Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Evangeline // Reading the Classics
Back when we were planning our visit to the Maritimes I was doing some research on the area and happened upon some Canadian history. It was about the expulsion of 11,500 Acadian people (French Colonists living in Canada's Maritime Region) from the Maritimes as a result of not signing oaths with the British. The Acadians feared that signing such an oath would anger the Native Americans living there, and were also not loyal to the British, so they refused to sign it. 1/3 of the expelled Acadians died at sea from disease or drowning. Many families were split up, and many of the people were forced to settle along the Mississippi river.
This was something that I had not learned about at all in school, so I was really surprised by it, and interested in learning more. It turns out Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the American poet wrote an epic poem called Evangeline, about a fictional woman who upon being expelled from Acadia is in search of her lost love Gabriel. This poem is written in a way to mimic Greek and Latin epics.
I suppose critics have all sorts of things to say about it, but here are my thoughts:
It's lovely that Longfellow thought to write on something that was such a tragedy, but also to turn it into a story that many could follow and be engrossed in.
Overall I didn't find the poem too hard to read, while it is written in dactylic hexameter ... I didn't find myself struggling too much to get through it or comprehend it. It is only about 60 pages long in a small sized book as well, so it makes for a quick read.
The poem follows Evangeline as she crosses the United States in search of Gabriel. There are times when she is very close to where he is, but does not know it. She spends years looking for him, and in the end she finds him among the sick in a hospital where she works. He dies in her arms.
Even though I knew what was going to happen, the story is a well known tragedy similar to Romeo and Juliet, I found myself engrossed in the journey. Cringing when Evangeline unknowingly passes Gabriel by. Imagining what kind of pain she felt searching without hope for so many years. In the end I cried. For her to try so hard, only to find him in their old age, him dying of sickness in her arms. It's tragic. It's heartbreaking.
But, I'm glad that I got to read about a character that is so selfless. She risks everything, and gives up years of her young life searching for Gabriel. In her old age, she begins helping the sick at a hospital. I'm always impressed by people who manage to rise above their terrible circumstances and give away so much.
I kind of appreciate that the story is similar in nature to Romeo and Juliet, but that these characters are completely different. I don't know about you guys, and as much as it can be romantic.... Romeo and Juliet's characters seemed selfish and rash to me ... am I the only one? But maybe it just makes it more sad that Gabriel dies, because Evangeline is a good person, and their love was enduring.
This is a lot to read into a 60 page poem, but there you have it.
Also, is it a coincidence that the Acadians lived in the Maritimes and were then expelled to the Mississippi? The Maritimes and New Orleans are only my two favorite places I've visited so far. I find this really crazy!
Also on our honeymoon we went to a restaurant called Les Frères De La Côte (brothers of the coast) where it was a blend of Canadian and Cajun type decor and food. It never made sense until I started researching all of this a few years later.
Lastly, there was this really beautiful copy at the New Brunswick museum when we were in St. John, but it was only in French. The only English copy is the one pictured above. Not a huge deal, but I always love a really pretty book. The image for goodreads seems to be the pretty one but in English, so maybe I can find it yet. :)
Has anyone else read this?
How do you guys feel about these tragic love stories?
Happy Reading! - I hope I didn't just depress every person who read this... : /