"Beyond 'Quelques Arpents de neige': Representations of New France in French Texts, 1703-1780"

Brown, Nathan, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Tsien, Jennifer, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

No line from literature seems to have had more longevity and been given as much weight in Québécois historiography than Voltaire’s flippant remark about Canada in his 1759 work Candide ou l’optimisme. As Gordon, the great cynic of the conte, remarks to Candide, “Vous savez que ces deux nations sont en guerre pour quelques arpents de neige vers le Canada, et qu’elles dépensent pour cette belle guerre plus que tout le Canada ne vaut.” This refrain of Canada as “quelques arpents de neige” – several acres of snow – returns again and again in academic and non-academic works about New France and Canada even when the context is far removed from eighteenth century. It has become a potent metaphor to collapse all visions of New France pre-1763 into a single critical remark.

In this dissertation I explore the literary representations of New France (Canada) before and after Voltaire's work. Through an analysis of texts drawn from a wide range of genres, my work suggests that the image of New France was more positive and nuanced than historiography has allowed. Moreover, this project argues that strands of early-modern Frenchness are observable in this first colonial moment.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Colonialism, Empires, France, French, Québec, New France, eighteenth century, New World, Lesage, Raynal, Voltaire, Lahontan, Charlevoix, Canada, Frenchness
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