|Laure Conan, ca. 1870|
In a time when writing was still widely considered a male profession, the courage and stamina of women who despite all obstacles and polemics aspired to become authors can only be called admirable. What made them go public with their stories, essays etc. wasn’t always the strong yearning to share them with less biased readers than family and friends, nor the overpowering desire to show to the world that they were just as able writers as their male contemporaries, but in many cases necessity and desperation drove them to try a literary way out of misery. One of these women was the French-Canadian novelist, biographer and journalist Laure Conan who was the first in her country who actually managed to live from the pen.
Laure Conan was born Marie-Louise-Félicité Angers in La Malbaie in Lower Canada (today: Quebec) on 9 January 1845. Out of twelve children that the blacksmith Élie Angers and his wife Marie Angers, née Perron, had, she was one of only six who survived to adulthood. The family owned the general store and ran the post office in La Malbaie, a village located in a region of Canada where the greatest part of the population could neither read nor write at the time, which allowed them to send all their children – boys and girls – to Quebec City to receive higher education. Teenage Marie-Louise-Félicité Angers, who already was an avid reader by then, became a boarder at the convent school of the Ursulines for three years and it was there that her talent for writing was first discovered.
Back in La Malbaie the seventeen-year-old girl fell desperately in love with much older Pierre-Alexis Tremblay, a surveyor from the area, and they got engaged to be married, but the wedding was never to be. Some time in the late 1860s Tremblay broke up with her and married another woman leaving Marie-Louise-Félicité bitter and world-weary although she said about herself that she didn’t long for married life at all. After the break-up she retired to the family home and led a life in isolation. The deaths of her father in 1875 and her mother in 1879 brought her into a desperate situation. She depended on her elder brother who had also to support their unmarried sisters, but wished to make her own living at any cost.
Encouraged by her friends and mentors, many of them priests and nuns, she turned to writing as a possible livlihood. In 1878 the Revue de Montréal accepted her short story Larmes d’amouramTears of Love; later reprinted as Un amour vrai[A True Love]) and over the following months it was published there in instalments. Making a point of her anonymity she used for the first time the pseudonym Laure Conan which seems to have been inspired by a reference to Conan III, Duke of Brittany, in a novel of Zénaïde Fleuriot. After this first success the author consequently pursued her literary career. Already in 1881 and 1882 the Montréal-based Revue canadienne published her first novel Angéline de Montbrun in instalments – like almost all of Laure Conan’s works. The novel was to become her most famous work and today it’s considered the first psychological novel in the literature of Quebec.
Until the end of her life Laure Conon continued to write indefatigably. She published a great number of short stories and novels, many of them biographical like The Master Motive\PÀ l'oeuvre et à l'épreuve: 1891) which deals with the life of martyr Charles Garnier. Others of her most important and best remembered works are L'oublié (1900; The Forgotten) which was awarded the Prix Montyon by the Académie française in 1903, Élizabeth Seton (1903), L'obscure souffrance (1919; The Obscure Suffering), and La vaine foi (1921; Vain Faith). As from 1890 the author made the greater part of her living as a journalist, though, supplying different, often Catholic periodicals like La Voix du Précieux Sang (The Voice of the Precious Blood) or Le Rosaire (The Rosary) with biographies and essays.
Only in 1920 she moved away from the family home La Malbaie where she had lived during most of her life. In this last period of her life she stayed at different religious institutions like the institute of the Little Daughters of St Joseph on Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes in Montreal or with the Sisters of Charity in Saint-André near Kamouraska. The author’s last residence was the Villa Notre-Dame des Bois of the Religious of Jesus and Mary in Sillery near Quebec City where she worked on her final novel La sève immortelle, a historical novel meant as entry for the Prix Athanase-David. As soon as it was finished she was hospitalised and then diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Laure Conan died from heart failure right after the operation in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, on 6 June 1924. La Sève immortelle (The Immortal Sap) was published posthumously in 1925.
It goes without saying that all original French versions of Laure Conan’s work are now in the public domain more or less worldwide because the author died already ninety years ago. Their ebooks are downloadable for free from various sites like for instance: Livres pour tous and http://bibnum2.banq.qc.ca/bna/numtextes/ac206.htm.
According to Wikipedia there is an English edition of À l'oeuvre et à l'épreuve which dates from 1909, The Master Motive, which probably is in the public domain now too although I couldn't find an electronic edition.
This article is based on biographical articles on:
- Wikipedia at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laure_Conan and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laure_Conan
- Manon Brunet, “ANGERS, FÉLICITÉ, known as Laure Conan,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 15, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 12, 2015, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/angers_felicite_15E.html
- GrandQuebec.com – Gens du pays – Laure Conan at http://grandquebec.com/gens-du-pays/laure-conan