In focus

Women novelists, storytellers and poets

Women occupy a special place in the pantheon of Ottawa writers. They emerge after the First World War, producing novels, plays and poetry. Several experience great commercial success. Unlike the generation of writers that precedes them, they show little interest in the national cause.

The poetry of Simone Routier is one of the most remarkable. Born in Québec, she eventually moves to Paris, then to Ottawa for a few years, before embarking on a diplomatic career. She produces several collections of poetry, the last two of which are published in 1947 during her stay in Ottawa. Le long voyage and Psaumes du jardin clos are personal works that speak of mystical quests.

The tales and short stories of Marie-Rose Turcot also contribute to women’s literature in Ottawa. Her first collection, L’homme du jour, is published in 1920. One of the tales, “Nestor et Piccolo” garners an award from Montréal’s Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. The story focuses on fidelity to a beloved, a favourite theme of the author, whose work is considered rather conservative. Her second publication, Le carrousel (1928), is a collection of childhood stories and memories, and is very well received by critics. Marie-Rose Turcot also publishes traditional tales collected from seniors living in Ottawa, Montréal and Québec. She is an Ottawa literary pioneer.

Closer to home, author Claire Martin, born in Québec but living in Ottawa for nearly 30 years, is awarded the Prix du Cercle du livre de France for her first collection of short stories, Avec ou sans amour (1958). She then publishes two novels, followed by two autobiographical works which brought her fame. The first volume of her autobiography, Dans un gant de fer (1965), earns her the Prix de la Province de Québec and the Prix France-Québec; the second, La joue droite (1966), wins the Governor General’s Award. Those works take a caustic view of relations between men and women, parents and children, and between children themselves. The courage and liberation she calls for in her work places Claire Martin among French Canada’s first literary feminists.