Letters to Bernadette


219 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-88619-247-1
DDC C843'.54




Translated by Patricia Claxton
Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is a professor of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University, an associate fellow of the Simone de Beauvoir
Institute, and author of Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home.


Like many writers, Roy was addicted to writing letters, which helped
soften the essential loneliness of many writers’ inner lives. Her
letters allowed her to express thoughts and feelings that might not have
been relevant to her public writing.

This volume consists of 138 letters written to her older sister
Bernadette, a teaching nun. They begin in 1943, when Roy was still
working on The Tin Flute, providing glimpses of wartime Montreal (a city
“almost hysterical . . . with sorrow, bewilderment, guilt and
anxiety”); of Roy’s beloved Maman, who figured in so many of her
novels; and of the publicity that greeted her first novel. Roy found it
all “pretty hard to bear,” and felt sustained by Bernadette’s

The letters continue to 1970, when Bernadette died of cancer. Roy
writes to her dying sister that for most of her life she had felt
protected by Bernadette’s love. “Now you’re the one who is the
battered bird, the prey of illness, and I’m the one trying to protect
you with my prayers and all the yearning of my soul.” These heartfelt,
honest letters help the reader to better understand the work of one of
Canada’s greatest francophone writers.

The letters are translated by Claxton, who won the 1987 Governor
General’s Award for her fine translation of Enchantment and Sorrow,
Roy’s autobiography. The collection includes a four-page introduction
by Roy’s literary executor, Franзois Ricard. This book is an
important addition to her large body of work.


Roy, Gabrielle., “Letters to Bernadette,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 19, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/10745.