After sixteenth-century Micmac Indians came to meet European newcomers on the shores of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, after Samuel de Champlain met and traded with Montagnais and Algonquins in Tadoussac (1603) and established Quebec (1608), the colonial French often traveled and interacted with Amerindians more widely than did other visitors and immigrants.1 Franciscan and Jesuit missionaries worked tirelessly to convert everyone to Christianity, while backwoodsmen known as coureurs de bois (“runners of the woods”) and, later, voyageurs penetrated territories previously unknown to Europeans.2 They were following trade items to the source in order to conduct the business of the fur trade. To interact most effectively with their Amerindian partners, coureurs de bois often joined them either temporary or permanently, without trying to change belief systems or mores.3 Immersed in the culture of “the other,” some coureurs de bois learned native languages and became translators and guides. In literature these men are normally evoked to represent an independence of spirit and a connection—either positive or negative—with Indians and the wilderness. This article contends that they can also be seen as historical embodiments of contemporary ecocritical concerns because, although they were participating in the environmentally damaging fur trade, they also point to the way forward, toward greater intercultural understanding that can lead to connections, collaboration, and joint efforts. A literary view of Joseph-Charles Taché’s Forestiers et voyageurs: Etude de moeurs (1863) through this lens offers one fruitful opportunity to explore this motif. The fur trade was the bedrock of France’s (and then England’s) economic interests in northern North America into the nineteenth century, when the lumber industry displaced it. This fascinating and complex history has been mined and interpreted by historians ranging from Harold Innis, Grace Lee Nute, and W. J. Eccles to Sylvia Van Kirk, Jennifer Brown, Bernard Allaire, Louise Dechêne, Gilles Havard, and Carolyn Podruchny, among many others. The business partnerships and personal, often intimate relationships between coureurs de bois and Amerindians characterized French fur-acquiring activities. Especially after big enterprises such as the Hudson’s Bay and North West companies had established themselves, the balance of nature was disrupted and the companies as well as individuals were certainly guilty of abusive and exploitative practices. However, poor behavior and lack of respect were not universal, as will be elaborated shortly. Workers in the fur trade, both European and Indian, also exemplify cross-cultural human networks of cooperation that have the potential to lead to success for all parties of an undertaking. Broadening this purview further, to include Michel Serres’ contract with nature, we arrive at what Scott Slovic and Saba Pirzadeh refer to as enlightened anthropocentrism, which Pirzadeh defines as “a more realistic form of environmental ethics” (205). This type of awareness acknowledges the reality of human self-centeredness while also insisting on environmental protections (Slovic 199–200; Pirzadeh 205). It accounts for the realities of widely variable human situations, beliefs, and behaviors as well as the planetary context in which all life forms strive to survive. A reality-based approach such as this opens paths that were blazed conceptually and in practice, from a retrospective ecocritical viewpoint, by precursors in history and literature including Amerindians, coureurs de bois, and voyageurs. The focus here is on Taché’s constructions of these characters, especially the French Canadian backwoodsmen, and on some of the underpinnings of the author’s assumptions and choices. François-Xavier Garneau’s three-volume opus L’Histoire du Canada (1845–48) established the French side of Canadian history. The 1763 English conquest, Garneau influentially argued, had been a “grand désastre national” (great national disaster) that could and should have had a different outcome (Garneau 373). Garneau died in 1866 leaving a legacy of French Canadian pride and coherence. His work inspired the École patriotique de Québec (patriotic school of Quebec), also known as the Mouvement littéraire de 1860, of which Taché was a member. A seminal figure in the development of French Canadian literature, Taché was one of four cofounders (in 1861) of the monthy journal Les Soirées canadiennes, which aimed to incite the building of a body of literature by publishing nonfiction, fiction, and poetry pertaining to past glory, traditions, and folklore—“tout un bouquet de légendes et de contes populaires” (a veritable bouquet of legends and folktales) (Roy 87). Forestiers et voyageurs initially appeared here as a series. Luc Lacourcière qualified the significance of the periodical in his preface to a 1946 edition of the book version of Forestiers et voyageurs, writing that in Soirées canadiennes, Taché had assembled the main literary figures of his time. Taché (1820–94), who eventually became Canada’s deputy minister of agriculture, public health, and statistics, was a well-known public figure in his time. Enormously productive and versatile, he also worked as a medical doctor, journalist, pamphleteer, editor, and storyteller. By the time he wrote Forestiers et voyageurs, Taché’s readership knew and respected his voice, which he enthusiastically added to the chorus of those promoting a specifically French Canadian identity in the face of English cultural domination (Bossé; Bernard). The three standard pillars of this national identity that were actively promoted during the nineteenth century, especially by the Catholic Church (bolstered by the Quebec Act of 1774 that had granted freedom of religion), were Catholicism, the French language, and agriculture (Servais-Maquoi, introduction). Taché’s focus is on the first two of these, but he includes new elements in the language to distinguish it from that of the Métropole, in what could be seen as an early manifestation of Francophone pride, one that allows for the inclusion of new linguistic