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ARCHIVED - Canada: A Literary Tour

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Literary Landscapes

Acadia

The Search for the Lost Paradise
by Marcel Barriault, Library and Archives Canada

The way they sees it, seems l'Acadie ain't a country,
'n Acadjen ain't a nationality . . .

-Antonine Maillet, La Sagouine (1972)

White 17-cent stamp with a colour illustration of a seaside village

Postage stamp entitled Acadia, August 14, 1981

Source

Acadia has not existed as a state for at least two centuries. Yet it remains very much alive in the popular imagination, inspiring many writers, poets, musicians and artists. When the Florentine explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano named the area after "Arcadia," an idyllic and pastoral region in Ancient Greece, he never suspected that he was laying the foundation for an important myth in the Acadian psyche, that of the Promised Land. In the 17th century, the very first European writers to visit Acadia described it as a Biblical land of milk and honey. Marc Lescarbot called Acadia the promised land of the French, and Nicolas Denys compared it to Cockaigne, a mythical land of plenty." In Relation du voyage du Port Royal en Acadie (1708), Dièreville praised the Acadian people, whom he described as living a pastoral in a land not unlike paradise.

Black and white photograph of a statue in front of a church

The Evangeline Monument, Grand Pré, Nova Scotia

Source

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired by these writings when he composed his famous epic poem Evangeline (1847), by far the most significant work in the evolution of Acadian literature. In this poem, the young heroine and her fiancé are cruelly separated by the English troops during the deportation of the Acadians in 1755. They spend the rest of their lives away from Acadia, trying desperately to find each other again. This quest for what can no longer be, this wrenching desire to return to a lost paradise, has inspired many historical novels about the history of the Acadians. The most notable examples are Elle et lui (1940) by Antoine-J. Léger, Le chef des Acadiens (1956) by J. Alphonse Deveau and especially Pélagie-la-Charrette (1979) by Antonine Maillet.

Exile and wandering continue to be major themes in contemporary Acadian literature, but it is often a voluntary exile, in which one wanders through unfamiliar lands to live as "an exile from oneself," in the words of Herménégilde Chiasson. In an era of globalization, the characters in Acadian literature strike out in search of other countries in order to better understand the world and their own lives. Works such as Les portes tournantes (1984) by Jacques Savoie, Le cycle de Prague (1992) by Serge Patrice Thibodeau, Petites difficultés d'existence by France Daigle (published in 2002 and later translated as Life's Little Difficulties) and Vortex (2004) by Jean Babineau show readers that Acadia, a country without definite borders, fits perfectly in a world where borders are disappearing.