12 August 2019

Bach to the Future, Part II: Le Dernier Voyage

Le dernier voyage: Un roman de la Gaspésie
     [A Voice is Calling]
Eric C. Morris [trans. Martine Hébert-Duguay]

Montreal: Chanteclerc, 1951
255 pages
A brief addendum to last week's post on Eric Cecil Morris' A Voice is Calling.
A debut novel by an unknown, A Voice is Calling received little attention when published and has been pretty much ignored ever since. So, how to explain this translation?

Consider this: A Voice is Calling was published in 1945, the very same year as Hugh MacLennan's Two Solitudes, described at the time as "the GREAT Canadian novel" (Chicago Sun). "Two Solitudes may well be considered the best and most important Canadian novel ever published” said the Globe & Mail. MacLennan's second novel, following the acclaimed Barometer Rising, Two Solitudes received the 1945 Governor General's Award for Literature and has been on high school, college, and university curricula ever since.

Two Solitudes wasn't available in French until 1963, a full eighteen years later... and, curiously, long after published translations in Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Dutch, and Estonian. Le dernier voyage, in contrast, appeared a mere six years after its English-language original.

I first heard of A Voice is Calling through Jean-Louis Lessard, who wrote about Le dernier voyage eight years ago. I'm a touch – just a touch – more positive about the work, though his review left me wondering whether we'd read the same novel. Had anything been cut in translation? A Voice is Calling is 487 pages long, while Le dernier voyage numbers 255. French translations of English texts are typically longer, not shorter.

And so, I bought and read Le dernier voyage. I can report that nothing was excised. Differences in layout, design and font size explain the divergent page counts. Translator Martine Hébert-Duguay is faithful to the original. My only criticism is that she is a touch – just a touch – more liberal in her use of exclamation marks.

Her efforts did not bring a change of mind concerning the original text.

The best Canadian novel of 1945 was, of course, Bonheur d'occasion – it, not Two Solitudes, is the GREAT Canadian novel.

Object: A nicely designed, well-bound paperback printed on good paper stock. Sadly, the cover image is uncredited.

Access: Held by Library and Archives Canada, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, and thirteen of our universities, Le dernier voyage is nearly as common as A Voice is Calling.

I purchased my uncut copy last month from a Montreal bookseller. Price: US$8.00.

Related post:


  1. And why the change in title from the English version to the French? "A Voice is Calling" is easy enough as a French title. Or was the title of the English version changed from the author's wishes?

    1. I've been wondering that myself, Roger. I'm guessing that it might have something to do with the source, Bach's "Sleepers Awake! A Voice is Calling." The French title, "Réveillez-vous, la voix nous appelle," would be less effective in that "La voix nous appelle," removes the personal. The voice is no longer calling André, but all of us. Again, I'm just guessing. I don't see that the author's papers are available anywhere.

      The addition of "Un roman de la Gaspésie" seems a bit odd. Most of the book is set in the Gaspé, but we don't really get much sense of the place. Really, it seems to have been chosen for no other reason than it is remote and lacked a hospital. This is important when Suzanne takes ill. I'm reminded that Gaspé boy René Lévesque was actually born in a New Brunswick hospital.