01 March 2010

Dreaming of the Hun

Similia Similibus; ou, la guerre au Canada
Ulric Barthe
Quebec: Telegraph, 1916

Ulric Barthe was a political animal with connections. His most common title is Wilfrid Laurier à la tribune, a collection of speeches by the great man, after which we find Regional Guidebook for Settlers: Colonize District of Abitibi, issued by Quebec's Ministère des terres et forêts, and L'épouvantail des milliards, a publication of the Banque Provinciale du Canada.

Similia Similibus, Barthe's only novel, is a work of propaganda. Written and published during the Great War, it takes the form of a cauchemar. The dreamer is journalist Paul Belmont, who after a bout of insomnia, lapses into a 24-hour sleep in which he imagines a German invasion of Quebec City. Under this "grande tragédie", influenced greatly by the alleged atrocities of the Rape of Belgium, communications are cut, property is confiscated and resistance fighters are executed in the street.

As a novelist, Barthe was more than competent, but his imagery pales next to Charles Huot's rich illustrations. A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts, Huot provided three paintings for the book, including one depicting the German assault on the Legislative Assembly, a building he'd helped decorate.

Greatly respected and admired in his time, if sadly neglected in ours, it seems odd that Huot shares pages with Louis Brouilly, a lesser talent.

I expect this curious pairing may have something to do with Huot's style, which doesn't lend itself well to propaganda. Brouilly seems better suited in Barthe's effort to scare Canadiens into volunteering for "la cause sacrée pour laquelle tous les amis des libertés britanniques sont appelés à faire des sacrifices". Despite his limitations, the violence Brouilly depicts is more horrific than traffic congestion and the Legislative Assembly's overturned wastepaper basket.

And I do so hate a mess.

Object and Access: My copy once belonged to J.M. Shortliffe, Esq, a Christmas gift from journalist and historian Ernest Myrand. I can't speak to the binding, which seems rather plain, other than to say that the only copy currently listed for sale online is paperbound. At US$45, it may be a bargain. Archives and academic libraries aside, it's held only by the Toronto Public Library.


  1. I would love to know if you have an actual copy of the book? Let me know, http://www.qctonline.com/contact

    Best wishes,

    Pierre Little
    Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph

  2. I am indeed a proud owner. In fact, like J.M. Shortliffe (about whom I know nothing), I received the book as a Christmas gift. I'm told it was purchased from a bookseller in Madison, New York.