Maria Chapdelaine, Teenage Pioneer

Maria Chapdelaine  opens in late winter, just ahead of the ice breakup in the river. With spring, Maria will awaken to love.

Instead of a gushy tale of teenage lovers, however, novelist Louis Hemon delivers something harder, more mature, and more incredible.

Old Quebec Coat of Arms
Old Quebec Coat of Arms

Maria’s good looks are enough to attract suitors willing to cross a river and trudge through a road-less forest to the compound where Samuel Chapdelaine’s pioneering family “make land” with axe and saw. Maria’s choice is Francois, a handsome woodsman and Indian trader.

When Francois is lost in a blizzard, Maria is numb with grief. What shall she do for the rest of her life?

She could marry Lorenzo Surprenant and go to live in Boston.

Or she could marry Eutrobe Gagnon and live on a half-cleared farm doing pretty much what she does on her father’s half-cleared farm. If she marries Eutrobe she might, like her mother, have a few words of praise from her husband after she’s dead.

The characters of this novel are the sort of folks you’d want as your neighbors if you were in any sort of trouble, but they aren’t probably folks you’d invite to a party. Simultaneously insignificant and magnificent, their idea of the good life is a game of cards with friends while a smudge pot keeps the mosquitoes at bay.

What Maria decides to do with her life, Hemon implies, is what any of the Quebec pioneers would do. They are “people of a race that knows not how to perish.” Duty and responsibility tied to a sense of community and of their roots gives them the courage to do what needs to be done.

Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of the Lake St. John Country
Louis Hemon
Trans. W. H. Blake
Illus. Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Côté
New York 1921
1922 Bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg ebook #4383

Photo Credit: Old coat of arms of Quebec (from the [[Wilfrid Laurier]] monument, Montreal) – personal snapshot by Montrealais. Retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

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