«By Robert Hilliker M. A., Brown University, 2003 B. A., University of British Columbia, 2000 Thesis Submitted in partial fulfillment of the ...»
French had held out two complementary goals for the New World “Savage”: “sauver ce barbare de la perdition [et] en faire un Français d’adoption” (214), a position we saw very clearly articulated by Marc Lescarbot in his Histoire de la Nouvelle-France (3.370).99 In a letter to her son, de l’Incarnation affirms this dual mission, telling him that the French have selected several Huron girls who, having already converted to Christianity, are to be raised “à la Françoise” and “francisées tant de langage que de mœurs,” with the ultimate goal being their complete incorporation into French society through marriage (Correspondance 545-6).100 When compared with the English colonial practice of discouraging intermarriage between Native Americans and colonists, except where it served a strategic purpose, the French policy of actively encouraging such intermarriage may seem truly enlightened. Still, de l’Incarnation’s letter exposes the preconditions of such intermarriage: religious conversion and national assimilation.
The basic mechanism of de l’Incarnation’s educational rhetoric reduces all the Native Americans, not only the young girls who were educated at the Ursuline mission, to children. In a letter the Mother Superior of the Ursulines in Tours, de l’Incarnation writes that the Native American converts are neither “si subtils ny si rafinez” as Christians in France, but that they make up for it with “une candeur d’enfant” (Correspondance 139).101 In her rhetoric here de l’Incarnation firmly abides by the savage/civilized opposition that Grégoire identifies as characteristic of early French “to save this barbarian from perdition [and] make of him an adopted Frenchman” (translation mine).
“in the French manner”; “Frenchified in language but also in custom” (Selected Writings 252-3) “as subtle or as refined”; “the candour of a child” (translation mine) missionaries in Canada, reinforcing the subordinate position of Native Americans in relation to the European colonists even as she praises them for their childlike candor.
Yet, de l’Incarnation’s rhetoric of familial education opens her up to a reciprocity that begins to flatten such distinctions. If the Native Americans are reduced to children in the logic of the passage above, she is reduced to still less when she commands her son to notice that “nôtre propre amour [de Dieu] nous rend esclaves & nous reduit à rien” (184).
In this same letter to her son, she tells him how happy she would be “si un jour on me venoit dire que mon Fils fût une victime immolée à Dieu!”102 Several years later, De l’Incarnation relates to her son the martyrdom of an Algonquian man, calling him “mon fils spirituel,” pointing out that he “m’aimoit autant ou plus que sa Mère” and that in heaven he will act as “mon Père et mon Avocat auprès de Dieu” (Correspondance 399).103 In this way de l’Incarnation’s spiritual son serves not only as a model for the physical son, but also becomes a father to his spiritual mother because of his translation from this world to the next.
The substitutional logic evinced in this letter thus lends credence to Bruneau’s observation that de l’Incarnation’s relationship with God is structurally identical to her relationship with her Native American students, which Bruneau characterizes in the binary terms of “same” and “other” (“Anthropologie mystique” 189). In her relationship “Our proper love [of God] renders us slaves and reduces us to nothing”; “How happy would I be if one day if someone came to tell me that my son had been immolated as a victim to God” (translations mine).
“my spiritual son”; “loved me as much or more than his own mother”; “my father and my advocate with God” (Selected Writings 246).
with God, it is Marie herself who occupies the position of “other,” striving to make herself worthy of, and thereby recognizable to, God; in her relationship with her students, however, the students take the place of the other, and she expects them to strive to be like her, devoting themselves completely to the service of God and the spread of Christianity among their people. As Bruneau notes, this binary logic depends on assimilation and annihilation, whereby the difference of the other comes to be dissolved in the sameness of the same. Thus, de l’Incarnation insists in her Retraites: “I have no other desire than to be totally annihilated in God” (82; translation mine); similarly, she conceives of the religious conversion of the Native American girls as a loss of self, noting of Marie Negabamat, one of her earliest pupils, that “[e]lle ne sembloit plus être elle-même” when she finally turned to “la prière et aux practiques de la piété Chrétienne” (Correspondance 95).104 Expressed in these terms, Marie de l’Incarnation’s interaction with her native pupils entirely conforms to Grégoire’s worst suspicions about the ethnocentrism of French missionary practice.
