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Québécois Literature  
 
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Although gay and lesbian Québécois literature has only a fifty-year history, it has flourished and seems destined to merge into mainstream Québécois literature.

Québécois literature is relatively young. First linked to French literary movements and trends, it slowly became distinct during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

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Until the 1950s, most of Québécois literature conformed to a strict religious and moral order and tended to valorize rural and traditional values. In pre-1950s literature, the city, where a lesbian and gay subculture will soon emerge, is usually pictured as sinful and dangerous.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, an in-depth transformation of Québec society occurred. This so-called Quiet Revolution brought changes to many aspects of life, including politics, religion, language, and literature.

Francophone Canadians became Québécois or Acadiens, and became proud of who they were. Tired of being treated as second-class citizens, they finally asserted themselves as a minority group and expressed pride in the originality and distinctness of their culture.

Changes in Québécois literature inevitably paralleled this cultural transformation. Various linguistic experiments were attempted, including the literary use of an artificially constructed dialect, the joual, and forms of syntactical destabilization.

The city--often Montréal--was depicted positively, as a place of potential happiness and self-realization.

Finally, sexuality also came to be portrayed affirmatively, and sexually suggestive scenes became a recurring motif in Québécois literature.

The Emergence of Gays and Lesbians in Mainstream Literature

Gay male and Lesbian characters suddenly appeared in mainstream novels and drama. In the 1960s, Jean Basile (1932-1992) wrote a trilogy set in Montréal. In the second book, Le Grand Khan (The Great Khan [1967]), Adolphe, a gay character, openly discusses with the narrator, Jonathan, his vision of homosexuality. A dramatic scene also takes place in a gay bar.

Gay characters also people the plays of Michel Tremblay (b. 1942) during this period. Hosanna, Cuirette, la Duchesse de Langeais, and Sandra are transvestites or bikers and are presented as the nocturnal inhabitants of the city, as metamorphical sisters of the main characters of the play, Les Belles-Soeurs (The Guid Sisters [1968]).

They appear in many works of Tremblay, but play determinant roles in La Duchesse de Langeais (1969), Demain matin Montréal m'attend (Tomorrow Morning, Montréal Will Be Mine [1970]), Hosanna (1973), and Damnée Manon, Sacrée Sandra (Darn Mandy, Holy Sandy [1977]).

During the Quiet Revolution, Marie-Claire Blais (b. 1939) came into prominence. Her work from the very beginning featured gay and lesbian characters. In Le Loup (The Wolf, 1972) and Les Nuits de l'Underground (Nights in the Underground: An Exploration of Love [1978]), lesbians and gay men are at the center of the plots.

In Le Loup, which features psychological introspection, tormented characters, and experimental writing, the author offers a very personal and even mythical vision of life. In Les Nuits de l'Underground, Blais organizes her plot around a landmark lesbian bar called L'Underground.

Obviously inspired by the dynamics of the love relationships between women in a lesbian milieu, she follows--from a distance--the various personal transformations of Geneviève, a French sculptor who slowly discovers two realities: the French-Canadian society and her lesbian feelings.

Blais's experimental writing, especially her use of the sentence and of the dense paragraph, attempts to imitate the underground subculture that Geneviève slowly discovers.

In the last part of Blais's Nuits de l'Underground, the reader can discern a liberation discourse making its way through the imaginations of the various characters.

The Gay Liberation Movement

In many works of the 1970s and early 1980s, the gay liberation movement is indeed the main source of inspiration. Once again literature and history parallel each other, for in 1977 the Québec government introduced a sexual orientation amendment into its antidiscrimination charter. This liberal legislation probably helped speed up the emergence of an organized lesbian and gay community in Québec.

A watershed publication of the new era of liberation is a collective work that appeared in 1978, Sortir--which may be translated as two expressions: coming out or going out. In this work artists, psychologists, and writers such as Paul Chamberland, Michel Tremblay, Jean Basile, and Denis Vanier gave their own views of homosexuality and discussed how the situation of sexual minorities could be improved.

Lesbian and gay writers also participated openly in public events. One such public meeting devoted to gay writers is recorded in the November 1979 special issue of the lesbian and gay periodical Le Berdache. At the same time, the new feelings and emotions of openly gay men and out lesbians were given expression in many other venues, perhaps especially in poetry.

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