borduas (November 1, 1905 – February 22, 1960) was a Canadian painter known for his abstract paintings. He was also an activist for the separation of church and state, especially for art, in Quebec. Borduas wrote Refus Global (or "Global Refusal", anglicized) in late 1947- early 1948. It was disseminated in a folder that contained other Automatists' writings. This piece was originally intended to accompany an Automatist showing, however it was actually distributed alone. "Global Refusal" served as an important manifesto that advocated the separation of church and state in Quebec, especially for the arts. In it Borduas "denounces the forces of oppression that had made of Quebec a suffocating environment. hostile to both individual and collective creativity".[5]

Roch Carrier, (born 13 May 1937) is a Canadian novelist and author of "contes" (a very brief form of the short story). Carrier has adapted La guerre, yes sir! and Floralie, où es-tu? for the stage. La guerre, yes sir! was produced as a play in 1970, was performed in English at the Stratford festival, and has been made into a film. An excerpt from Le chandail de hockey ("The Hockey Sweater"), one of Carrier's contes, is reprinted on the back of the Canadian five-dollar bill. The story, about a young boy who orders a Montreal Canadiens sweater from the Eaton's catalogue, but receives a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey instead, is considered by many to be a literary allegory for the linguistic and cultural tensions between English and French Canadians, and is thus considered essential reading for anybody who seeks to understand the complex realities of linguistic and cultural identity in Canada.

Leonard Norman Cohen, The use of the album track "  (co-written by Sharon Robinson) in the 1990 film Pump Up the Volume helped expose Cohen's music to a younger audience. "Suzanne", one of his best-known songs, refers to Suzanne Verdal, the former wife of his friend, the Québécois sculptor Armand Vaillancourt, rather than Elrod.[80] The 1979 song "The Gypsy Wife" is supposedly about Suzanne Elrod.

Jacques Godbout, (born November 27, 1933) is a Canadian novelist, essayist, children's writer, journalist, filmmaker and poet. By his own admission a bit of a dabbler (touche-à-tout), Godbout has become one of the most important writers of his generation, with a major influence on post-1960 Quebec intellectual life.

Anne Hébert, (August 1, 1916 – January 22, 2000), was a Canadian author and poet. She is a descendant of famed French-Canadian historian Francois-Xavier Garneau.  Her novel, Kamouraska is a novel was published in 1970. Set in 19th century Quebec, it tells the story of a woman, Elisabeth D’Aulnières, who conspires with her lover, an American doctor, to kill her husband, the seigneur of Kamouraska. The narrative begins with Elisabeth beside the death bed of her second husband, Jérôme Rolland, a notary. The story is told in a series of flashbacks. The narrative begins in the third person, but later switches to the viewpoint of Elisabeth telling her story in the first person. The novel is used in many schools as a novel study.

Louis Hémon (12 October 18808 July 1913), was a francophone writer best known for his novel Maria Chapdelaine. He was born in France. In 1911, he moved to Canada, settling initially in Montreal. Hémon wrote Maria Chapdelaine during his time working at a farm in the Lac Saint-Jean region. Hémon died when he was struck by a train at Chapleau, Ontario. He never saw the widespread publication of his landmark novel. Since his death, Maria Chapdelaine has been translated into more than 20 languages in 23 countries .

 Dany Laferrière (born 13 April 1953) is a francophone Haitian and Canadian novelist and journalist. Born in Port-au-Prince, Haïti, and raised in Petit Goâve, Laferrière worked as a journalist in Haïti before moving to Canada in 1976. He also worked as a journalist in Canada, and hosted television programming for the TQS network.

Laferrière published his first novel, Comment faire l'amour avec un nègre sans se fatiguer (How To Make Love To A Negro Without Getting Tired) in 1985. In Montreal two African men, Man and Bouba, share an apartment. Man is a student and aspiring author while Bouba is an amateur philosopher. The film is a slice of life story about Man and Bouba's sexploits. The film was controversial upon its initial release because of its title and was boycotted by the NAACP.

Roger Lemelin, CC, OQ, FRSC (April 7, 1919 - March 16, 1992) was a Quebec novelist, television writer and essayist. Les Plouffe (The Plouffe Family), 1948 is an amusing satire of the French 'little people' inhabiting the working class neighbourhoods of Lower Quebec City. Skewed archetypical characters struggle with encroaching 'outsider' values, as well as meekly rebel against the paternal control by a conflicted French Catholic ruling class.

Gaston Miron, January 8, 1928 – December 14, 1996) was an important poet, writer, and editor of the Quebec post Quiet Revolution. His masterpiece, L'homme rapaillé (partly translated as The March to Love: Selected Poems of Gaston Miron, whose title echoes Miron's most celebrated poem La marche à l'amour) has sold over 100 000 copies, in Quebec and overseas, ensuring Miron as one of the most widely read authors of Quebec literature [1]. His commitment for a sovereign Quebec, both politically and through his writings, associated with his popularity, placed Miron as a central figure of the Quebec nationalist movement.


Émile Nelligan (December 24, 1879 – November 18, 1941) was a francophone poet from Quebec, Canada. A follower of Symbolism, his poetry was profoundly influenced by Octave Crémazie, Louis Fréchette, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Georges Rodenbach, Maurice Rollinat and Edgar Allan Poe. A precocious talent like Arthur Rimbaud, his first poems were published in Montreal when he was 16 years old.

In 1899, Nelligan suffered a major psychotic breakdown from which he never recovered. He never had a chance to finish his first poetry work which was to be entitled Le Récital des Anges according to his last notes.

In 1903, his collected poems were published to great acclaim in Canada. He may not have been aware that he was counted among French Canada's greatest poets.

Poem : Soir d’hiver – Winter Evening


English Recitation:

Mordecai Richler, (January 27, 1931 – July 3, 2001)[1] was a Canadian author, screenwriter and essayist. A leading critic called him "the great shining star of his Canadian literary generation" and a pivotal figure in the country's history.[2] His best known works are The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Barney's Version, and the Jacob Two-Two children's stories.


Gabrielle Roy, (March 22, 1909 – July 13, 1983) was a French Canadian author.

Born in Saint Boniface (now part of Winnipeg), Manitoba, Her first novel, Bonheur d'occasion (1945), gave a starkly realistic portrait of the lives of people in Saint-Henri, a working-class neighbourhood of Montreal. The novel caused many Quebeckers to take a hard look at themselves, and is regarded as the novel that helped lay the foundation for Quebec's Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Published in English as The Tin Flute (1947), the book won the 1947 Governor General's Award.  The Literary Guild of America made The Tin Flute a feature book of the month in 1947. The book garnered so much attention that Roy returned to Manitoba to escape the publicity.

She is considered by many to be one of the most important Francophone writers in Canadian history and one of the most influential Canadian authors.


Excerpt radio:


Michel Tremblay, (born in Montreal, Quebec 25 June 1942) is a Canadian novelist and playwright.

Tremblay grew up in the Plateau Mont-Royal, a French-speaking neighbourhood of Montreal, at the time of his birth a neighbourhood with a working-class character and joual dialect, something that would heavily influence his work. Tremblay's first professionally produced play, Les Belles-Sœurs, was written in 1965. Its impact was huge, bringing down the old guard of Canadian theatre and introducing joual to the mainstream. It stirred up controversy by portraying the lives of working class women and attacking the straight-laced, deeply religious society of mid-20th century Quebec.[

The most profound and lasting effects of Tremblay's early plays, including Hosanna and La Duchesse de Langeais, were the barriers they toppled in Quebec society. Until the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s, Tremblay saw Quebec as a poor, working-class province dominated by an English-speaking elite and the Roman Catholic Church. Tremblay's work was part of a vanguard of liberal, nationalist thought that helped create an essentially modern society.

His most famous plays are usually centered on homosexual characters. The women are usually strong but possessed with demons they must vanquish. It is said he sees Quebec as a matriarchal society. He is considered one of the best playwrights for women.

He has been openly gay throughout his public life, and he has written many novels (The Duchess and the Commoner, La nuit des princes charmants, Le Coeur découvert, Le Coeur éclaté) and plays (Hosanna, La duchesse de Langeais, Fragments de mensonges inutiles) centred on gay characters.


Pierre Vallières (February 22, 1938 – December 23, 1998), was a Québécois journalist, and writer. He was considered an intellectual leader of the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

Vallières was born in the east end of Montreal, Quebec, but grew up in Ville Jacques-Cartier (now part of Longueuil, on the south-shore of Montreal, an area considered one of the most disadvantaged of the metropolitan region.[1] He became a left-wing political activist at a young age and conducted a hunger strike at the United Nations headquarters in New York City to protest what he considered to be Quebec's plight. While in New York, he was held in the Manhattan House of Detention for Men before being extradited to Canada, where he was arrested and convicted of manslaughter, but later acquitted in a second trial in 1970. During his four years' imprisonment in New York, he wrote a number of works, the most famous of which was Nègres blancs d'Amérique (1968), translated into English as White Niggers of America. This book compared the situation of French-Canadians in Quebec to that of African-Americans at the height of the latter's civil rights struggles. He also called for armed struggle.