Nevertheless, de l’Incarnation’s shifting position within these parallel binaries destabilizes them: inasmuch as she herself occupies the position of other vis-à-vis God, she becomes capable of relating to her students as equals on a symbolic level, and of identifying with them. Thus, over the course of her life in Québec, de l’Incarnation becomes a more sensitive observer of Native American customs. At the outset, she emphasizes their “salleté insupportable,” noting “la vermine causée par l’abondance … “[s]he seemed no longer to be herself”; “prayer and the practices of Christian piety” (Word from New France 71) de la graisse dont leurs parens les oignent par tout le corps” (Correspondance 97),105 but she also undertakes to learn their languages—first Algonquian, then later Huron, Montagnais, and Iroquois. While learning their languages, she absorbed their cultural practices, learning not only how to make sagamité, a porridge of corn flavored with bear grease, but also to make extra for when guests arrive unannounced, since they will expect to receive hospitality (Correspondance 97; Word from New France 74). In the process, however, de l’Incarnation’s attachment to French modes of life lessens somewhat, and, as Bruneau notes, she becomes more capable of resisting European conceptions of femininity.
Indeed, de l’Incarnation’s identification with her pupils was further fueled by a transethnic solidarity of sex. Bruneau singles out a particular incident that speaks directly to this solidarity, when a young native woman was publicly whipped by her converted family members as punishment for a presumed meeting with an illicit suitor. While the Jesuit Father de Quen acceded to the family’s desire to punish the girl, and then refused to baptize her because he assumed she was guilty, de l’Incarnation believed the girl and, as Bruneau notes, “accuse[d] [Father de Quen] of having acted without giving the matter due consideration and without having enquired into the facts” (Women Mystics 97). She then spread her version of the story, which contradicted the one recorded in the Jesuit Relations. This identification with her fellow women also leads de l’Incarnation to oppose the sexually violent behavior of European men to the civility of their Native American counterparts. Thus, in one letter to her son, she notes that she need not fear “unbearable filth”; “the vermin caused by th[e] abundance of grease [that] their parents rub all over their bodies” (Word from New France 75) any sort of violation at the hands of Iroquois warriors, as she might from French soldiers (cited in Bruneau Women Mystics 107-8), and, in another, she emphasizes the importance of the Ursuline cloister as a safe-house for young girls who, “quelqu’âge qu’elles ayent, …sont dans un danger évident” from the sexual aggression of the excess men in the colony (Correspondance 802).106 While Grégoire insists that the Christianization of the natives goes hand-in-hand with their civilization and Frenchification—terms which Cardinal Richelieu had laid out in 1627, and which were explicitly part of de l’Incarnation’s religious vow—this shift on Marie’s part speaks to a troubling of her straightforward identification with her own nation. Perhaps this is what Clifford Geertz has in mind when he suggests that part of why we teach materials that are foreign to us is because we need “to wound our complacency” and arrive at a “difficult awareness” through cultural juxtaposition (33, 32). It is certainly what Carla Zecher has in mind when she suggests that de l’Incarnation’s religious mission “decentered some of the nationalistic impetus of the colonizing enterprise,” and served, in part, to help produce “a new kind of French cultural identity” (39).
