Les qualites transitionnelles de Dans un gant de fer de Claire Martin dans le contexte de l'evolution de la societe quebecoise au milieu du vingtieme siecle

  • The transitional qualities of Claire Martin's Dans un gant de fer in the context of the evolution of Quebec society in the mid-twentieth-century

  • Author / Creator
    Cook, Samantha J.
  • In this dissertation, I examine Claire Martin’s autobiography, Dans un gant de fer (1965-66), in the context of the literary trends and the socio-cultural reforms of 1960s Quebec. Martin situates her memories of a misogynistic and violent father, as well as of an insipid convent education, in the interwar years. Her indictment of the objectification of women and the abuses of clerical power made possible by the dominance of traditional values in the Quebec of her youth is written about forty years later, in the mid-sixties. The timing of this exposé has some very specific effects. Martin is the first to criticize injustices committed in the name of the traditional French-Canadian family and the Catholic religion in an explicitly personal, autobiographical manner. The content of her detailed, referential recollections of brutal mistreatment at the hands of her father and numerous nuns is meaningful for a society in its mid-twentieth century transition to secular, egalitarian institutions. For the most part, Martin’s initial readership relates personally to the experiences of her protagonist, particularly the interactions with narrow-minded, authoritarian teaching nuns, although some readers defend clerical educational practices, casting doubt on the accuracy of Martin’s memory. The publication of Dans un gant de fer predates the generalization of literary approaches to autobiography in critical circles. Because it is not until a decade later that much emphasis is placed on the creative processes of the reconstruction of memories, the initial reviewers of Martin’s text react mainly to its disturbing content, and make necessarily arbitrary judgments regarding its credibility. More recent studies of Dans un gant de fer, notably by Patricia Smart, Isabelle Boisclair, and Laurent Mailhot, focus on the centrality of Martin’s demands for equality between the sexes, and her literary strategies for mocking, and eventually neutralizing, the authority figures who abuse the young Claire. My focus is on the esthetics and the significance of the interplay between the functioning of the protagonist in her milieu and the framing provided by a narrator who relates the remembered events some forty years after the period in which the narrative is set. I analyze the functioning of the different past tenses in Dans un gant de fer, the incorporation of character dialogue into the text, and Martin’s use of institutional lexicons as well as subjective adjectives, to gain insight into the motivations driving the construction of her autobiography. The theoretical bases for this analysis are, most notably, Philippe Lejeune’s strategies for distinguishing the circumstances of the autobiographical protagonist and the retrospective point of view of the narrator. Dominique Maingueneau’s work on the functioning of linguistic principles in literature also informs this study. These theories allow me to demonstrate that Martin’s efforts to establish continuity between the perspective of the young Claire and that of the narrator create an autobiographical subject akin to Sidonie Smith’s understanding of the “universal subject”. It is in light of feminist autobiographical theory that I analyze the role of the narrator’s rejection of motherhood in the created effect of a unified autobiographical I. Isabelle Boisclair has observed the transitional character of Martin’s text, that is, the coexistence of a revolutionary autobiographical content with a traditional, highly referential esthetic. I am influenced by Boisclair’s work to situate Martin’s autobiography in a transitional phase of the evolution of feminist activity in Quebec as I examine Martin’s championing of egalitarian values from a socio-cultural perspective. The official reforms of the sixties in Quebec relevant to the concerns expressed in Dans un gant de fer are outlined in two texts: the Rapport Bird, for questions of women’s equality, and the Rapport Parent, for educational reform. My thematic and formal comparison between these documents and Martin’s autobiography allows me to demonstrate that the latter can be read as an innovative example of a woman’s participation in the development of a more egalitarian, collaborative conception of history. Gerda Lerner’s concept of women’s history is instrumental to this approach. However, the partial and transitional character of Martin’s questioning of traditional historical authority becomes apparent in light of her construction of a univocal autobiographical subject.

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  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
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