________________ CM . . . . Volume XI Number 4 . . . . October 15, 2004


Maria Chapdelaine.

Louis Hémon. Illustrated by Rajka Kupesic.
Toronto, ON: Tundra, 2004.
40 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-88776-697-8.

Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.

Review by Helen Norrie.

** /4


Maria listens while Eutrope tells her his plan: he will clear the land and plant grain and build a house. With hard work, he will pay cash and stay out of debt. Her hopes that Maria will marry him and keep house; that she will cook, milk the cows, clean the stable, work the fields and live her life alone with him in the woods.

This picture/storybook is a very simplified version of the famous novel by Louis Hémon (1880-1913) of life in a remote farm in Quebec in pioneer days. However, in order to reduce the story to 40 pages, much of the emotional impact is lost. We don't know if Maria is afraid when their sleigh almost goes through the ice, if she is desolate when her mother dies, or even if she truly loves Francois, her young suitor who dies in a winter storm trying to visit her. Because this is an abbreviated version of another slightly longer selection published in 1989, we are now left with only the bare bones of the story. Possibly part of the problem is in the translation, as this was originally published in French.

internal art

     Rajka Kupesic, originally from Zagreb, Croatia, uses the Maria Chapdelaine story as the basis for a series of oil paintings which illustrate the book. These are numerous, striking, and done in a naive style which blends well with the text. In one, the church dominates the scene and dwarfs the villagers, as the church dominated Maria's life and causes her to sacrifice her chance to marry Lorenzo and move to the growing metropolis of New York. Instead, she decides to marry Eutrope, a neighboring farmer, and spend her life, like her mother's, on a backwoods farm.

     Kupesic uses earth tones, mainly browns and yellows, to portray life in the cabin. We are told that her paintings have been widely shown in galleries around the world and have been featured in magazines. Maria is pictured with eyes either downcast or closed in every picture until she marries. Does this suggest innocence or ignorance? Modesty or lack of awareness? Some of the poses also seem awkward, though this may simply be part of her style.

     This story could be used in Canadian history classes to discuss the influence of the church at this time in Quebec or simply to portray the difficult conditions faced by early pioneers. Maria's decision to stay on the farm, care for her father and younger siblings and marry Eutrope rather than move away to New York has also always been controversial and would make for good ethical argument.

Recommended with Reservations.

Helen Norrie, a former teacher-librarian, has taught Children's Literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba, and writes a monthly children's book column for the Winnipeg Free Press.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.