Date of Degree
Blanche Wiesen Cook
Comparative Literature | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America, Ethnic and Cultural Minority
Biography, Life Writing, Roy, Canadian Literature
Gabrielle Roy (1909 - 1983) was a French-Canadian author, journalist and teacher. She was also my third cousin, first cousin of my grandfather, Stephen McEachran. She wrote fiction and nonfiction in the latter part of the twentieth century and her work spotlighted Canada’s poor, immigrants, and marginalized women. Gabrielle Roy rose to fame as a keen-eyed witness and commentator in writings spanning over forty years. Her sister Bernadette (1897 – 1970) lived a more private, spiritual life as a nun, named Sister Léon-de-la-Croix, far away from the public spotlight.
In this thesis I summarize the events that shaped both sisters’ lives and explore their life choices and the impact of those choices. I focus on the resonance of Gabrielle’s relationship with her sister as found in selected writings. Gabrielle and Bernadette shared a unique, filial bond--they both realized early on in their respective lives that as French-Canadian females they existed in a society with limited access to educational opportunities and career options. Therefore, if they wished to reach beyond expected traditional roles for women in that time and place, they would need to forge a different kind of life for themselves.
Each pursued a different path to fulfill this goal: one becoming a world-renowned writer and public figure, having a profound impact on Canadian literature; the other becoming a nun, quietly fulfilling her ministry to God through teaching immigrant children. Both lived their respective roles with commitment and fervor, and each found a sense of purpose that rescued them from the confines of their family of origin and the patriarchal structures at that time in Saint-Boniface, Winnipeg, Canada.
Although the two sisters were separated geographically from each other for most of their lives and shared a twelve-year age difference, they were always very close, and they strengthened their bond through a decades-long exchange of letters. The letters they shared offer a window into two women’s lives, one famous and the other obscure. These letters from Gabrielle to Bernadette brim with passionate thought and sentiment that find their fuller expression in Gabrielle’s writings. In Roy’s works and in the body of her letters we find the revelation of the lives the two sisters lived, a powerful testament to love, faith and inspiration.
Gaffney, Kathleen J., "The Novelist and the Nun: Two Sisters, One Bond" (2019). CUNY Academic Works.