Montréal, McGill-Queens UP, juil. 2020, 400 Pages, 23 photos, ISBN 9780228000945
The life of a multi-talented colonial woman, hospital administrator, and literary innovator.
Marie-André Duplessis (1687-1760) guided the Augustinian sisters at the Hôtel-Dieu of Quebec – the oldest hospital north of Mexico – where she was elected mother superior six times. Although often overshadowed by colonial nuns who became foundresses or saints, she was a powerhouse during the last decades of the French regime and an accomplished woman of letters. She has been credited with Canada’s first literary narrative, Canada’s first music manual, and the first book by a Canadian woman printed during her own lifetime.
In A Touch of Fire, the first biography of Duplessis, Thomas Carr analyzes how she navigated, in peace and war, the unstable, male-dominated colonial world of New France. Through a study of Duplessis’s correspondence, her writings, and the rich Hôtel-Dieu archives, Carr details how she channelled the fire of her commitment to the hospital in order to advance its interests, preserve its history, and inspire her sister nuns. Duplessis chronicled New France as she wrote for and about her institution. Her administrative correspondence reveals her managerial successes and failures, and her private letters reshaped her friendship with a childhood Jansenist friend, Marie-Catherine Hecquet. Carr also delves into her relationship with her sister Geneviève Duplessis, who joined her in the cloister and became her managerial and spiritual partner. The addition of Duplessis’s last letters provides a dramatic insider’s view into the female experience of the siege and capture of Quebec in 1759.
A Touch of Fire examines the life and work of an enterprising leader and major woman author of early Canada.