James McPherson Le Moine’s memoirs launched at the Villa Bagatelle

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Photo: Terry Kerwin

At the launch of James McPherson Le Moine's memoirs at the Villa Bagatelle: Denis Dion, director of the Presses de l'Université Laval; Michel Gaulin, who translated the memoirs into French; Bernard Andrès, editor and director of the Archive littéraire au Québec; and Louise Cantin, wife of the late Roger Le Moine, who compiled and annotated the texts of James McPherson Le Moine.

Last Sunday, at Villa Bagatelle, the Presses de l'Université Laval launched Souvenirs et réminiscences/Glimpses & Reminiscences de James McPherson Le Moine. During the nineteenth century, Le Moine was one of Quebec City's most respected and well-known personalities.

This magnificent book presents Le Moine's memoirs in a bilingual format, the French translation on the left-hand pages and the original English text on the right. Although French was his mother tongue, the author chose to write in English because he intended the story for his granddaughters, Lily Belle and Frances Maud Rhodes, who lived in Chicago at the time and who had no knowledge of French. Later, the two women moved to Sillery and lived in the Villa Bagatelle. Lily Belle was one of the founding members of the University Women's Club, known today as the Quebec City Women's Club, which every fall organizes the popular book sale at the Eastern Quebec Learning Centre.

The memoirs account for 280 of the 486 pages of the book. Their initial title indicated a work of four parts - boyhood, youth, manhood and advanced years. Of the 15 chapters, two of the most interesting address the author's literary career and his dealings with dignitaries visiting Quebec City (in particular, his relationship with Lord Dufferin).

James McPherson Le Moine died in 1912. It is quite astonishing that a full century elapsed before his memoirs reached the general public. The manuscript was inherited by the author's daughter, Sophia Ann, who eventually left it with her daughters. As for the two Rhodes sisters, it apparently never occurred to them that their grandfather's memoirs would interest the public. They might even have thrown the manuscript away, as they did many of his letters.

In the early 1960s, Roger Le Moine, a professor of Quebec and French literature at the University of Ottawa, became interested in the life and career of his great-uncle, and, upon learning of the existence of the memoirs, undertook to have them published. The half-century that led to the launch of the book last Sunday would make a fascinating story in itself. Much work was, indeed, required. James McPherson Le Moine's handwriting was difficult to decipher. Some editing was necessary. But most importantly, comments and annotations were added to help readers understand the context of the memoirs, to explain some of the more personal articles and to introduce many of the individuals mentioned.

Roger Le Moine undertook this enormous task in addition to his own professional duties and despite ill health in the latter part of his life. He passed away in 2004, but left us with a most remarkable 40 pages of well-researched notes, 80 pages of interesting biographical data and ten pages of a thorough chronology. Translator Michel Gaulin produced a high-quality French version of the memoirs. In the past ten years, he also helped to complete the work of his friend Roger Le Moine. Louise Cantin spent equally long hours at finishing her husband Roger Le Moine's undertaking.

Souvenirs et réminiscences/Glimpses & Reminiscences de James McPherson Le Moine is the tenth work produced in the collection Archive littéraire au Québec of the Presses de l'Université Laval. It sells for $35 and is well worth the purchase for those interested in the past of Quebec City.