Réjean Ducharme, the man behind the legend

He was the most secret writer in Quebec literature. And his discretion seemed to be the perfect reverse of the importance of his work, he who practiced several genres with brilliance: novel, theater, screenplays, songs, plastic arts.

In September 1966, Gallimard editions published in the « Blanche » collection The swallowing of the swallowedthe third novel that Réjean Ducharme (1941-2017), a young 25-year-old Quebec writer completely unknown — and who will remain so for the most part — had sent them by mail.

Fifty-six years later, in the eyes of the general public, the cloud of mystery dissipates a little with the publication by Gallimard of the nine novels by Ducharme in the « Quarto » collection, under the direction of Élisabeth Nardout-Lafarge, professor emeritus from the University of Montreal and a specialist in his work.

Because this book-event of nearly 2000 pages, in addition to restoring Ducharme’s novels to the now known order of their writing, offers us in the introduction a detailed chronology of 140 pages, enriched with photographs, extracts from his diaries , drawings and numerous fragments of his correspondence (with his mother, with people from Gallimard or with other writers, such as JMG Le Clézio or Marie-Claire Blais).

A small bomb and a real gold mine. An initiative that we owe to Monique Jean and Monique Bertrand, two close friends since 1985 of the couple formed by Ducharme with the actress and screenwriter Claire Richard, the one who will be his companion, his agent and his spokesperson for nearly 50 year.

A long and faithful friendship which ended suddenly on August 21, 2017, with the death of the writer, who died a year after his companion. And in a way, this friendship continues.

Unpublished biographical details

“It gives us a glimpse of the man behind the legend,” says Monique Jean, sound artist and executor of Réjean Ducharme, who in 2018 founded Ducharmiennes friendships, an NPO whose mandate is to ensure the circulation of the work. and memory of the writer.

“It gives us different paths to understand both the work and the man. But it’s all in the novels, that’s what’s extraordinary,” she says. « And in the theater and in the movies, » adds Monique Bertrand, visual artist and photographer who acted as the estate’s archivist.

In an interview, the two women insist on saying that it seemed essential to them to closely link these unpublished biographical details to Ducharme’s books, hence the idea of ​​a « Quarto » publication. In such a way that these revelations, above all, do not overshadow Ducharme’s work, but rather illuminate them with a new light. Mission accomplished.

And it’s a whole life that goes by. His move to Montreal in 1959, his aborted engineering studies, his enlistment in the Royal Canadian Air Force with the hope, he wrote to his mother on September 2, 1962, « of spending a year there away from the world and the noise (there is no radio, no discipline, no women, no trees) and to accumulate – as we had been led to believe – a small easy fortune ». He crosses the Arctic Circle, offers himself a typewriter with his first paycheck, before suffering an « acute nervous crisis » which forces him to be hospitalized for a few months.

“I have no sympathy for the herd that rushes, presses me and suffocates me […] Everything that will happen to me, even if I regret it, I would have wanted it. I don’t want to be the jerk running anyone’s boat. I like dreaming as much, rowing in my nutshell,” he wrote again to his mother two weeks later.

Released from the army, he danced the waltz of precarious jobs, took a trip “on the go” during the summer of 1965 to the west coast of the United States and to the Guatemalan border. Then it is the acceptance in turn by Gallimard, in less than six months, of the manuscripts of the oceantumfrom Nose that evokes and of The swallowing of the swallowedfollowed by a huge clap of thunder and a media silence from which, until the end, he will never have departed.

Unpublished and moving biographical details, never gratuitous, which shine a thousand lights on the living sources of his “radicality” as a man and an artist. But also a huge gift to the readers of Ducharme, who will never write again, for real, after the publication of big wordsin 1999.

Top news from Ducharme

« It became a bit obvious, » says Élisabeth Nardout-Lafarge about this complete edition of the novels. The idea was to reflect the extreme coherence of the novelistic universe by publishing them all together and in the probable order of their writing, The swallowing of the swallowed at big words. » So that we can read everything (including what had become untraceable, such as Daughter of Christopher Columbus), discover several unpublished chapters of the oceantumand measure in a single pour, she explains, « the complete flow » and the evolution of a work that has moved over time.

According to the specialist, the discovery of the personal universe of the writer confirms what many readers suspected: the strong identification that exists between Ducharme and his characters.

Giving people the opportunity to read (or re-read) Ducharme’s words on a large scale was what first motivated those whom the writer called « the little girls next door » to lift the veil on a part of his personal life. He whose work, they believe, resonates more than ever with tremendous topicality.

« There are themes in him that are precursors, » says Monique Bertrand. Ecology, solidarity with all living things. A somewhat fluid gender identity, too, the difficulties of the couple and the recognition of indigenous peoples. »

“With him, any event, any experience, any object was immediately magnified by his gaze, by his writing,” she adds. Every thing and every encounter took on immense importance for him. “He was very attentive to his surroundings. To the people, the marginalized and the marginalized”, also says Monique Jean.

Elisabeth Nardout-Lafarge agrees. “The more one reads this work, the more its strength appears, unlike others,” she underlines.


Réjean Ducharme, edition established by Élisabeth Nardout-Lafarge, Gallimard, coll. « Quarto », Paris, 2022, 1952 pages

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