Les Chambres de bois, 1958 (The Silent Rooms, 1974)
Kamouraska, 1970 (English translation, 1973)
Les Enfants du sabbat, 1975 (Children of the Black Sabbath, 1977)
Héloïse, 1980 (English translation, 1982)
Les Fous de Bassan, 1982 (In the Shadow of the Wind, 1983)
Le Premier jardin, 1988 (The First Garden, 1990)
L’Enfant chargé de songes, 1992 (Burden of Dreams, 1994)
Aurélien, Clara, Mademoiselle et le Lieutenant anglais, 1995 (Aurélien, Clara, Mademoiselle and the English Lieutenant, 1996)
Est-ce que je te dérange?, 1998 (Am I Disturbing You?, 1999)
Un habit de lumière, 1999 (A Suit of Light, 2000)
Le Torrent, 1950, enlarged 1962; (The Torrent: Novellas and Short Stories, 1973)
Le Temps sauvage, pr. 1966
Le Temps sauvage, La Mercière assassinée, Les Invités au procès: Théâtre, pb. 1967
Saint-Denys Garneau, 1960
Les Songes en équilibre, 1942
Le Tombeau des rois, 1953 (The Tomb of the Kings, 1967)
Poèmes, 1960 (Poems, 1975)
Anne Hébert: Selected Poems, 1987
Le Jour n’a d’égal que la nuit, 1992 (Day Has No Equal But Night, 1994)
Œuvre poètique, 1950-1990, 1992
Poèmes pour la main gauche, 1997
Dialogue sur la traduction: Á proposo du “Tombeau des rois,” 1970 (with Frank R. Scott)
Throughout her prolific literary career, spanning more than half a century, Anne Hébert (ay-bayr) created works, in both poetry and prose, that bear traits recognizable as distinctively her own. Her worlds are often dark and suspenseful, and they are interwoven with leaps between past and present, contradictions between love and hatred, and juxtaposed images of life and death. Through her diverse and compelling evocations of human nature, she became known as one of Canada’s most intriguing twentieth century writers.
Hébert, who came from a cultivated and privileged family whose ancestry dates back to the early days of New France, was reared in Quebec City. During the summers, which were spent in Sainte-Catherine-de-Fossambault, she was exposed to an informal but impressive array of cultural and literary influences. During the rest of the year, she received a strict formal Catholic upbringing in Quebec City. Her fascination with the beauty and complexity of the French language was nurtured by both parents.
Early in her life she began to escape the conservative and rigid Catholic atmosphere of French Canada through poetry, which remained a passion for her throughout her life. The publication in 1942 of her first poetry collection, Les Songes en équilibre, led to her being awarded the important Canadian literary award, the Prix David, the first of her many national and international awards. Hébert published the first version of her collection of novellas and short stories, The Torrent, in 1950 at her own expense because she was unable to find a publisher willing to accept a manuscript that depicted the Roman Catholic Church’s repression of Quebec society.
In 1954 Hébert received an award from the Royal Society of Canada that enabled her to move to Paris and to devote herself to her writing career. For the next three years she has made her residence in Paris, where she was one of few French Canadian writers published by the prestigious firm Éditions du Seuil. After that point, she divided her time between Paris and Quebec City. Eventually, she settled in her hometown.
The Silent Rooms, Hébert’s first novel, was published in 1958, the same year she was honored for her contribution to Canadian letters by her election to the Royal Society of Canada. During the 1960’s she wrote Kamouraska, which marks a milestone in Canadian fiction because of the innovative narrative form and psychological level of character depiction. The work has been translated into many other languages, including English, Finnish, Italian, German, Japanese, Spanish, and Czech. Unlike other novels by Hébert, Kamouraska is based on a documented event in nineteenth century Quebec, the murder in 1839 of Achille Taché, the squire of Kamouraska, which was plotted and carried out by Dr. George Holmes, the lover of Madame Taché, Elisabeth d’Estimauville. In Hébert’s work, Elisabeth d’Aulnières, married to her second husband, Jérôme Rolland, relives her relationship with her lover, George Nelson, her accomplice in the murder of Antoine Tassy. The novel is divided into unnumbered chapters and follows the rhythm of Elisabeth’s thoughts as she keeps vigil over the bed of her dying husband, Rolland. In flashbacks, daydreams, and nightmares she relives the repressed rage she felt while standing trial for the murder of Tassy and for being abandoned by her lover. Kamouraska is a skillfully constructed and spellbinding reflection of the torments of a soul. In 1962 director Claude Jutra made Kamouraska into a highly successful film, thus introducing Hébert to many English speakers.
Hébert’s dualistic perception of life, seen in this novel through the shifts between past and present (both in their own way associated with life and death), is evoked in Children of the Black Sabbath, in which satanic rituals in an isolated mountainous area in Quebec are juxtaposed with religious ceremonies performed in the Convent of the Precious Blood. Witchcraft, demoniac possession, exorcism and satanic initiation find reflections in prayers, dedication to God, Mass, and initiation to cloistered life. In Héloïse, which is set in Paris, Hébert once again portrayed two levels of existence: one above street level (that of the living) and one below (that of vampires). Whereas in Kamouraska and Children of the Black Sabbath the tone of the narration is somber and menacing, that of Héloïse is not without ironic humor. Despite the intrusion of amusing elements, however, Hébert remained faithful to her conception of life existing on two levels, the first, predictable and harmless, observed by everyday consciousness and the second, haunting and black, existing unbeknownst to most.
Hébert was a resonant voice in twentieth century fiction and poetry. Her works adhered to a conception of life as a mysterious force, often inexplicable and always dark, powerful, and compelling. The texture of her work bears testimony to her love of language, for her style is concise and elegant. Hébert’s vision of the human condition transcends borders and regional ideologies in its understanding of human fantasies, fears, and ideals. Hébert never married; she died of cancer at the age of eighty-three.