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Autobiography, Bilingualism and Poetry: Writing in English and French in Canada to Address Personal and Political Challenges

Journal: Athens Journal of Philology (Vol.2, No. 4)

Publication Date:

Authors : ;

Page : 215-226

Keywords : Bilingual; Canada; Hybridity; Wanderer; French; English;

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Canada is an officially bilingual country (French and English), although very many languages are spoken freely within its borders. Over the past decades, a growing body of literary Canadian texts have illustrated the ease with which creative writers of autobiographical fiction navigate their bilingual lives. Non-fictional autobiographies in Canada, however, tend to be unilingual. Kathleen Saint-Onge’s 2013 autobiography, Bilingual Being: My Life as a Hyphen, published by the prestigious Montreal academic press, McGill-Queen’s UP, constitutes an exception to the usual practice. In it, the author recounts her bilingual upbringing in her native Québec City, her subsequent move(s) to anglophone Canada, and her life’s work of reconciling childhood sexual abuse with her deliberate exiles (in language, in geography, in religion, and in her body). The text is liberally peppered with poems, references to literary theories, historical discourses and reflections on current affairs. This article provides a brief overview of the literary infrastructures that support bilingual writing in Canada, and then examines Saint-Onge’s creative bilingual writing practice as an illustration of the quintessentially Québécois/Canadian acceptance of hybridity, lack of certitude, and the ineffable. It argues that bilingual writing, particularly in the poetic passages of the text, allows the autobiographer to examine and to critically reflect upon her personal past in the context of the troubled politics of her country. Bilingualism (French-English) allows her to reach a psychic level of comfort with the frequently conflictual situations of her past and present, and to tie these encounters to the politics of the fascinating postcolonial country that is Canada.

Last modified: 2015-11-18 15:46:26