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Tales from the Uncertain Country and Other Stories

Written by Jacques FerronAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jacques Ferron
Afterword by Betty BednarskiAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Betty Bednarski
Translated by Betty BednarskiAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Betty Bednarski

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Table of Contents


New to the NCL!

Forty-one sparkling classics of Quebec fiction

In these fantastic tall tales a bull turns into a lawyer, a lonely Alberta cow's ghost longs for Quebec, and Ulysses comes back to Ithaca Corner, Ontario. Jacques Ferron writes metaphysical fables, political satire, portraits of men and women in all walks of life, and wry comedies, with great originality and a profound sympathy for the human condition. These forty-one sparkling classics are among the most celebrated works in modern Quebec literature. They appear in this original New Canadian Library collection in a specially revised and expanded translation by Betty Bednarski.



One night the husband woke up; his wife was leaning on her elbow looking at him. He asked: “What are you doing?” She replied: “You’re handsome, I love you.” The next morning, at daybreak, she was sleeping soundly. He shook her, he was hungry. She said: “Go back to sleep; I’ll make you lunch.”
“And who will go to work?”
“Tomorrow, you can go. Today, stay with me. You’re handsome, I love you.”
And so he, who was in fact quite ugly, nearly did not go to work. It felt good in the house; his children, awake now, looked at him with their big doe-eyes. He would have liked to take them in his arms and cradle them. But it was fall; he thought of the cost of living; he remembered the other children, three or four, or perhaps five of them, who had died in Abitibi – that hell of a place. And he went off without breakfast.
That evening he hurried home, only to find the house cold. His wife and the children had spent the day in bed, under a pile of blankets. He lit the fire. When the house was warm, the children slid down off the bed. Then the wife got up, joyful. In her hand she held a small bottle of perfume bought several years before, such a delightful extravagance she had kept it unopened. The bottle she uncorked, the perfume she poured – on her husband’s head, on her own, on the children’s. And all evening long they celebrated. Only the husband held back. But during the night he woke up; his wife was leaning over him, saying: “You’re handsome, I love you.” Then he gave in.
He did not go to work the next day, nor the days that followed. After a week, having used up his supply of wood, he began to tear down a shed adjoining the house. Whereupon the landlord showed up, furious. However, when he saw what was the matter, he calmed down. The wife was as beautiful as her husband was ugly. He reprimanded her gently. He was a fine talker, this landlord! She wished he would never stop. He told her that man was created to work and other such nonsense. She agreed; everything he said sounded so fine! When he had talked himself dry, he asked her: “Now, will you let your husband work?”
“No,” she replied, “I love him too much.”
“But this woman is mad,” cried the landlord.
The husband was not sure. They sent for priests, doctors, aldermen. All of them had their say. Oh, what fine talkers they were! The wife wished they would never stop, or at least that they would go on talking all night. But when they had finished, she said: “No, I love him too much.” They decided she was mad. The husband was not sure.
One evening, snow began to fall. The wife, who ever since their arrival in Montreal had been afraid to go out, terrified by the city, cried: “It’s snowing! Come, we’ll go to Senneterre.”
And she dressed in haste.
“But what about the children?” asked the husband.
“They’ll wait for us. The Blessed Virgin will look after them. Come, husband, I cannot stay here.”
Then he too decided that his wife was mad, and he took the children in his arms. She had gone out to wait for him in the street. He watched her from the window. She ran round and round in front of the door, then stopped, unable to wait any longer.
“We’ll go to Malartic,” she cried, “we’ll go to Val-d’Or!”*
A taxi came by. She got in.
* Senneterre, Malartic, Val-d’Or. Place names from the northerly Abitibi region, where many Québécois were encouraged to move in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century after land in the fertile Saint Lawrence River valley had become scarce. Most eked out a miserable existence there, on the land or in the mines, and by the 1950s and 1960s poverty had driven huge numbers back to the south, to urban centres like Montreal. In the context of Ferron’s story the three names are poetically suggestive – Senneterre and Val-d’Or, with their evocation of an earthly paradise, ironically so.

Table of Contents

Translator’s Note
Back to Val-D’Or
How the Old Man Died
Mélie and the Bull
Les Méchins
Tiresome Company
The Archangel of the Suburb
The Bridge
The Parrot
The Child
The Landscape Painter
The Provinces
La Mi-Carême
Summer Lethe
The Grey Dog
The Dead Cow in the Canyon
The Sirens
The Buddhist
Animal Husbandry
The Woman Next Door
The Flood
The Parakeet
The Wedding Bouquet
Martine Continued
The Wool Nightshirt and the Horsehair Tunic
Little William
The Old Heathen
Back to Kentucky
The Sea-Lion
The Jailer’s Son
Black Cargo Ships of War
Little Red Riding Hood
The Pigeon and the Parakeet
The Rope and the Heifer
The Lady from Ferme-Neuve
Chronicle of Anse Saint-Roch
The Witch and the Barleycorn
Jacques Ferron|Betty Bednarski

About Jacques Ferron

Jacques Ferron - Tales from the Uncertain Country and Other Stories

Jacques Ferron was born in Louiseville, Quebec, in 1921.The eldest of five children (including his sisters Madeleine, the writer, and Marcelle, the painter), he took the greater part of the classics course at the Jesuit Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, then studied medicine at Laval University from 1941 until 1945. After a brief spell in the Canadian Army, he practiced as a country physician at Rivière-Madeleine in the Gaspé. In 1948 he returned to Montreal and set up his consulting office on the South Shore, where he lived until his death.

From the moment he returned to Montreal, Ferron began to lead a public life, contributing regularly to medical and literary journals and taking an active part in politics. In 1963 he founded his own party, the Rhinoceros Party, designed for the purpose of satirizing the federal political system.

Playwright and essayist, novelist and short story writer, Ferron remembers, especially in his tales, the multifaceted aspects of his cultural heritage. His tales invest the present with the vitality and richness of a strong Québécois past. His first collection won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1962.

Jacques Ferron died in Saint-Lambert, Quebec, in 1985.

About Betty Bednarski

Betty Bednarski - Tales from the Uncertain Country and Other Stories
BETTY BEDNARSKI is a professor of French at Dalhousie University.

  • Tales from the Uncertain Country and Other Stories by Jacques Ferron, Afterword by Dr. Betty Bednarski
  • August 31, 2010
  • Fiction
  • New Canadian Library
  • $18.95
  • 9780771094040

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