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Moise and Victoria Rondeau and their family. This photo was taken at their 60th wedding anniversary during the summer of 1937 at their home on Potter Place in North Adams, Mass. They were born in 1858 in Quebec, married in upstate New York near the Canadian border at about age 18, and moved to North Adams in 1898. My grandfather, Ernest X. Rondeau, born in North Adams in 1906, is in the back on the left. (Rondeau family collection)

 

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'THE INNOCENT VICTIM' - FRENCH CANADIANS IN AMERICA 
 
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MARK E. RONDEAU, Staff Writer
Friday, March 13
BENNINGTON — "The Innocent Victim" is a novella that describes the lives of French Canadian immigrants to the United States at the time of the Civil War and rapid industrialization.

Written by Adélard Lambert and originally published in French, "L'Innocente Victime" ran as a serial in 1936 in the Ottawa newspaper, LeDroit. Lambert, a largely self-educated folklorist and collector of Franco-American cultural items, including books and folksongs, grew up and lived for extended periods in both Quebec and the U.S., including about 30 years in Manchester, N.H.

Images from the Past, a Bennington book publisher, recently issued a new edition of "The Innocent Victim," translated with supporting notes and appendices by Margaret S. Langford, professor of French and Franco-American studies at Keene State College.

"'Innocent Victim' is an engaging, quick read at a bargain price that will open eyes and minds to the  Franco-American story in New England, based on current scholarship," said publisher Tordis Ilg Isselhardt.

Langford will speak in Bennington on Sunday, March 15, at 10 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Meetinghouse on School Street. Her topic will be "Community and Spirituality: The Saga of Franco-American emigration in Adélard Lambert's 'The Innocent Victim.' " Copies of the book will be available.

One historian cited in the book estimates that between 1840 and 1930 some 900,000 French Canadians immigrated to the United States. Langford said that poverty was the overwhelming reason for this migration, except in the case of professionals such as doctors and lawyers, who also immigrated from Quebec to serve the Franco-American community.

The novella tells the story of Jean and Marie Legendre, a young couple with a baby daughter living on a farm in Quebec. Though their life is not filled with hardship, Jean, along with several men from his village, is recruited to make extra money logging in Vermont.

The promise of work is a ruse, however, and the men, who cannot read or write, are tricked into enlisting in the Union Army to fight in the Civil War. Langford said that a minimum of 20,000 French Canadians served in the Union Army. And there is ample documentation that a significant number of these men were tricked into enlisting, something that also happened to Irish immigrants.

Jean Legendre receives a head wound in a Civil War battle and suffers from amnesia. When he does not return home, Marie, who has learned that Jean served in the war, tries searching for him, unaware that his name has been anglicized to John Lawson.

Plot twists

Marie eventually moves with her young daughter to Lowell, Mass., and the melodramatic plot takes more harrowing twists and turns from there. In developing his story, Lambert drew on the discovery in 1899 of a young woman's remains buried in a dirt cellar in Manchester, N.H.

Lambert brings a definite moral vision to his novella. He emphasizes the importance of Franco-America dedication to family, faith and community. Preserving the French language is also important. For example, in describing the English names given the tricked men, Lambert writes that their "beautiful French names" had been translated into "the most ridiculous English equivalents."

Another theme of the book is the trouble that the Franco-Americans find when they move beyond seeking sufficient money to live and covet more than they need.

Lambert moved with his family back to Quebec in 1921, where he remained for the rest of his life. One historian of Franco-American culture calls "The Innocent Victim" a "social novel with an axe to grind." (Lambert) "called for a return to the ancestral land to revel in the quiet simplicity of its present and the glory of its past."

The tragedy that befalls the Legrende family when Jean comes to the U.S. to make more money is cautionary. As Jean says back on his farm in Quebec at the end of the story, "My dear grandchildren, it's here at home in our own country that we must stay."

In 2002, Images from the Past published another translation by Langford. This was of "Un Revenant" or "One Came Back," a Franco-American Civil War novel by Remi Tremblay, a French Canadian veteran of the Civil War.

Langford's talk on Sunday will be part of the Unitarians' Sunday service. After her talk ends, around 11 a.m., there will be tea, coffee and snacks. "The Innocent Victim is 140 pages and costs $15.95.

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Book Reviews

Mark Rondeau - Writer, Editor, Photographer


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The cover of the book.