Au Revoir, L'Acadie
A Book Review by Juliana L’Heureux
A Commentary on the Novel by William Brennan
A labor relations rivalry, frequently skirted by Franco-American and Irish history texts, is directly portrayed in a new novel written by William Brennan.
Brennan's Au Revoir, L'Acadie reveals an oftentimes mistrusting ethnic relationship between the Irish and French-Canadian immigrants who worked in New England mill towns and became union organizers during in the mid-1930s.
Evidence of the history Brennan describes is seen in the huge and empty
Brennan creates a fictional town named Millbank, Mass., where French
and Irish families live in distinctly different cultures and sheltered
neighborhoods. Of course, the novel's location could be any one of New
England's industrial communities. Au Revoir, L'Acadie is the
kind of a hard hitting story your grandfather might tell you if he worked
in the mills. It's a tough memoir to transcribe into typically nostalgic
Irish and French-Canadian heritages - the picture isn't always lovely.
Brennan reveals unflattering examples about the Irish clergy, who dominated Roman Catholic parishes in New England, and who engaged in efforts to undermine French and Irish cooperation during the tumultuous labor organizational efforts. Few words are wasted in describing the covert methods used by the Irish clergy to influence efforts against the French-Canadians in the mills.
One character, Father Gerrity, is portrayed as an influential anti-French cleric who stereotypes French Canadians as "untrustworthy" because they threaten Irish prestige with the mill owners. Even the extraordinary act of excommunication, or prohitibiting Roman Catholics from receiving the Sacraments, was threatened by the clergy as punishment for those who helped the union's collaborations.
Reading Au Revoir, L'Acadie provides a rare opportunity for frank discussion about the ethnic strife and prejudices between two competing ethnic groups during a time in the 19th century when both sides had much to gain and loose from the outcomes of their collective actions.
I recommend the novel for sociology students, particularly, for Elder
Hostel programs where some of the senior students were likely involved
in the very history Brennan describes.
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Copyright 2004, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux