Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Laurier LaPierre, 1929-2012... via 1759

Christopher Moore's blog draws our attention to the passing of Laurier LaPierre, the great Canadian broadcaster, senator and historian.  While LaPierre's historical writings focused on the nineteenth and twentieth century, late in his career he made a notable foray into an earlier period with 1759: The Battle for Canada (McClelland & Stewart, 1990).

Experts in the field barely acknowledged this lively narrative recounting, aimed at a broad audience, of the last eighty-five days of the siege of Quebec.  Those who did review it pointed out that LaPierre was basically rehashing Frégault and Stacey's old tomes, and that he had not exercised the due dilligence of consulting any of the scholarship produced on the subject since 1975.  LaPierre's imagined conversations with participants of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham also broke with the conventions of academic historical writing, annoying many in the process.  It certainly made for a good read, though.

In a recent essay on the memory of the Conquest, historian Jocelyn Létourneau notes that LaPierre's book was widely distributed but that it is impossible to say what influence it has had on the public understanding of the event.  Leafing through the book now, I wonder if LaPierre's 1759 was not only a throwback, but also in a sense a precursor.  Does LaPierre's bemoaning of the lack of truly national heroes in Canadian history, with each linguistic community policing its own pantheon (viz. Wolfe for the Anglos and Montcalm for the Francos), not bring to mind a refrain now heard from the other end of the political spectrum?  This is a useful reminder that facile equations of the cult of the straight narrative and the hero with the the political right, and of real, nuanced history with the political left, do not always quite add up.  It is amusing, moreover, to observe that LaPierre himself could not entirely break with the reality he denounced: while the "Death of Wolfe" served as the cover of the English edition of the book, a painting of the death of Montcalm was chosen for the cover of the French one.

P.-F.-X.

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