expressions and references originating in non-French cultures.4 Such intriguing lines of inquiry are too far afield of the focus here, as are the compelling and tragic stories of the 1837–38 rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada and their brutal putdowns, followed by the 1841 unification of these regions into the Province of Canada, developments that profoundly influenced Taché’s worldview and his fierce pride in his French heritage. By the early twentieth century, as historian Robert Bothwell sums up the extremely complicated progression: “The British Empire was an inescapable fact” (263). Today Quebecois constitute a majority only in Quebec. In the country as a whole, they are a minority. The French Canadians portrayed by Taché in Forestiers et voyageurs are Catholics (as he specifies in the introduction) who have been living under a Protestant-dominated régime as unequals (Bouchard 21–34). Of course, the French had initially been the colonizers themselves, upon their arrival in the New World, behaving alternatively abominably and cooperatively. Although many Europeans, including Cartier in the sixteenth century, were abusive toward native peoples, such comportment was not comprehensive.5 In their studies centering respectively on Champlain and Acadia, Fischer and Faragher have documented a far more complex situation that also included acts of kindness and intimacy on both sides. Coureurs de bois and later voyageurs routinely entered into sexual relationships with Indian women, usually temporary and casual but also often long-lasting or permanent, as has been studied and documented, notably by Van Kirk, Brown, and Havard. Intermarriage, encouraged by the government of New France in the hopes of cultural assimilation, was eventually abandoned as official policy but continued nevertheless, especially in the buffalo-hunting prairies of the West that gave rise to the Métis population (Moogk 50; Binnema, Ens, and Macleod). From the viewpoint of trade, such unions could benefit all sides of the enterprise, and to this end Indian women traveled and worked alongside their fur-trading European mates.6 Abuse of women of course also occurred, whether European or Amerindian; Driscoll is among the scholars who have focused on intersecting questions of history, racism, and cultural changes over time in the treatment of Indian and Métis women. The realities of both ethical and unethical patterns point back to how the backwoodsmen portrayed in Taché’s work exhibit aspects of the human trajectory that ecocritism needs to address in ways that engage theorists beyond questions of good or bad, toward an acceptance that both simply exist. Real conditions tackled not with despair but with determination and creativity offer the best hope of environmental mitigation and rescue, as Ursula Heise, Diane Ackerman, and other thinkers productively exhort. In what is partially a long hymn to Canadian wilderness and those who earned their living in it, and partially an ode to the lumber industry and its workers, Taché conveys a collection of stories told by a medical-doctor narrator (Taché) and another character, Michel, to whom the doctor cedes much of the storytelling. A compiled fictional character, as Taché explains in the introduction, Michel is a former voyageur created by the author to represent his concept of the quintessential French Canadian and what distinguishes this character type. Through his stories and his material body, Michel links past lifestyles with developing industrialism and exemplifies the French Canadian national identity that Taché strives to construct. Because this construction connects the natural environment with the author’s version of the French Canadian character, he incorporates into the national identity elements of the outside world. Taché portrays this outside world as including the Amerindian people whom the French encountered upon arrival in Canada, and in conjunction with whom the new Canadian ethos evolved over time. In this way, he creates while also mirroring a self-idea that has emerged partly from attitudes and behaviors toward wilderness and those who inhabit it. He uses the figure of the voyageur/coureur de bois to embody this ethos, and thus we can extrapolate an ecocritical example of the intimate nature–human connection that illustrates how human behavior toward the planet is at the same time behavior toward fellow humans. Part 1 presents the site of a lumberjack camp in full, carefully described in detail. The construction is specified: it should be built on a little plateau, not so high that it is exposed, yet not so low that it may get swamped when the ice melts, and near running water. The materials and methods are stipulated, as are the dwelling, stable, shelters for gear, and furniture. Next come the jobs held, by title and function (Taché 19−24). This systematic presentation allows readers to see, as if in a museum display, the “factory” in the forest. Taché’s methodology reflects a nineteenth-century classification and cataloging approach to the subject, but his is not a stagnant or dusty exhibit; rather, it expresses the continuous change that is under way, as will become evident especially in the book’s second section. As soon as the narrator/doctor enters the lumberjack camp in Part 1, the attentive reader notes that this is an area where people do their jobs. It is the domain of labor, with its realities and its effects. In Taché’s portrayal of this setting, the independent coureur de bois has become a hired hand employed in the capitalist engine, while at the same time he is already clearly turning into an element of folklore. The doctor is visiting with the widowed and very lonely camp cook, François. As they talk, the doctor attempts to console the still-young cook and encourage him to reengage with society, if not remarry. Suddenly the two hear “battre des raquettes” (snowshoes stamping) outside the door. “Un instant après la porte s’ouvrit, laissant pénétrer dans la cabane un vigoureux vieillard, chargé d’un loup-cervier et de quelques lièvres pris au collet” (An instant later the door opened, and into the cabin came a vigorous old man carrying a lynx and a few hares he had caught in a trap) (Taché 32). This is Michel, a former coureur de bois and the main character of Forestiers et voyageurs other than the doctor/narrator himself. The reader sees that he is very strong, an aging man who is also a serious hunter. He seems to bring in the outdoors with him; the reader imagines the wintry blast as the door opens, a few swirls of snow in the air as the bundled hunter sets down his fresh game and peels off some winter layers of clothing. It is a textual movement that brings the Canadian winter into the indoors realm of shelter and warmth, a place associated with the civilized world and with reading and visiting. Indeed, this will be Michel’s function in the text, since it is he who conveys most of the stories in Forestiers et voyageurs. Through his intervention the tales are carried from the outside world inside, into the imagination of French Canadians who know these traditions and convey them verbally but had previously not likely thought of them as material for literature. Taché aims to prove the contrary: Bonjour, docteur, bonjour! Mais je ne peux pas me plaindre depuis que je fais la gargotte avec François. Pourtant les loups-cerviers sont donc futés cet hiver! … Sapristi, si j’avais su que vous veniez nous voir, je vous aurais bien fait dire de m’apporter de la drogue. J’ai du rognon de castor, ah! Pour ça, je n’en manque jamais; mais j’aurais besoin de Sartifida et d’Huile d’Aspic (1). Tenez, j’en avais composé une il y a deux ans, que les loups-cerviers me suivaient à la piste; si bien, que je ne tendais presque plus au parc, je les prenais quasiment tous à la passée! (2) (Hello, doctor, hello! Well, I can’t complain since I’ve been eating with François. But the lynxes are clever this winter! … Damn, if I had known you were coming to see us, I would have asked you to bring some drugs. I have beaver kidneys, oh, I never lack for that; but I need Sartifida and aspic oil. In fact, I made one two years ago that the lynxes followed on my trail; it worked so well I almost tendais presque plus au parc, je les prenais quasiment tous à la passée!) The author’s notes explain terminology that may be unfamiliar. The “drug” refers to a mixture of asafoetida (extracted from the rhizome of the perennial herb Ferula) and lavendar that attracts wild game. The terms tendre au parc and tendre à la passée designate two ways to lay a trap, the first by creating a little enclosure with branches with the bait inside; the second by setting the trap in the open where the animal is known to pass or where it can be made to pass. Thus the first visual impression conveyed of Michel is one of strength and hunting knowledge, and this first spoken passage brings that image into focus. In note 2, Taché characterizes Michel’s diction as “termes canadiens de chasse” (Canadian hunting terminology). Taché’s explanatory addenda throughout the work result in a substantial scholarly apparatus that is one of the aspects making Forestiers et voyageurs such an intriguing literary hybrid. Through publication both the story and the language will be widely disseminated, eventually entering the national consciousness in a process of diffusion and continuous movement that exemplifies a process of becoming. Because elements of the natural environment are incorporated into the language that Taché deliberately carries into the wider realm and the French Canadian consciousness, this means that a keen environmental awareness and know-how has become part of that mindset. The second part of the book centers on the workers who inhabit the wilderness. To show them, Taché centers on Michel, who relates the (filtered, obviously) accounts of many others to an audience of tired, yet enthralled lumberjacks in the evenings after work, in camp. Because of the book’s division into parts, readers can focus on one aspect at a time: first the material realities of the domain to which they are being introduced, and then some of the most dramatic stories and legends that have, over time, arisen from that environment and that continue to play out. The effect of this rhetorical strategy is to erect in the reader’s imagination an entire functioning economic and cultural system, one that the author presents as being sustainable financially and spiritually. For it is meant to reflect the functioning French Canadian society that the author strives to both depict and develop, and the forest represents, importantly, an economic resource. Taché, living and working throughout most of the nineteenth century, struggled to regain and maintain equality for his people in an environment where French-origin Catholics were in the process of becoming a minority in their country. As he witnessed with enthusiasm the advent of the railroad and the lumber industry (both job sources), he also expressed with nostalgia the passing into history of travel by canoe. Thus the canoe-paddling fur trader passed through Taché’s hands into legend. From our own time and place, an ecocritical view of Forestiers et voyageurs can shed light on the process of myth-making as it occurs, allowing for reflection on the implications of these particular myths in Canadian literary and environmental history. Taché brings the woodsman and his entire environment inside from the cold into the national literature and ethos, which will later determine behaviors and trends. The vehicle he uses to accomplish this, folktales, held great appeal in Taché’s period and were often collected, reinterpreted, and retold, as literary critic and cultural historian Boivin details (8). In Forestiers et voyageurs, Michel’s tales often blend Amerindian with Christian belief systems in a sort of exotic appeal ultimately aimed at better illustrating the obvious value of what Taché calls “la véritable doctrine, même dans le sens naturel des choses” (the true doctrine, even in the natural sense of things) (Taché 26). The doctor speaks in the context of consoling the widowed François at the beginning of Forestiers et voyageurs, but the same sentiment runs throughout the work. In Part 2 it appears, for instance, in Michel’s rendering of “Ikès le jongleur,” an Amerindian sorcerer who gets into a dispute with another Algonquin magician. Michel hunts with Ikès for a season and learns that he has a mahoumet, or spirit guide whom he must serve in return for material aid, along the lines of Faust’s Mephistopheles. As he begins his story, Michel reassures his audience that he was in no danger, being Christian and non-Indian: “Or, vous n’êtes pas sans savoir que les jongleurs sauvages n’ont aucun pouvoir sur les blancs. La jonglerie ne prend que sur le sang des nations, et seulement sur les sauvages infidèles, ou sur les sauvages chrétiens qui sont en état de péché mortel” (Now, you are aware that savage sorcerers have no power over whites. Their magic only works on the blood of nations [Indians], and only on unbelieving savages, or on Christian savages who are in a state of mortal sin) (89). Taché’s character uses the term savage here, as elsewhere, with no offensive intentions and in keeping with his period’s common terminology, which was accepted at the time and had been for many hundreds of years—and had also been challenged by writers including Michel de Montaigne and Marc Lescarbot (8). Widespread racist assumptions and the word’s clear opposition to the term civilized have been extensively deconstructed elsewhere; 7 here it suffices to emphasize that regardless of his positive feelings and intentions, Taché unconsciously expresses an attitude toward Amerindian people and indigenous ways of life that is patriarchial, presumptuous, and proselytizing, typically of the times and his background. Aside from its Euro-centered assumptions about cultural superiority, the passage quoted above reflects not just the ever-present and fervently Catholic foundation of Taché’s message, but also the superstition that was part of the European imagination and mentality, and that helps to explain the appeal of Indian belief systems for so many coureurs de bois (Havard 724). Michel takes the sorcerer seriously because of his own rural superstition, but he believes himself to be protected from the magic because he is Christian. This reflects how human attempts to explain the irrational blend over time. Filtered through the experiences and recountings of Europeans who lived among native people, the latters’ views were incorporated and repurposed to work in a Christian paradigm. As folktales were processed and re-told from the French consciousness that had transplanted itself into a new soil, the stories fed on and re-presented elements of their new environment, in a rhizomatic movement merging the physical with the abstract. Ecocritic David Abram famously articulates the phenomenon as a fusion of the material and the perceptual: “The human mind is not some otherworldly essence that comes to house itself inside our physiology. Rather, it is instilled and provoked by the sensorial field itself, induced by the tensions and participations between the human body and the animate earth” (262). This passage from Abram’s now-classic environmental work captures the process of the world physically becoming part of human consciousness. As has been seen, Taché’s writing represents an example of such an event. He writes at a time when the growing French Canadian nationalist movement actively resisted large-scale migrations from rural areas toward cities and the materialistic, largely Protestant United States. In his Catholic construction, the French Canadian character contains a distinguishing characteristic that makes it not inclined “naturally” toward materialism, because of its closer connection with the spirit and natural domains. Rather, Taché implies, his people inherently appreciate their environment and make skilled, efficient use of its resources, as exemplified by the lumberjacks and voyageurs whom Taché depicts. Whether or not this is actually true of 1860s French Canadians is not what is at stake in this observation; what matters is that Taché painted them in this light, and that the concept entered the national idea of self through the author’s contribution to an emerging national literature. Michel Fournier focuses on Taché’s ability to draw from the imaginary domain to show how his stories, in weaving European with Amerindian folklore, result in an intertextual occurrence that touches on the irrational to reach “l’horizon poétique au sein duquel les croyances diffuses se métampophosent en expérience littéraire” (the poetic horizon at the heart of which diffuse beliefs metamorphose into literary experience) (197). Because Taché’s stories are situated in the Canadian forest, this literary rhetorical movement rests upon a simultaneous absorption and dissemination of the author’s “reading” of the natural world and the people whom the Europeans encountered there. Adeline Johns-Putra observes in a discussion about ecology and culture that “‘cultural’ histories are made up not just of ecological encounters but of so many discursive entanglements” (43). The reactions to those encounters combine with the events that occur during them to constitute stories that are then passed on. In the same way, visualizations of the self and imagined societal or national characteristics lead to the passing on of these mental constructions, in a dynamic that perpetuates legends and predisposes a population toward certain behaviors. This is the phenomenon in which Taché actively participated. While not being by nature materialistic, Taché’s characters do not align themselves with systems related specifically to socialism either, even though his concerns to provide for the needs of all people share much with ideas and approaches generally considered to be capitalism’s opposite (Helly, Barsky, and Foxen 19-42). Historian Peter Moogk describes this type of caring mentality as resulting from “the heritage of government paternalism from New France and the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine of good works” (277). This is the version of Catholicism that Taché, like his brother Alexandre-Antonin, archbishop of St. Boniface, espoused and practiced. He applied these convictions to his construction of the woodsman in Forestiers et voyageurs, resulting in a collective character type that is based on both realities and Taché’s desires. The overall work projects a collective voice, mainly through the vehicle of Michel’s stories. Often interwoven with those of other characters who periodically speak for themselves, this narrative strategy (which again reflects Taché’s hybrid style, drawing on journalism, memoir, and fiction)8 allows the author to convey his view of the population’s diversity. Because Amerindians’ stories are retold through the author’s Christianizing filter, theirs is only a partial inclusion in this diversity—one that has obviously been culturally appropriated—so their representation is necessarily incomplete. Taché’s focus is on the French Canadians, whom he likewise portrays in a way that simultaneously creates them, as noted. He cannot accurately or fully represent them without also showing Indians and their world, even if only through his own lens. This is accomplished, again, through Michel. Loving the outdoors, Michel finds work first with the seigneurie of Kamouraska (on the south shore of the St. Lawrence west of Rimouski, both of which Taché knew well, having grown up in the former and practiced medicine in the latter), then moves to the Baie des Chaleurs, between the Gaspé Peninsula and present-day New Brunswick. He fishes for cod in summers and hunts winters with “les sauvages de Cascapédiac et de Ristigouche” (the Cascapédiac and Ristigouche savages) (73). Michel loves nature and not only accepts Canada’s original inhabitants, but goes into the woods and works with them, often becoming very close with them. He effuses further: “J'étais si bon ami avec les sauvages qu'il ne s'en est guère manqué que je me sois mis sauvage (1) … Vous me croirez si vous voulez, mais je vous dis qu'il n'y a pas d'homme plus heureux qu'un bon sauvage” (I was such good friends with the savages that I almost went native … Believe it or not, I tell you there is no man happier than a good savage) (78). Beyond the patronizing good-savage allusion, two more rhetorical movements are discernable here. In becoming a part of the French Canadian world, through Michel’s stories the Indian world—the untamed world—also becomes part of the French Canadian identity. The process illuminates Said’s concept of “the construction of identity,” which “involves the construction of opposites and ‘others’ whose actuality is always subject to the continuous interpretation and re-interpretation of their differences from ‘us.’ Each age and society re-recreates its ‘Others’” (332). In Taché’s work, Michel is the tool by which the author incorporates his interpretation of the other into his construction of a national identity. The second rhetorical evocation is Michel’s reference to going native, which illustrates both ongoing rhizomatic movement and an anti-capitalist manifestation of desire, in that Michel will not need money or pay when he joins his Amerindian friends (73–78). Instead, he will become part of the population to whom the author’s note refers without naming them: the coureurs de bois who have been at issue since Michel began describing his lifestyle. The terminology used for this profession in Forestiers et voyageurs reflects the period’s preferred and often exclusive, socially acceptable way of referring to those who worked with Indians in the forest: voyageurs. Coureurs de bois, by contrast, were generally thought of as wildmen (Havard 541; Posthumus and Salaün 301–2), even though the same man often alternated between both ways of earning his living, as did Michel himself. This chronotopic preference for a job title that is regulated, licensed, and respectable is in keeping with the period’s growing entrepreneurship, associated alternatively with “civilization” or the need for social reforms. Ironically, with the 1821 merger of the North West with the Hudson’s Bay Company, the latter of which coureurs de bois Pierre-Esprit Radisson and his brother-in-law Médard Chouart des Groseillers had helped to establish in 1670, came the increasing rarity of references to their profession in favor of that of the voyageur. In Forestiers et voyageurs, relegated to a note in which they are not even named by their historically accurate term, coureurs de bois are described for the benefit of those among the readership who may not be familiar with their lifestyle: “Se mettre sauvage est une expression consacrée, à l’expression du petit nombre de canadiens et d’européens qui ont adopté la vie des bois et des côtes, en s’associant aux tribus aborigènes auxquelles leurs familles sont devenues incorporées” (To go native is an expression designating the small number of Canadians and Europeans who adopted the life of the woods and shores, by joining the aboriginal tribes in which their families became incorporated) (78n1). But Havard’s study, like those of numerous others including Van Kirk and Podruchny, counters this estimate of a “small number” of newcomers who joined Amerindian groups. With this note, Taché attempts to foster what he believes will be a favorable view of the now–socially acceptable voyageurs (who, in his [re]telling/[re]creation, were never coureurs de bois and did not generally marry Indians). While once again inadvertently showing his European-origin, unexamined assumptions about cultural superiority, Taché, widely known to have loved Amerindian peoples and often dubbed “the Iroquois,” intended no disrespect toward them or their lifestyle (Bernard 14; Lépine 1872). But he represents them as clearly other, people who by comparison with Taché’s French Canadian characters are wild people who have benefitted from Christian teachings. Coureurs de bois, through their association with people who were considered untamed, came to be seen as similar to them (Havard 777−82; Trudel 577−85), and therefore needed to be separated, rhetorically and very clearly, from voyageurs if this figure was to be acceptable as part of the French Canadian character that Taché was constructing/creating/mirroring. And yet, as he emphasizes in the book’s introduction, an intimate connection with the wilds is part of that character. Tempted by his professed love of the Amerindian lifestyle and his time spent among the Micmacs of eastern Canada, ultimately Michel chooses to remain in motion, first returning to Kamouraska and then accepting a partner to trade with Indians in the Pays d’en Haut (“up country,” the general region north and west of Quebec). They are both unlicensed and operating outside the bounds of the law; in other words, they are coureurs de bois. Their trade with the Montagnais Indians goes very well, although Michel notes the need to keep a constant watch for the North West Company guardsmen whose purpose is to stop unlicensed trade: “Nos échanges avec les Montagnais allaient à merveille pour les deux parties, attendu que nous donnions aux sauvages des prix beaucoup plus élevés que ceux que donnait alors La Compagnie, lorsque deux jeunes sauvages, placés en sentinelle dans un canot, vinrent nous avertir qu'on apercevait une chaloupe de gardes-côtes, venant de notre côté” (our exchanges with the Montagnais were going wonderfully for both parties, since we paid the savages much higher prices than what they received from the Company, when two young savages, placed as sentinels in a canoe, came to warn us they had seen a coast-guard boat coming our way) (124). This was the start of what would have been a classic coureur de bois confrontation with the local law in the early 1800s, when the compilation character Michel was active as an independent trader; 1806 is mentioned in the book as the year he saw the end of these conflicts in his operating region. In the standoff that follows, Michel strikes out with his boat hook, intending only to hold his opponent at bay. But he misses the vessel and hits one of the guardsmen, a “malheureux commis” (unfortunate clerk), who is English. His companions rush to his aid and do not pursue Michel and Levêque, who row away. But Michel, plagued with guilt and believing the wound to have been fatal, returns to Quebec, where he meets a guide from the Pays d’en Haut and signs a five-year contract with the North West Company as a voyageur. This reflects a typical trajectory for a man of his type, as detailed by historians Grace Lee Nute (4−10, 35-76) and Carolyn Podruchny (34−35). Importantly for the focus of this article, Michel emphasizes in the above passage that trade was fair and profitable on both sides of the enterprise. In no way did he and his partner attempt to take advantage of the Montagnais; rather, they competed for business with the local big company (North West), albeit illegally. Their higher prices benefitted both the Indians and themselves, but worked against the major capitalist concern whose authority they flouted. Michel goes on to work for a total of nine years as a voyageur for the North West Company. He travels, in a typical career and geographical path (Nute 35–76; Podruchny 93−101), from Hudson’s Bay to the Rocky Mountains, from Quebec’s Rivière-Rouge to the Lac des Esclaves in the north. Finally Michel gratefully returns home and never again travels north of Quebec. It is at this point in his life that he “enters” Taché’s book and travels into the imaginations of its readers. “Tout ce dont je puis vous assurer, dit-il, c'est que j'étais un homme content, quand je me vis de retour à Lachine après neuf ans d'absence. On a bien du plaisir à raconter ces voyages-là; mais le métier en est dur” (All I can say is I was a happy man when I found myself back in Lachine after nine years of absence. It is very enjoyable to tell stories about those voyages, but the work is hard) (225). This last qualifier serves to remind readers why a person might prefer another type of work, and why it may not be a negative development that voyageurs are entering folklore. Michel has been an effective, well-oiled cog in the industrial engine, and now he has earned the right to rest and tell (and be) stories. Built into Taché’s representation are pieces of the wilderness and its inhabitants, laid out in a pattern that intersperses slices of the real forest working world with elements from two folkloric traditions: the French one brought by immigrants and stories from Amerindian cultures. By blurring the boundaries between nature and the human psyche, Taché’s work gets at a universal dynamic that contemporary ecocriticism self-consciously aims to accentuate, and that Serres expressed in the form of his proposed contract. Ecocritic Timothy Morton, on an even more abstract level, writes of the human–nature interface in a way that explores the possibility of dissolving the lines between perception and the subject perceived: “What remains after our long delve into the fake otherness of ecomimesis is the fragility of an ‘I’ that we can’t quite get rid of, but that at least can be made to vibrate, in such a way that does not strengthen its aggressive resolve (like a hammer or a boot), but that dissolves its form, however momentarily” (256). Morton’s move to make human consciousness more aware of and connected with the very rhythm of atmosphere resonates in Taché’s work, where the author carries this same sense of harmonic resonance into the French Canadian national identity. Taché constructs his version of the ideal French Canadian in order to help his people discover and express renewed pride in their own existence and potential; the process involves recrafting shared memories into stories that he then returns to the people. He draws from their collective consciousness and at the same time helps to shape both it and the (re)developing sense of national self-identity. The entire creative process is in motion and intensifying at the time Taché writes. As Huggan and Tiffin explain the manifestation of this dual activity, “It is in the myriad relationships between material practices and ideas—especially in cross-cultural contexts—that day-to-day planetary life is lived and futures are governed: practices and ideas that are inseparable from issues of representation” (67). In other words, as Foucault and many since him including Johns-Putra have dissected, how a phenomenon is represented enters human discourse and, in turn, creates new reality (12−13). As a whole, Michel’s tales flesh out and contextualize the world that the author paints through the storyteller’s narration. They animate a pluralistic (human-centered) representation of the forest. Michel even speaks for those who do not yet commonly speak for themselves in writing, the oral-tradition native people who were born in those forests. Michel names one of his Amerindian friends, Noël, who tells a story in Micmac that Michel translates into French. It is a tale of revenge against the English, of the hatred of a Micmac named Coundo for the nationality of those who killed his wife, and of his terrible bloody retribution against an anonymous Englishman who had hired Coundo as a guide, having no idea of the danger in which he thus placed himself. Coundo and his son then hide out for a few years, “dans l’intérieur du pays, comme des ours” (in the interior, living like bears) (83). But in the end Coundo repents, confesses to a missionary, and his soul is saved, as is that of his then-pious son. The narrative arc passes from Noël to Michel, who interprets the events and retells them to the reader through the medium of the book’s doctor-narrator-author. Taché, overseeing and creating all this orchestration, thus retells a story that has already been filtered through three previous narrators and that conveys not just Noël’s story but that of his native people. Because the story is not told in their own voice nor based on their own background, it is not really their story, although they and their experiences are involved. Instead, the account is built around Taché’s experiences and evaluation, to produce a construed version that becomes part of legend and literature. But, notably, this version includes some sort of connection with Amerindian people. Taché wishes to (re)create the story of his own French Canadian population, but he cannot do so without rhetorically incorporating that of the Amerindians with whom they had interacted routinely since their beginnings in Canada. In his book, albeit filtered through his interpretations, aspects of the stories of both populations blend to produce something new in the world, a new and distinct ethos with a new literature, which will continue to develop and incorporate rhizomes from mixing cultures. Forestiers et voyageurs is a dynamic and complicated interaction of cultures and languages, illuminating concepts in the context of Bakhtin’s chronotopes and Said’s other. Taché’s sense of cultural superiority and entitlement is evident, but at the same time he operates from a defensive position. Because the French Canadians have been placed in a lesser position, both economically and educationally, since the 1763 British conquest, idées reçues about their cultural inferiority have become widespread at the time Taché writes. He must inspire his readers to question these assumptions, debunk the received ideas, and re-present the French Canadian people to the world. Forestiers et voyageurs also presents to the more modern reader images the author could not have had in mind from within his own chronotope. One of these is the postcolonial view of a developing/regrouping population in motion. Taché sought stability for French Canadians, but what he shows is a world in continual disruption and movement. Michel exemplifies this movement through his stories and actions. The fact that he translates meets another key criterion for the definition of a coureur de bois, who often also worked as an interpreter. Before becoming a voyageur Michel lives and works with Indians, which makes him a bridge between cultures. Like many historical coureurs studied by Havard and other historians, when Michel chooses (for the moment) to join the Amerindian world completely, he gives up his prior means of support. By preferring this freer life over the system in which he was raised, he will not need it seasonal cod-fishing as an income. All Michel will need is his companions and his hunting skills. He will live, like them, in perpetual motion. Later Michel takes his leave of the Indians to return to his people of origin, moving like a rhizome in search of a new environment, yet he retains and manifests something of the life he knew with the Amerindians. Significantly for the argument of this article, through Taché’s storytelling and physical, widely disseminated book, this type of awareness grows to become part of the national sense of self, bringing its cultural bridges and routine communication with people who are radically other. The coureur de bois/voyageur, himself a deterritorialized rhizome moving between the native and European cultures as well as between the wilderness and towns, forms a new and unstable cultural topos that Taché presents as a national motif. Michel embodies concepts that in time lead to new realities. While retaining elements of Taché’s French Catholic background, Michel also features material pieces of the Canadian environment and the adaptations that have been necessary to live in it, often learned from indigenous populations. As a representation of both the historical and Taché’s idealized coureur de bois/voyageur, Michel exemplifies physical human interactions in and with nature, as well as changing mental attitudes toward the outside domain. Within the developing French Canadian identity and language, he is a body created by the author as a receptacle in which to bring together, and from which to display, the forces coming to bear in this people’s past, present, and envisioned future. Taché incorporates the Canadian environment into his construction of the French Canadian identity, and because this environment comprises a vast area of wilderness in which the immigrants have learned to earn their living, new linguistic expressions have developed to designate its pieces. Taché uses and explains these, as we have seen. At the same time, his literal transcription of the legends and traditions of his people contributes to the patchwork quality of Forestiers et voyageurs, which, like a folk quilt, assembles material elements of its everyday world along with the artistic vision of its creator. From a contemporary ecocritical perspective, Taché’s position can be seen as a starting place for Michel Serres’ proposed contract with nature, because both authors prioritize a human connection with the land and the need for collaborative efforts. Their motivations for making this association are entirely different, of course, with nineteenth-century Taché on a nation-building mission and twentieth-century Serres an environmental one. Taché often represents the natural world as having value chiefly through its ability to support people, but in the end Serres does the same. While Serres’ professed goal is to convince readers of the need to reach a silent agreement with the planet as a whole for the survival of all of it, his concern remains chiefly with the existence of what he sees as his people, which in his case is all of humanity. Taché’s concern, as seen throughout this article, is with his people, the definition of which involves historical and current links with Amerindian people and the Canadian wilderness. Finally, Taché portrays the woodsman’s admirable qualities as resulting directly from living in nature. This may be an extension of his adherence to romanticized, pastoral, Rousseau-inspired notions of le bon sauvage, but it also reveals the author’s beliefs about the effects of continuous interaction with the out of doors, a condition that he presents as being favorable to developing the finest aspects of humanity. Because he connects nature itself and Amerindians with the formation of this backwoodsman, Taché also constructs an idealized French Canadian character that exists precisely because of the Canadian wilderness and its original inhabitants, who taught, guided, and conducted business with the new arrivals. All these elements have merged to become a new culture in the world, one that folds the outside into the psyche. If the outside world is part of the national character, then what is done to nature is also done to oneself. Thus, in the character of Michel, aspects of the history of human conduct are revealed that have both promising and problematic implications for later periods, down to the thorny present. The contemporary implications of this legacy are ripe fruit for follow-on lines of research, for example an inquiry into environmental developments as reflected in Quebecois literature, especially since the Quiet Revolution. Did Taché’s work leave traces in the province’s strong social programs, intended to benefit everyone? Even if Taché’s caring mentality arose from his version of responsible Catholicism, the mindset shares essential aspects with socialism and can be extended to the need to provide assistance not only for humans but for all of life, as Serres urges. The origins of Quebec’s unique blend of socialism and capitalism may be complex (Bouchard), but it is clear that the mindset can be seen as a legacy, at least in part, of cooperative business activities between Amerindians, coureurs de bois, and voyageurs as they are depicted in Forestiers et voyageurs. Footnotes 1 This article condenses and builds on a chapter from my book Backwoodsmen As Ecocritical Motif in French Canadian Literature: Connecting Worlds in the Wilds (Lexington, 2016). I am grateful to Lexington Books for permission to reuse some of the material. Additionally, the book elaborates on sections of my article “Les coureurs de bois, motif éco-critique dans la littérature canadienne française” (Studies in Canadian Literature, vol. 38, no. 2, 2013), for which I again thank the journal. Both of these works, as well as the present article, are based on my dissertation, an indisciplinary project supported fearlessly by Valérie Orlando and Andrea Frisch, to whom I remain grateful, together with the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland College Park. I also thank the two anonymous peer reviewers whose comments substantially improved and refined this article. Among the many terms available to discuss indigenous people in the New World (see Podruchny xii), I have selected the one most commonly used in French Canadian writings. I also employ the term Indian because the populations themselves often prefer it (“Native American vs. American Indian”). 2 Depending on the context in which it is used, the French word voyageur can mean either “traveler” or a man who worked in canoes and the forest as his job. This study refers to the historical voyageurs who paddled canoes in teams, not simple travelers. All translations in this article are mine. 3 See Van Kirk; Brown; Havard; Dechêne 10; and Radisson, Fourth Voyage, 173. 4 The term Francophonie was first used by Onéisme Reclus in 1880 to designate the French-speaking world outside of France, “la Métropole.” 5 See Fischer, 114; Havard; Moogk; Van Kirk. 6 See Podruchny; Havard; Brown; Moogk; Van Kirk; and Nute. 7 Revisiting the history and social implications of the pejorative term savage, which remained in common use well into the twentieth century (Potvin 68), has been the subject of numerous academic inquiries. The field of intersectional critical studies, for example, developed from black feminist thought (Granzka, 2014). 8 Réjean Beaudoin, studying the emergence of the French Canadian novel during the nineteenth century, observes that Taché’s rules-breaking methodology represents an innovation that is free of conventions and denotes an important aspect of modernity (1123−24, 1128). Works Cited Abram David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World . Vintage , 1996 . Ackerman Diane. The Human Age: The World Shaped by Us . W. W. Norton , 2014 . Beaudoin Réjean. “La poétique du roman chez Philippe Aubert de Gaspé, père.” University of Toronto Quarterly: A Canadian Journal of the Humanities 79 ( 2010 ): 1123 – 28 . Google Scholar Crossref Search ADS Bernard Michèle. Joseph-Charles Taché, visionnaire, penseur et homme d’action au coeur du XIXe siècle . XYZ , 2011 . Binnema Theodore , Ens Gerhard J. , Macleod R. 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Van Kirk Sylvia. Many Tender Ties: Women in Fur-Trade Society, 1670–1870 . U of Oklahoma P , 1983 . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment – Oxford University Press
Published: Oct 1, 2018
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