Authors: Gabrielle Roy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Canadian novelist, short-story writer, and journalist


Gabrielle Roy (rah), a principal figure in twentieth century French Canadian literature, well known for her contribution to Canadian social realism and her probing psychological portraits, is one of the most widely read francophone authors in anglophone Canada.{$I[A]Roy, Gabrielle}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Roy, Gabrielle}{$I[geo]CANADA;Roy, Gabrielle}{$I[tim]1909;Roy, Gabrielle}

Born March 22, 1909, in the French community of Saint-Boniface in the primarily anglophone province of Manitoba, Roy was the youngest of eleven children. The sudden death in 1927 of her father, Léon Roy, a colonization agent for the government, left her and her mother, Mélina, in a very difficult financial situation. Consequently, despite an award-winning high school academic record, Roy was not able to attend a university. Instead, she received teacher training at the Winnipeg Normal School from 1927 to 1929. She then taught in rural Manitoban communities before teaching in Saint-Boniface at the Académie Provencher boy’s school from 1930 to 1937. During this period, she pursued her interest in acting and joined the Cercle Molière theater troupe. Subsequently, she left her teaching position and traveled to Europe to study drama. In the meantime, while writing articles about Canada for newspapers in Paris and pieces on Europe for newspapers in Manitoba, she discovered that writing would be her vocation.

Returning to Canada in 1939, Roy settled in Montreal, where she continued to work as a freelance writer, producing both journalism and short stories for Canadian publications. The publication of her first novel in 1945, The Tin Flute, marked a momentous time in her career and in the evolution of the French Canadian novel. Considered the first French Canadian urban novel, it is set in the working-class neighborhood of St-Henri in Montreal at the beginning of World War II. The story portrays realistically the misery and poverty of the Lacasse family, struggling to survive amid industrialization and ensuing social change. For this ground-breaking novel, Roy received the Prix Fémina and the Lorne Pierce Medal of the Royal Society of Canada.

In 1947 Roy married Dr. Marcel Carbotte, and for the next two years the couple lived in France. In the early 1950’s, she and her husband established a permanent residence in Quebec City. In 1954, Roy published Alexandre Chenevert (The Cashier), which reconfirmed her concern with the plight of the common person; in the novel, a simple bank employee struggles with his place in his family, his society, and the world at large. The aesthetics of social realism, as shown in Roy’s novels thus far, were followed in her more introspective writings by narrative techniques akin to the discovery of the character’s inner self. In 1966 The Road Past Altamont, set in Manitoba, was published. Semiautobiographical details are interwoven with fiction to produce four stories, loosely forming a whole, in which the protagonist, Christine, recounts her childhood experiences, her quest for knowledge, and her nascent sensitivity as a young woman. In 1967 Roy was named Companion of the Order of Canada, and in 1968 she received a Canada Council medal for her work. The year 1975 saw the publication of Garden in the Wind, composed of four stories largely inspired by the fictionalized experiences of immigrants to Western Canada as they discover within the stark prairie beauty the solitude of their new home.

Roy died from a heart attack in Quebec City on July 13, 1983. A prolific, sensitive, and at times sentimental writer, Roy made a lasting contribution to Canadian literature and is one of Canada’s most widely read twentieth century authors.

BibliographyBabby, Ellen Reisman. The Play of Language and Spectacle: A Structural Reading of Selected Texts by Gabrielle Roy. Toronto: ECW Press, 1985. This work focuses principally on Windflower and The Cashier.Calder, Allison. “Gabrielle Roy.” In Encyclopedia of Literature in Canada, edited by William H. New. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. This article offers an introduction to the life and major works of Roy.Hesse, M. G. Gabrielle Roy. Boston: Twayne, 1984. This work offers an overview of Roy’s life, an analysis of her major works, and a bibliography of primary and secondary works.Marshall, Joyce. “Gabrielle Roy.” In The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, edited by William Toye. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. This article presents a survey of the life and major works of Roy.Meadwell, Kenneth W. “Gabrielle Roy.” In Magill’s Survey of World Literature, edited by Frank N. Magill. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1993. This article includes biographical information, an analysis of the major characteristics of Roy’s work, commentary on The Tin Flute and Street of Riches, and a short bibliography of books about Roy.
Categories: Authors