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literature

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Blais, Marie-Claire (b. 1939)  

Although she was reticent about her lesbianism in her early novels, Marie-Claire Blais has since written works in which lesbian passion is at once lyrical, mystical, and liberating.

Blais was born into a working-class family in Quebec City on October 5, 1939. She was sent to a convent for her early education but left when she was fifteen at her parents' insistence to go to secretarial school. She did, however, attend courses in French literature at the University of Laval and published her first novel, La belle bête, when she was nineteen, a feat that inevitably caused her to be compared with another young woman writing in French, Françoise Sagan.

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The comparison was a superficial one since the two writers are linked only by precocity and language. Blais has gone on to be an immensely prolific presence on both the Quebec and the international French literary scene. Her earlier novels, La belle bête (translated as Mad Shadows), Tête blanche (1960), Une saison dans la vie d'Emmanuel (1965), and Manuscrits de Pauline Archange (1968), are lyrical and intense depictions of brutalized, tormented, and victimized young protagonists who inhabit a world that can increasingly be identified with the Gothic, repressive Quebec in the years before la révolution tranquille of the early 1960s.

Her fiction generated a storm of controversy, and it was in part to escape both her celebrity and her notoriety that Blais went to the United States in 1963. There Edmund Wilson introduced her to the painter, Mary Meigs, with whom she subsequently became lovers. Blais went to live with Meigs at Wellfleet on Cape Cod, where she became acquainted with the literary and artistic circle of which Wilson was a prominent member.

As Meigs eloquently documents it in her autobiography, Lily Briscoe, this must have been a painful period, for the then-closeted Blais had to endure the unacknowledged heterosexist and cultural colonialism of an intimidating group of famous Americans, all the while attempting to work out an ultimately doomed three-way relationship with Meigs's lover of fourteen years, Barbara Deming.

In the end, Blais and Meigs left the Cape for Brittany, only to become involved in a destructive triangular relationship with a French woman novelist. (All three have recorded their versions of the event: Meigs in The Medusa Head and Blais in Une liaison parisienne, in which the protagonist is male, and the whole relationship can be subject to a political interpretation as representative of French cultural arrogance toward its former colony.)

Although Blais's fiction had always included homosexual references and her novel Le loup (1972; translated as The Wolf, 1974) featured a gay male protagonist, it was not until 1978, in Les nuits de l'underground, set in part in the legendary and now-defunct Montreal lesbian bar, Madame Arthur, that Blais unequivocally turns her attention to lesbian life. The book is, as Blais herself has said, a more honest version of Une liaison parisienne, one in which lesbian passion is at once lyrical, mystical, and liberating.

Her most recent novel, L'ange de la solitude (1990), which has yet to appear in English, is a visionary account of a literary commune composed of young lesbians affected by the death, at twenty, of one of their members.

Blais remains enormously productive and, despite a certain reluctance among critics and the establishment altogether to accept the gay and lesbian content of her fiction, she continues to enjoy public acclaim. She has received, among many other prizes, the Canadian Governor General's award (twice), the Prix France-Québec, the Prix Medicis, the Prix Académie française, and recently, the singular honor of being elected to the Belgian Académie française. She returned to North America in 1978 and now divides her time between Kingsbury, Quebec, and Key West, Florida.

Yvonne M. Klein

     

 
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    Bibliography
   

Green, Mary Jean. Marie-Claire Blais. New York: Twayne, 1995.

Kraft, James. "Fiction as Autobiography in Quebec: Notes on Pierre Vallières and Marie-Claire Blais." Novel 6 (Autumn 1972): 73-78.

Meigs, Mary. Lily Briscoe: A Self-Portrait. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1981.

_____, The Medusa Head. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1983.

Stratford, Philip. Marie-Claire Blais. Toronto: Forum House, 1971.

Wilson, Edmund. O Canada: An American's Notes on Canadian Culture. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Klein, Yvonne M.  
    Entry Title: Blais, Marie-Claire  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 16, 2012  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/blais_mc.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

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