Theatrical Criticism in Montreal at the Turn of the Century: Trapped Between Ideology and Aesthetics

  • Hervé Guay (Author)
    L’Éveil culturel : Théâtre et presse à Montréal, 1898-1914. Presses de l'Université de Montréal
Reviewed by Dominique Lafon

In this reworked version of his doctoral thesis, the author reviews and analyses articles published in Montreal’s daily press during the first fifteen years of the twentieth century devoted to theatre. Guay first describes the different types of articles or the ways in which theatre was described, and then studies the roles of seven critics within the larger ecology. Thus, he determines how and to which extent his seven case studies participated in the definition of French-Canadian identity through their respective positioning in regards to Catholicism and Modernity, as well as French and American cultural influences. His objectives and methodology are clearly explained in the introduction and serve, first, to develop a typology of articles, and subsequently, to describe the journalists themselves. These two sections read as lists, a fact that reinforces the descriptive tone of a book that follows in the footsteps of works penned by Jean-Marc Larrue on theatre and André Beaulieu and Jean Hamelin on the analysis of the written press in Québec. In regards to the definitions of his circumscribing vectors, Guay draws heavily from well-known studies written by Yvan Lamonde, Gérard Bouchard, Pierre Savard, and Micheline Cambron. The author does provide a more detailed and more focused version of known events, but makes no original contribution to his field. This is particularly evident in the sparseness of his concluding comments in which he simply summarizes previously provided information. This paucity can also be felt in the second part of this study in which the last chapter includes a résumé entitled Portrait de groupe : des critiques partagés (Portrait of a Group: Ambivalent Critics), in which a large part of the information provided in the preceding seven case studies is repeated. In short, this book represents a modest contribution to scholarship that complements prior studies: it draws further attention to writers better described as observers then critics and explains the intellectual limits, prejudices, and snobbery of a particular group of writers during a specific era.

This review “Theatrical Criticism in Montreal at the Turn of the Century: Trapped Between Ideology and Aesthetics” originally appeared in Canadian Literature 214 (Autumn 2012): 160.

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