20 February 2016

Antonine Maillet: La Sagouine 1970; repr. Bibliothèque québécoise 1990

This is a collection of sixteen speeches (this being in fact a one-person play) written by Antonine Maillet from New Brunswick, a mainly French-speaking province in Canada. Maillet, who won the Goncourt in 1979 for her novel Pélagie-la-Charette, is Acadian and this play is written in Arcadian and inspired by a certain Sarah Cormier. The woman on the cover is Viola Léger, famous for her theatrical interpretations of the play. Maillet was born in Bouctouche, where there is now a park called Le Pays de la Sagouine: La Sagouine is a seventy-two-year-old uneducated domestic filled with an age-old wisdom.

 I read a commentary from a girl who used to be a student at Montréal university, who writes about being given tickets for a performance of La Sagouine, and that when the audience saw an old woman with a bucket and mop get up on stage and start talking in an incomprehensible language she expected that the woman would be removed by security officers. But this was not to be: this, of course, was the beginning of the play itself, and bit by bit La Sagouine's strange words begin to take on some sense.

This edition comes with an eight-page Glossary because of the very problem mentioned above, although many of the unconventional words aren't in it and the reader is forced to work at understanding: words such as 'saouère', 'aouère' and 'ouère', for instance, mean 'savoir', 'avoir' and 'voir': there's often a kind of key which greatly aids understanding when unlocked.

La Sagouine is often cynical or skeptical, knows that there's one law for the rich and another for the poor, and gives her views on many subjects, such as: her floor-scrubbing job, Christmas and the New Year, the lottery, the church, war, the seasons, death, etc.

In a Foreword to this remarkable book, Alain Pontaut lists the paradoxes of La Sagouine, including the fact that she 'knows nothing and clarifies everythng', 'speaks in the name of people who have little language, and powerfully gives them a voice', 'speaks of a land which hardly exists and makes it exist by talking about it', 'has nothing and makes us a major gift', and so on.

My other post on Antonine Maillet:

Antonine Maillet: Pélagie-la-Charrette

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