The Euguélionne: A Triptych Novel
M. Bernice Standen was a freelance writer in Peterborough, Ontario.
Louky Bersianik has been heralded as the most original of Québec’s feminist writers. Simone de Beauvoir says of this work, “A truly great book, absolutely feminist and I am delighted at its success.” The translation from the French appears to have been successful in maintaining the innovative language and style of the author.
Louky Bersianik has taken on, with wit and humour, the feminist issues as she sees them in Québec. Her protagonist, the Euguélionne (Bearer of Good News), arrives from another planet seeking the male of her species. She happens to land in twentieth century Québec, befriends some French Canadian women, and ultimately gives them a new and challenging view of themselves. The particular oppression of Québec women — the gender-ridden and syntactically sexist language, the dogmatism of the Catholic faith, the rigours of the Napoleonic code — is so easily satirized by Bersianik’s cutting wit that instead of a sad tale it becomes one of humour and passion.
Written as a triptych, the three panels are divided into chapter and verse parodying the Bible as Old Testament, Gospels, and finally Revelations. The Euguélionne, as philosopher and prophet on earth, precipitates, in the first panel, a myriad of interpretations as to her origins and the origins of our own androcentric society. The second panel explores some of our mythology, creating a sense of foreboding for the women of earth. The third panel, entitled “Transgression Is Progression,” sees the Euguélionne offering advice to her new friends on how to achieve emancipation and equality.
Throughout the novel, whether the issue is personal, sexual, social, religious or political, Louky Bersianik’s thesis that language is power is implicit in each step of her demystification of the male/female relationship. She dismisses what has been as prehistory, she creates a new language and a new egalitarian world.
The author’s style appears to follow her inclinations as film-maker, with powerful images and dramatic confrontation. Once one accustoms oneself to this and gains an understanding of who the Euguélionne is, the witty iconoclasm can be appreciated. (It took me a while to do this — one thousand three hundred and eighty-six verses is a difficult read at one go.) There are one or two chapters dealing with war that involve bizarre and shocking treatment of women and children; these I found difficult. In general, though, humour prevails and is an effective weapon against established ideas. Louky Bersianik uses it skillfully.