"Well, here you are at last. We've been puzzled about you for so long;
although you left behind much love and devotion, you bequeathed us very
few facts." -- Nathalie Babel, 1964
Dreaming of the Suburb: Martine Delvaux on Bitter Rose -- Part I
CM: Given that Bitter Rose (Rose amer) is set in a franco-Ontarian village, and in this respect, could be said to draw on aspects of your own life, could you say something about how you view cultural, national or linguistic identities?
MD: I don’t think I believe in what we call “identity,” as one thing or another, something that defines us once and for all. Except when it comes to being considered female in our society—this taints everything we do on a daily basis.
I was more conscious of my linguistic identity when I lived in the US—being a Francophone (that is, not from France), teaching French with an accent (vocabulary, syntax) that was considered minor and not such a good thing to teach. But I felt more gender-free there. It was the early 90s, gender theory was booming, Ann Arbor is a very liberal city, there was a freedom in terms of gender and sexual preference that I hadn’t encountered elsewhere.
Today, I will take on a cause, but I won’t wear the T-shirt; be boxed in. Identity is more complex and fluid. I believe in strategic essentialism while remaining conscious that things are more complicated. Awareness of gender might also be linked with age. I was conscious of my gender and the dangers that came with being a woman in the US when I was in my twenties. However, in the classroom, the cafés, with my friends, we constantly talked about queer issues. And we lived quite… freely! Today, I tell my students that we have to do both: fight as women and for women’s rights dans la rue and counter the construction of the category ‘woman.’
National identity is important in my later novel Les Cascadeurs de l’amour n’ont pas droit au doublage; but even there it is not so much about the specifics of Québécois identity. It is more about the relationship between the old world and the new world, the hierarchy between European and American culture. A form of colonisation that remains to this day.
I grew up in Ontario, first in a small Francophone village and then in Ottawa. Even though I was brought up by Québécois parents, I am in fact a Franco-Ontarian. As a teenager, I fought for Franco-Ontarian rights. I was very sensitive to this minority position in the Canadian landscape. It was very moving to see Francophones, who spoke a form of French that would easily have been frowned upon by French and Québécois alike, fight to protect their language and culture, access to services in French, respect of Canadian bilingualism laws.
CM: There is something about Bitter Rose which reminds me of aspects of Josée Yvon’s work; namely a kind of vignette structure to give us a glimpse into the lives of the various girls and young women which inform your novel. I know that at one time you were reading Yvon’s writing, as you have contributed to some of the publications celebrating the late counter-cultural author in recent years. Could you say something about this connection?
MD: As in Yvon’s writing, the characters in Bitter Rose both are and are not real. They are individuals and part of a collective. They disappear within a crowd, and this disappearance is a form of survival in Yvon’s writing: she makes these women real through poetry.
I write about this phenomenon in Les Filles en série. Des Barbies aux Pussy Riot (Serial Girls. From Barbies to Pussy Riot), an essay that will be coming out in English in Fall 2015 with the Toronto publishing house Between the Lines.
Yvon’s women are disjointed stereotypes. I am very interested in stereotypes and clichés. That is why figures and scenes are important to me in my writing. For example, Cascadeurs is a love story across cultural, national and linguistic differences—like Romeo and Juliet. When we fall in love, we fall into a cliché. I look at clichés with affection.
Click here for Part II of this interview.
© 2015, Ceri Morgan and Martine Delvaux
Ceri Morgan's Ph.D. (University of Southampton, 2000), "No Place Like Home" is on representations of space, place and identity in the post Quiet Revolution Québécois novel. She was a stagiaire de recherche at l'Université du Québec à Montréal during the spring and summer of 1997 and Visiting Eakin Fellow at McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Montreal, in autumn 2007. In summer 2014, she took up a Leverhulme International Academic Fellowship at the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University, Montreal. She teaches at Keele University and is co-editor of British Journal of Canadian Studies.