How an Early French-Canadian Magazine Helped Shape Literary Culture

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In his new book, The magazine revolution in Quebecthe University of Toronto Adrian Rannaud shows how one of Quebec’s first magazines reflected and advanced literature and culture from 1919 to 1960 – and how its impact is still evident today.

Adrien Rannaud (photo Atwood Photography)

This publication, entitled The Modern Reviewwas an ideal starting point to examine the ways magazines can shape literature,” says Rannaud, assistant professor of French studies in the language studies department at the University of Mississauga.

Her research focuses on 19th and 20th century Quebec literature, women’s writing, celebrity culture and average literary culture. In all of these areas, he says, studying magazines can be enlightening.

The title of the book refers to how the advent of magazines in the 20th century revolutionized print media.

“Unlike newspapers, magazines have been freed from the pressure of daily news reporting,” he says. “They used images and design to present information in new ways. And they invited readers to take time for themselves to escape from reality, especially with fiction and poetry.

In the book, written in French, Rannaud notes that English magazines such as Chatelaine, Mayfair and Canadian Home Journal – which coexisted with The Modern Review – had equally important roles in the literary world.

“French-Canadian magazines simply haven’t received as much academic attention or systematic study as English-language magazines or as magazines in France,” he says.

The Modern ReviewThe founder of , who wrote under the pseudonym “Madeleine” and whose real name was Anne-Marie Huguenin, was a celebrity in Montreal high society. She wrote for one of the city’s leading newspapers and became the “queen of the column”. When World War I ended, Rannaud says, she wanted a larger vehicle to showcase not only her own writings, but those of her fellow promising young French-speaking writers.

In the magazine’s first editorial, she set out her intention to deliver a literary, political and artistic publication (the three words under the title) that would “brilliantly testify to the value of our poets [and] writers.” Although the magazine was well received in some circles, its lofty ambitions — and female leadership — did not sit well with the male social elite and the clergy, Rannaud says. “She was outspoken about her goal of uniting Francophone and Anglophone culture, and there were a lot of quite political articles. It was difficult for a woman in the 1920s to run an intellectual magazine. She was prone to a lot of anti-feminism.

External pressures, combined with commercial necessities, pushed Madeleine to change The Modern Reviewemphasizes political topics and other “serious” content in favor of topics considered attractive to women. “Around 1922, there were more advice columns, recipes, coverage of social events, fiction and poetry,” says Rannaud.

It is in this latter category, he argues, that The Modern Review had the most profound effect on the cultural history of Quebec.

Announcement of the co-winners of the La Revue moderne prize. Gabrielle Roy was recognized for one of her first published short stories, which appeared in the magazine (July 1940 issue)

The magazine launched the careers of many authors, poets and writers, including one of the most famous French-Canadian authors: Gabrielle Roy, the author of The pewter flute and other books. One of his first publications is in The Modern Review. “Quebec is not known for avant-garde, or scholarly literature, but it has a thriving popular culture and literature,” says Rannaud. “The Modern Review contributed to cultivating this literature by making it known to a wide audience and inspiring other young writers.

Beyond its defining influence on literature, the magazine has kept pace with changing trends in culture at large. In the 1940s, women’s rights and celebrity news began to feature prominently in the magazine. Content has also become very interconnected with radio and television culture, with articles on the best and latest programs to listen to and watch.

“The celebrity profiles and other media attention were, in some ways, very topical,” says Rannaud. “These are things you see in magazines everywhere in 2021. While The Modern Review was very old-fashioned in its portrayal of women, domestic life and relationships, it also helped pave the way for contemporary publications.

In 1960, Maclean-Hunter purchased The Modern Review and it became French Chatelaine magazine. The new publication builds on the cultural and literary underpinnings of the original, Rannaud says, pointing to the ongoing tradition in several Canadian author magazines publishing short stories and book excerpts.

“Without the revolution The Modern Review participated, we wouldn’t have the close relationship between literature and magazines that we have today.

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