Ultimately, however, de l’Incarnation’s acceptance of Native American customs is limited. A letter she wrote in 1668, nearly 30 years into her mission and only four before her death, speaks to this duality. In it de l’Incarnation returns to the subject of removing grease from the native children when they enter the cloister, stating that “ilz se graissent “would be in clear danger no matter what their age” (Selected Writings 271) tous à cause qu’ilz ne portent point du linge” (Correspondance 852);107 where, in her early letters, the grease had been conceived of in opposition to European under-clothes— encouraging vermin, rather than inhibiting them—they are now seen as parallel— something that can be “worn” in the place of underwear. Lest we be tempted to overstate the importance of this shift in attitude, however, de l’Incarnation ends her letter by emphasizing the difficulty of converting the Native Americans because of the incommensurability of their belief systems, noting that “ce sont gens très susperticieux qui font leur créance en leurs songes” (Correspondance 855).108 Given our knowledge of the faith de l’Incarnation put in her own dreams, it is perhaps unnecessary to point out how blatantly contradictory this judgment seems. How could a woman who openly acknowledges that a dream drove her to abandon her family and then her nation in a quest to “build a house for Mary and Jesus” reject another’s belief in dreams?
At one level the answer is obvious: it is because she sees her dream as a vision sent to her by God, where the dreams of the Native Americans are mere dreams. At another, perhaps slightly less obvious level, however, de l’Incarnation rejects the native acceptance of dreams precisely because it could be seen as equivalent to her own, which would mean that their religious beliefs were as valid as hers.109 Putting these two levels “since they do not wear any underwear they grease themselves instead” (Selected Writings 273) “they are a very superstitious people who put belief in their dreams” (Selected Writings 274) Stephen Greenblatt makes a similar point with regard to European reactions to Native American beliefs in his analysis of Thomas Harriot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia in “Invisible Bullets.” together, we see that de l’Incarnation may have been willing to cede aspects of her national identity as a result of her intercultural encounter, but remained steadfast in her religious beliefs, placing them above and beyond any criticism from, or even any engagement with, their counterparts in Native American culture: “[i]lz ont … créances aux sorciers et devins,” she writes, but “ce n’est pas qu’ilz soient, mais ce sont des jongleurs … comme sont les lataleurs en l’Europe” (Correspondance 855).110 “L’APPEL DES BOIS” Thus far I have suggested a fundamental opposition between Bradstreet’s insistence on education as the means to ensure the corporate integrity of the family (and by extension the nation and religion) and de l’Incarnation’s on the possibilities of education as a means of expanding the family in order to expand the empire. In fact, this opposition is more a question of differing emphases than differing ends. De l’Incarnation’s religious practice leads to an ongoing intellectual and spiritual engagement with her son, thereby maintaining the integrity of her biological family despite the geographical space between them. Meanwhile, Bradstreet, in the conclusion to “Dialogue between Old England and New,” envisions the resolution of England’s “intestine war” as the precursor to militant English expansion through the renewal of the religious crusades. Seen thus, Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation are on the recto and verso of the same page, as it were.
they believe in sorcerers and diviners”; “they are not really sorcerers; they are jugglers [i.e., con artists] like the buffoons in Europe” (Selected Writings 275) Reading Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation together in this fashion exposes Bradstreet’s egalitarianism as the obverse of the monoculturalism that undergirds assimilationist colonial expansion. It also draws our attention to how the subordination of national identity to religious identity requires precisely the hollowing out of those identities that Bradstreet performs in her poetry. De l’Incarnation, by contrast, remains too rooted in the ebb and flow of particular customs to ignore the possibility that such identities may remain incommensurate, and thus she finds the links between her religious and national identities beginning to come undone. This undoing, in its turn, points out the problematic symbolic possibilities inherent in Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation’s rhetorical linking of sexual and cultural reproduction.
What both of these authors intend is for the literal, embodied family to be raised to the level of the metaphorical, spiritual one; what their writings enable is precisely the opposite. All of the certainty of religious faith begins to devolve upon the biological family, such that it becomes the “nature” of culture. Thus, by insisting on the reproduction of traditional models Bradstreet and de l’Incarnation may have neutralized some of the radically transformational novelty of Bacon’s concept of education, yet the recursive symbolic process they engage in allows for the literalization and naturalization of what they understood as rhetorical in a fashion that Bradstreet does not seem to have foreseen. De l’Incarnation, on the other hand, seems to recognize the threat inherent in
their rhetoric of familial education: