Here is the story of two enthusiasts, ten “crazy” specialists, a hundred employees and dozens of students who took the crazy project for 16 years to produce this Historical Dictionary of Book People in Quebeca 700-page building block that doesn’t read like a dictionary and tells the story of Quebec in an original way.
It is actually a story marked by many little stories that the two professors Josée Vincent and Marie-Pier Luneau agreed to tell us.
Collection of prayers, technical manual, recipe book, cheap novel, literary masterpiece or manifesto, the book in Quebec is a reflection of the society we have become, both in its production and non-production. . Here are some fragments from the lives of a community of stubborn, rebellious people gifted in a variety of professions.
All-rounder for men and women
It’s a story that begins with early settlers carrying books, often their most prized possessions, in their luggage. The story of these collectors, who, for the love of books, use all the means at their disposal, to become publishers, printers and booksellers, using the newspapers they print to promote their books and their workshop to sell them.
It is also the story of hundreds of people, mostly men, who defied convention to allow the book to exist. Often atypical and fascinating progressions.
The greatest lesson we learn from these years of research is that the book is much more than the literary work. The book object is really more complex. There are whole sections of the history of the book people that show the struggles they have fought, their stubbornness in wanting the book to exist.
Professor Marie-Pier Luneau.
His favorite example is that of the bookseller Heinz-Egon Heinemann.
The Berlin bookseller Heinz-Egon Heinemann fled the anti-Semitism of the German leadership in 1939, fled to Shanghai, opened another bookshop and this time saw himself accused of being a spy in the pay of the Americans. After 405 days in prison in China, he finally came to Montreal in 1953 and opened his old and used bookshop on Mansfield Street. Its thriving business is frequented by many artists and intellectuals, including Leonard Cohen.
A universe of women in the shadows
It’s the story of a long male-dominated world in which women played mostly subordinate roles before finally being recognized. Talented women who had to fight for their place and through their production have shaped entire sections of book history in Quebec.
Raymonde Simard-Martin, one of the first women to work in publishing, had 8 children. There were many women in publishing, secretaries, clerks, but they left their jobs as soon as they got married. Raymonde Simard-Martin would work as a freelancer, taking care of the archives, being a mother all her life, and finally starting her own publishing house in the 1980s.
Many women, who often enter the book trade through the back door, combine different tasks and often remain in the shadows despite their extraordinary contribution. Such is the case of Michelle Thériault, author, editor, proofreader, translator and illustrator, notable both for her versatility and for the significant number of publishing projects and houses that have benefited from her expertise. A real shadow worker whose contributions are sometimes surprising.
Between 1942 and 1966, Michelle Thériault contributed to the writing, rewriting and revision of seven works by her husband Yves Thériault. She types manuscripts, makes corrections, revises specific sections, revises novels, and corrects proofs. To the Agagukamong other things, she makes stylistic and syntactic corrections, rewrites entire scenes, further develops certain passages and even remodels the structure of the work.
Subject of emancipation…or enslavement
The book is also a system of order, explains Marie-Pier Luneau. The textbook was used, for example, to study subjects, but also to educate citizens. “We can measure, from all booksellers, including librarians and booksellers, from New France to the present day, that the book is both an instrument of control and an instrument of liberation. It is always a vector that can swing from one to the other and sometimes can be both at the same time. »
An eloquent example: that of the religious communities, which at the end of the 19the Century to the 1960s: “Besides textbooks for reading, mathematics, etc., they publish manuals showing how to live that educate people, especially young girls. So we’re going to have a whole series of manuals teaching young girls to be good wives, good queens of the house,” says Jose Vincent.
The teacher thinks it’s a programmed production to dictate a way of being, of thinking. “Good books” to control the morals and behavior of peoples. “But it would be a bit easy to reduce the role of religious communities to this control of people’s morality,” she nuances. Because of her, the book is also a place of performance for women. »
As early as 1786, the Sisters of Charity – also known as Gray Nuns – imported typographic fonts from France, trained in printing and bookbinding, to meet the training needs of women.
The contribution of religious communities to the world of books lies not only in their production, but also in all the opportunities that this field offers women. Women can have a career, especially an intellectual career. They can become publishers and writers instead of being limited to the family universe.
Professor Josee Vincent.
A Quebec culture in the making
What Josée Vincent remembers most from this long research trip is the importance of collective work. “We have taken this research object, the book, through individual paths, but we inevitably return to the collective dimension of the work,” notes Josée Vincent.
There is teamwork, but also the organization of the book industry. “At the beginning of the Quiet Revolution, Jean Lesage’s government decided to emphasize culture and make Quebec something other than a depressed province,” says Josée Vincent. The people of the book will see this as an important moment to call for the protection of a local book production in particular. They will be very close to the first Ministry of Culture and create the Superior Book Council to unite. In fact, everything that was set up then still exists today and has completely structured the Quebec book market in a unique way. »
Speaking of liberation, the example of the bookseller Henri Tranquille, a legend in the world of books, is instructive. Among other things, when Paul-Émile Borduas submitted his manifesto Global rejection In his bookshop in 1948, Henri Tranquille created quite an event, gathering the intellectual community around this symbol of the emancipation of the people of Quebec. the Global rejection Would it have had such an impact without this rebellious bookseller for whom freedom of speech was a mission?
For Josée Vincent, the impact of the people in the book is enormous.
In the workings of a society there are people who act at the level of government. But people of the book are people of communication who spread discourses, information and ideologies in all areas of society: politics, economy, education, culture.
Bringing cultures together: from useful to pleasant
A vehicle for the cultural advancement of a society caught between two worlds, The Québec Book of Our Ancestors is primarily the result of a translation. From the beginning of the English regime we will feel the need to translate books so that French Canadians can defend themselves and have their own institutions.
And also so that they have their own North American culture.
Well known on the cultural scene, Roméo Beaudry played a central role in the popular music industry between the wars. What was circulating in Quebec in the 1920s was the good song, The tradition. Roméo Beaudry decides to translate and publish American songs, thus spreading culture between Canada and the United States and opening doors to Americanism.
For his part, a modern nationalist, Louis-Alexandre Bélisle, made history by creating a masterful work, his work dictionary of french language in canada, but also by signing and publishing a series of works to advance the nation of Quebec and bring French words to the industry.
Bélisle wants his fellow citizens to participate fully in Québec affairs and development. To this end, it will publish many important technical manuals for North American applications in construction, automotive, trade, etc.
An open door to the rest of the story
The development of the book trade in Quebec is fascinating. For the two professors, the culmination of 16 years of research that led to this dictionary opens the door to so many other subjects, other subjects, starting with the absent. “One of the dictionary decisions was not to talk about everyone. We chose people who left their mark and people who died,” explains Professor Luneau.
The dictionary lets us see all those who aren’t there and a host of other subjects. With this type of work we can revitalize research, illuminating the fringes, even with today’s issues.
Professor Marie-Pier Luneau.
The research that led to it Historical Dictionary of Book People in Quebec was a huge project that was also a whole school for dozens of research assistants, students of all cycles. “We trained them and took them to uncharted territories. These people have contributed a lot to us and we are proud to see them sign this book with us,” says Marie-Pier Luneau.