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Maria Chapdelaine
About the story of Maria.

Synopsis, Maria Chapdelaine Resource Package, McMichael Canadian Art Collection

The story takes place in the woods of the Lake St. John region of northern Quebec. It describes a year in the life of a young girl named Maria Chapdelaine, her family and her suitors. The action begins at the beginning of spring in the small wooden church of the village of Peribonka, filled to capacity with faithful parishioners. As the final tones of the little organ fade away, the congregation leaves the church and gathers in the snow-covered square bordered by wooden cabins. This is the right moment for a friendly chat and for listening to the town crier who, substituting for a daily newspaper, proclaims the news. Gradually the crowd, all wearing their Sunday fur coats, disperse and we make the acquaintance of the story's heroine.

Maria Chapdelaine is the eldest of six children, living with her family in a remote farm far off in the woods surrounding Peribonka. At the right age for marriage, Maria has the choice of three prospective husbands representing three possible destinies. François Paradis, a trapper and lumberjack, offers a life in the forest, far from the company of family and friends. Eutrope Gagnon, the Chapdelaine's only neighbour, promises her a secure yet hard working life as a farmer's wife. Finally Lorenzo Surprenant, a factory worker, offers the comfort and excitement of city life in New England. She listens to Lorenzo Surprenant's offer of a life in the city and uses her imagination to compare these attractions with the hard life that Eutrope Gagnon offers her—a life to which she has become accustomed. By late summer, however, her mind is already made up, and as François Paradis sets out to spend winter in the woods, her heart goes with him.

On New Year's Eve the Chapdelaine cabin is quiet and lost in snow. No visitors could be expected. But late in the evening Eutrope knocks at the door. His face, rigid with frost and snow, does not reflect a festive mood, he is the bearer of tragic news. François Paradis had tried to travel from Lake St. John, where he was lumbering, to visit the Chapdelaines for the holiday. So far he had not arrived and therefore must have lost his way in the woods. On receiving the news all present realise that losing one's way in this kind of weather means death, even to an experienced woodsman like Paradis.

Maria's destiny is determined by fate. Yet life goes on, it is time for Maria to get married and the priest advises her to find a husband. The attraction of city life and Lorenzo Surprenant are seen in a more favourable light as she now feels that it would be unbearable to spend all her life tied to exhausting labour in a sad, wild country. A decision has to be made. But Maria's attachment to the land is strong and when destiny further intervenes, with the death of her mother, Maria knows she cannot desert her father and the younger children. Living next door, Eutrope Gagnon becomes the obvious choice. The story ends with a promise to marry him the following spring.

. . . I want a process no matter what it costs that will give perfect reproduction of the originals.
Clarence Gagnon to Eric Brown, January 11, 1929

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Village Life by Clarence Gagnon

Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942
Village Life, 1928-1933
mixed media on paper
19.7 x 22.4 cm
Gift of Col. R.S. McLaughlin
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Picking Blueberries by Clarence Gagnon

Clarence Gagnon, 1881 – 1942
Picking Blueberries , 1928-1933
mixed media on paper
21.4 cm x 24.3 cm
Gift of Col. R.S. McLaughlin
McMichael Canadian Art Collection

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