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  Dictionary of Literary Biography on Claire Martin
= Claire Martin's pseudonym itself proclaims two elements central to her work and its place in the history of French-Canadian literature. Asserting the continuity of the Female line through her use of her mother's maiden name Martin, she also signals her commitment to the exploration of the varieties of women's experience within a male-dominated culture. As she writes in her 1966 volume of memoirs, La Joue droite , her interest is in the possibilities of women's lives beyond the traditional rhythm of "yearly maternities, sleepless nights and dreary days, nursing children, washing, cooking, finished off with eclampsia or puerperal fever." She has made a significant contribution to French-Canadian literature through her willingness to move beyond the conservative stereotypes of Catholic Quebec in order to investigate the meaning of love, whether in terms of familial bondage or of erotic and emotional involvement.
= On 18 April 1914 Claire Martin was born in Quebec to Ovila Montreuil, a civil engineer, and his wife, Alice Martin Montreuil. Martin studied with the Ursulines in Quebec and with the Soeurs de la Congregation de Notre-Dame in Beauport. She worked as a radio announcer first with station CKCV in Quebec and later with Radio-Canada in Montreal. On 13 August 1945 she married Roland Faucher, a chemist, and they lived in Ottawa until 1972. Her first book, Avec ou sans amour, was published in 1958, and in the course of the next two decades she won a number of awards including the Prix du Cercle du Livre de France (1958), for Avec ou sans amour; the Prix de la Province de Québec (1965), and the Prix France-Québec (1965), both for Dans un gant de fer ; and a Governor General's Award (1967), for La Joue droite. From 1963 to 1965 she was president of the Société des Ecrivains Canadiens-français and in 1970-1971 Martin served as president of the jury for the Governor General's awards. After her husband's retirement, Martin moved with him to France and lived in Cabris in the Maritime Alps from 1972 to 1982 when they returned to Canada and took up residence in Quebec City, where her husband died on 30 November 1986. In 1973 she spent a term as writer in residence at the University of Ottawa and also devoted herself to the translation of English versions of Inuit narratives as well as of fiction by Robertson Davies and Margaret Laurence, among others.
= Martin's first book, the collection of short stories entitled Avec ou sans amour, is a series of experiments with tightly controlled form and style. For the most part brief and ironic, these stories reveal Martin's insight into the predicaments of love from a woman's point of view. Those who demand "realism" have been dissatisfied not only with Martin's short stories but also with her novels. As Maurice Blain has summed up these objections in his essay "Comment fille inconstante devient femme fidèle" collected in Gilles Marcotte's Présence de la critique (1966), "Roman immoral, diront les moralistes, qui va de l'inconstance un peu cynique a la fidélité un peu durable. Roman invraisemblable, diront les psychologues"; however, as Blain himself concludes, a novel like Martin's Quand j'aurai payé ton visage (1962) is a "Roman de l'intelligence du coeur."
= Martin is a moralist who is less concerned with plot and character development than with the elucidation of a situation, a moment, a problem which becomes representative of a life. This metonymic mode is obvious in Martin's second book, Doux-amer (1960), in which her use of lyrical first-person narration focuses the novel on ten years in the life of the narrator, an editor, and on his relationship with Gabrielle Lubin whose first book he has edited. A retrospective and frequently elegiac view of Lubin's relationship with the narrator's rival, Michel Bullard, her marriage to Bullard, and the return to the editor in the end, Doux-amer is structured in terms of two narratives set within the frame of the editor's story itself. Doux-amer was translated into English as Best Man in 1983.
= Taken a step further in her next novel, Quand j'aurai payé ton visage (1962), this technique of narrative doubling produces two narrators, Catherine Lange and Robert Ferny, and two parallel narratives of ten chapters each. These narratives are, in turn, separated by the narrative of Robert's mother, Jeanne Ferny, which is set between them. A retrospective narrative like Doux-amer, this novel presents three monologues on essentially the same event: the marriage of Catherine and Bruno Ferny, Catherine's love for her husband's brother, Robert, and her leaving of Bruno to live with Robert. Martin's working title for the first draft of the novel summarized these relationships: "Triangles pour un quatuor."
= Equally difficult relationships form the subject of Martin's two volumes of memoirs, Dans un gant de fer (1965) and La Joue droite. Both volumes of this autobiography were published in English translation in one volume under the title In an Iron Glove (1968); separately published translations appeared in 1975. Essentially the record of Martin's survival in the house of a tyrannical father, these memoirs powerfully evoke the Jansenist-Catholic ethos of Quebec before the social transformation heralded by the Quiet Revolution. In her presentation of her mother's tragic life, Martin clearly demonstrates the extent to which both physical and emotional violence were directed particularly against women and from which individuals seldom-and only at great cost to themselves-managed to escape. The depth of female bonding which also emerges at times under such conditions is shown by Martin in her depiction of her maternal grandmother to whom she was devoted and to whom she attributes her love of the French language.
= Like Anne Hébert, her great contemporary, Martin has resisted the political pressure toward incorporation of joual (colloquial Quebecois French) and toward an Americanized French into her work. Her syntax remains traditional and her lexicon that of the French Academy, choices which made her work suspect during the 1970s and which have distanced her from the climate of vigorous stylistic experimentation characteristic of contemporary Quebecois writing. Her 1970 novel, Les Morts, and its stage adaptation, "Moi, je n'étais qu'espoir," produced at Montreal's Théâtre du Rideau Vert and published in 1972, aroused a good deal of opposition from those committed to the view that the primary function of a writer in Quebec is to explore the circumstances of contemporary Quebecois life using the language of the majority. Martin has, however, resolutely refused to participate in this transformation, seeing the movement away from the language and intellectual traditions of the mother country as cultural folly.
= Regarded by many as her finest novel, Les Morts has been classified by Martin as a "roman-essai," an intricately structured analysis of love which may be seen as the counterpart to her memoirs. Another retrospective narrative in the first person, this novel presents its narrator as a writer in search of the meaning of past loves and of love itself, struggling in elegantly taut prose to disentangle the erotic from the conventionally romantic, the body of the other from her own longing, the experience of love from the saying of words which nourish-perhaps invent-love.
= With the exception of La Petite Fille lit (1973), a brief narrative composed as a literary exercise in fulfillment of her term as writer in residence at the University of Ottawa in 1972, Martin has not written a work of fiction since Les Morts. Alienated from the stylistic experimentation and commitment to feminist theorizing about writing which characterizes the work of such contemporary Quebecois novelists as Nicole Brossard and Louky Bersianik, Martin's work is now set firmly in the middle distance by contemporary Quebecois critics. It is ironic that, perhaps in part because her work has not been well served by English translators, being blunted and deprived of much of its feminist anger in the process, her writing has not yet found the place of honor in English Canada which it may yet achieve.
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