17 February 2016

The Strange Satanic Canada of a Future Past

For My Country [Pour la patrie: roman du XXe siecle]
Jules-Paul Tardivel [Sheila Fischman, trans]
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1975

The man who wrote this book believed novels to be instruments of the Devil, "weapons forged by Satan himself for the destruction of mankind", but as he explains in his Preface,  "it is permitted to capture the enemy's war machines and to use them to assault his own ramparts." In this sense, Pour la patrie was written by someone who didn't quite know what he was doing. This is not to say that Tardivel was unskilled; as a journalist, editor and publisher he certainly knew how to wield a pen. What's more, he was a master of the French language, and defended it with zeal in tracts like L’Anglicisme voilà l’ennemi (1880). Finally, as a deeply religious and conservative Catholic, he showed no reluctance in firing his enemy's war machine.

Tardivel's targets are easy to identify; Pour la patrie is very much a black and white story. The dark side is led by Aristide Montarval, a French Satanist who is charged by Beelzebub himself with destroying the Catholic faith in its very last place of influence: the Province of Quebec.

Old Nick's timing couldn't be better.

Pour la patrie was published in 1895 but is set fifty years in the future. In this not-so-wondrous world of 1945, an England weakened by "secret societies" watches powerless as its empire grows smaller by the day. Ireland has its independence, Australia has rid itself of the Crown, there are rumblings in Scotland and Germany gains ground daily – quite literally – as it takes over what little remains of the African colonies. Seizing the opportunity offered by an undisclosed diplomatic indiscretion, the United States has succeeded in demanding that Westminster cut ties with Canada. The plan, hatched by Freemasons, is to invade and annex, but this is delayed by yet another war with Spain and troubles along the border with Mexico.

The mess leaves Canada with a constitutional crisis as it looks to replace the Governor General with… well, Tardivel never addresses the issue. All the reader really knows of the constitutional proposals is that they number three: the status quo, legislative union and separation. Led by Prime Minister Sir Henry Marwood, the governing party promotes the first option.

Dry stuff, I know, but remember that there is great evil at work. As a Freemason, and therefore a Satanist, Marwood is only pretending to support the status quo; in fact, he is working under Montarval's guidance to bring a legislative union that will rid Quebec of the both the Church and the French language.

Marwood's foe is charismatic separatist Joseph Lamirande, a wealthy medical doctor who sits as the Member of Parliament for Charlevoix. A pious soul, he has as his ally life-long friend Paul Leverdier, editor of La Nouvelle-France, an independent newspaper not unlike Tardivel's own La Vérité.

As might be expected, the Freemasons do their level best to kill both men, only to be thwarted time and again. The earliest attempt results in the poisoning of Lamirande's lovely wife Marguerite.

God is on his side, of course. As Lamirande prays for his wife before a statue of St Joseph, after whom he was named, cold white marble becomes flesh and blood. The husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary gives the separatist leader a choice:
"Joseph, if you insist on the temporal grace you ask for, it will certainly be granted. You wife will live. But if, on the contrary, you leave everything to the will of God, the sacrifice of your domestic happiness will be repaid by the triumph of your homeland."
Understandably, Lamirande is tempted to ask God to spare Marguerite, but the good woman talks him out of it:
"It is not only a question of our country's prosperity and material greatness but of the salvation of many should over the centuries. Because if the secret societies continue to flourish it will be the ruin of our religion. That thought has sustained you in the painful struggles over these past few weeks, and it sustains me now. Think what good can be accomplished in return for a few years of miserable life! It is not often that a woman can save her country by dying!"
And so, she does.

And because she does, the ending comes as no surprise.

The great Henri Bourassa found Tardivel's novel unreadable, but I got through it all, including the chapter in which Lamirande's eight-year-old daughter relates her understanding of the catechism. Of course, I had certain advantage over Bourassa in reading this 19th-century roman de XXe siecle in the 21st century. It is always interesting to look back on a future that never was. Tardivel's Canada of 1945 is one of electric lights and trains that move between Ottawa and Montreal in under two hours, yet most travel still takes place by horse and buggy. I was most interested in his descriptions of the "telephone-telegraph", a machine that enables the user to not only speak to another at a distance, but is also capable of transmitting facsimiles of handwritten letters and documents.

I used to have one of those.

Still don't have those trains though. I blame the federal government.

About the author: It's been said that there are none so zealous as a convert. Tardivel was a Catholic but he was not a French Canadian. An American, born and raised, he didn't so much as set foot in Canada until his eighteenth year. That he was the result of union between a father from France and a mother from England, appears to have had no influence on his opinion toward Canada. Or maybe it did.

An influential, interesting, eccentric and somewhat paranoid figure, Tardivel's entry in The Dictionary of Canadian Biography is recommended.

Trivia: Tardivel's bibliography includes a translation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. How this squares with his views on the novel is a mystery to me. And, no, I don't think this has anything to do with it being a novella.

Tardivel also translated Joseph-Charles Taché's 1885 tract Les aisles d'aliénés de la province de Québec et leurs détracteurs (The Lunatic Asylums of the Province of Quebec and Their Defamers), which dismisses critics as both anti-Catholic and anti-French Canadian.

Object: A hardcover with printed boards, issued sans jacket. Forty of its 250 pages is taken up by an excellent Introduction by A.I. Silver. I purchased my pristine copy – a remainder, it seems – in 1993 at Westmount's Diamond Book Store. Price: $2.95.

Access: As might be expected, the For My Country is held by pretty much every university library in the country; public library patrons in Calgary are also served. This is one of those rare cases in which the Toronto Public Library fails where Library and Archives Canada succeeds. It can also be found at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec.

As far as I've been able to determine, the translation was issued in simultaneous cloth and paper editions. There aren't many used copies for sale online – and those that are tend to be in rotten shape. The only good news is that they're cheap.

Those looking to read the original French will be heartened to learn that Pour la patrie is currently in print, with Introduction by Serge Gauthier, from Éditions du Québécois. There are plenty of used copies of this and other editions listed for sale online. Sadly, the Cadieux & Derome first edition is nowhere in sight, though it can be read online and downloaded here thanks to the Internet Archive.

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