From Child to Adult
- Sheila Fischman (Translator) and Michel Tremblay (Author)
Bambi and Me. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Michel Tremblay (Author) and Linda Gaboriau (Translator)
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again. Talonbooks (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Robert Verreault (Author)
L'autre côté du monde: Le passage de l'âge adulte chez. Michel Tremblay, Réjean Ducharne, Anne Hébert et Marie-Claire Blais. LIBER (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Leslie Harlin
The appearance of autobiographical works by a well-loved author usually meets enthusiasm, as have the two works by Tremblay reviewed here. In Bambi and Me, a translation appearing eight years after the original Les vues animées, the author revisits his childhood through the device of films. The translation by Sheila Fischman reads smoothly and flows effortlessly; for her work, she won the 1998 Governor General’s Award. Her translation allows the anglophone reader the opportunity to witness Tremblay’s plunge into different points in his past which are wound around films.
This mechanism succeeds beautifully precisely because Tremblay convinces us that realizations and maturation follow closely on the heels of the profound effects of the films. Film provides a fine introduction to several important aspects of this writer’s early years. Frequent barely veiled political commentary is subservient in this text to emotional coming-of-age. "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" is a particularly wrenching account of Tremblay’s comprehension of his homosexuality.
Tremblay’s readers can be thankful that one moment in the author’s life was stamped by the film Visiteurs du soir, for Tremblay tells us that this work must be credited with opening his eyes to the certainty that he should become a writer: "Marcel Carné has stirred up in my soul the emotions, the doubts, the questioning that will make me want to be a writer." In fact, the day after the viewing, Tremblay returns home from school to begin work on his first "little novel." This work, No Honour Among Thieves, follows in its entirety. Although it is no great work of art, though quite an achievement for a boy, the reader is drawn into the story not only from interest in the writer’s development, but from a care for the young Michel whom we come to know through the preceding pages. The main character of No Honour Among Thieves, Jocelyn, is an adolescent trying desperately to come to terms with his homosexuality. The work ends on a distressing note as the boy tells his mother his secret and her reaction leads him to contemplate suicide.
Certainly the young author’s fear of his own mother’s reaction to his homosexuality must enter any reader’s thoughts and colour one’s reading. Of all the family and friends appearing in Bambi and Me, Tremblay lavishes the greatest detail on his mother, the all-important figure in his childhood. One notes the title of this work is connected to the shortest chapter which consists of two sentences: "Did you cry as much as I did at the death of Bambi’s mother? Personally, I’ve never gotten over it." Michel’s own mother’s fierce love of her youngest son and her unshakable belief in his special gifts are transparent. This autobiography is as much an homage to his mother as it is a recitation of events in childhood leading to the development of Tremblay the man and the writer.
Such a love song for his mother is the primary foundation for Tremblay ’s For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again. The title of this play emphasizes its greatest strength: the profound desire to see just one more time a beloved person who has died. Tremblay writes his mother back into existence on the stage through the character Nana. Although this woman is abrasive and disagreeable, the reader/viewer is pulled along by the emotions of the play’s only other character, Nana’s son—the Narrator. We are pulled this way and that by powerful contrary emotions. The Narrator is deeply moved by the ability to interact with his mother once again; he is filled with trepidation because he knows that his mother will die; he is filled with regret knowing that his success will only come after she has died. This woman who loved movies, plays, actors, would never come close to that world glimpsed from so far away: "She left without knowing how it all works. It’s one of the greatest regrets of my life." She loved him, supported him, and believed in him, but died immediately prior to his first spectacular success with the presentation of Les Belles-Soeurs.
For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again was presented at the Centaur Theatre on its thirtieth anniversary; this presentation immediately followed the presentation of the French version, Encore une fois, si vous me permettez, at the Théâtre du Rideau-Vert on the thirtieth anniversary of their presentation of Tremblay’s Les Belles-Soeurs. This marked the first time a Tremblay play could be seen in both French and English in the same city.
An interesting accompaniment to the reading of two autobiographical works by Tremblay is L’autre côté du monde. Verreault presents four Québécois writers here, but he devotes the greatest space to Tremblay. In the first chapter, Tremblay’s men/children experience a nostalgia for the androgynous figure, a fundamental ideal in a found and transformed mythology. This androgynous figure is destroyed as the boy reaches manhood. Thus, the paradise of the mythological childhood is wrapped up in the familial house in La maison suspendue, as they mature, the children of this house are chased into exile in Montreal, terre profane. The desire for the restoration of the primordial couple, the complete union of the two sexes is, of course, an impossibility. According to Verreault, after all the characters’ attempts to achieve adulthood, they are unable to leave behind the maternal paradise of androgynous childhood.
Subsequent, shorter chapters investigate the maturation process in the works of Ducharme, Hébert, and Biais. As in Tremblay, the characters are often marked by the androgynous desires of brother/sister relationships and by failure to achieve maturity. Ducharme’s Mille Milles attains manhood after the death of Chateaugué, but his victory is desultory.
In the works of Hébert, Verreault focuses on L’enfant chargé de songes in which three children have a disastrous summer together. Initiatory rites lead to the death of Hélène, the madness of Pauline, the disordered life of Julien. In addition, Verreault mentions the ruinous adolescences of Les fous de Bassan and Les enfants du Sabbathefore moving on to the equally traumatic events in Biais ’s Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel. Verreault links this recurrent theme of the passage into adulthood with the growing pains experienced by Quebec itself. Although this argument is not particularly well integrated into the literary discussion that precedes it, the work provides an interesting backdrop to the reading of Tremblay’s own autobiographies.
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MLA: Harlin, Leslie. From Child to Adult. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #168 (Spring 2001), Mostly Drama. (pg. 169 - 171)
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