April 18, 2014
Claire Martin: The Lady with the Enduring Smile Celebrates her 100th Birthday Today
( Aiden Roberts)
Claire Martin, a wonderful lady, is about to turn 100. She deserves to be celebrated and appreciated for the warm person she is and all her accomplishments throughout the century.
When Claire was young, her paternal grandfather and a man she dearly loved, François-Jérôme de Chavigny de la Chevrotière, a well-known druggist in Quebec City, would take her to one of the several photography shops on St. Jean Street to have her picture taken. Claire was a natural. One of the pictures that Claire still has in her possession shows a curly haired, smiling, beautiful, delightful child. Patricia Smart in her critical edition of Claire’s 1965 award winning memoir, Dans Un Gant de Fer (In an Iron Glove) published in 2005, chose to place this photo of this charming five-year old little girl on the front cover.
Likewise when the Ottawa Press decided to re-edit Philip Stratford’s 1968 translation of Claire’s memoir in 2006, it was decided to place on the cover a glowing picture of Claire at the age of 20, the age at which her memoirs end.
Moreover, when Claire returned to writing in her 80s, the cover of her first book, Toute la vie, published by L’Instant Même, a Quebec City publishing house, written after an extended break from publishing, shows a smiling, pretty, distinguished-looking older lady. Even today as Claire’s 100th birthday draws near, Claire still finds it easy to smile for the camera and for her family and friends. Recently in Le Soleil, one of the two major francophone daily newspapers in Quebec City, we can read a story about Claire accompanied by a picture of this lady with her winning smile.
However, life has not always been easy for this admirable lady. Her early life as described with brio in
In an Iron Glove was of nightmarish proportion. This book which is often said to be the first explicitly feminist work in Quebec literature went on to become a best seller and won many prizes including the Governor General’s award. The book is hard hitting, yet sometimes humours attack on the male-dominated society of the day, the poor education offered to women, and the hypocrisy of the Church. These were subjects that were very controversial, if not taboo, for the era. Her father. a colossal brute and religious fanatic, terrorized the whole family which consisted of a devoted mother and eight children, including one from a previous marriage. In order to exercise more control over his charges, the father decided to move the entire family to the outskirts of the city, thus ensuring that they were far from external influences. The mother died in her early 40s while the father who was well-placed engineer would go on to remarry twice and live to be 91.
Claire would eventually leave her father’s house and move to downtown Quebec City. She found a job working as an announcer for a local radio station, CKCV, and later got an offer to work for Radio Canada (CBC). She was the first female announcer to work at this station. She was soon offered a position at the Montreal station. By happy circumstance, it was she who got to read over the air the announcement proclaiming the end of World War II to francophones throughout the country. In her photo album, there is a picture of her smiling at the control board of the station in Montreal.
It was in 1945 also that she and her long-time fiancé and love of her life, Roland Faucher, decided to get married and move to Ottawa where Roland worked as a chemist for the Ministry of Defense. This decision to marry, although it was something that Claire never regretted, cost her her job at Radio Canada. It was a policy at that time that only single women could work for the national broadcasting company.
They lived in Ottawa from 1945 to1972. Claire at first did some free lancing for Radio Canada and then later on tried her hand at writing short stories. Roland always encouraged her. In 1958 Avec ou Sans Amour, a collection of 27 short stories, was published and won the Prix du Cercle de France. This collection was finally translated into English by David Lobdell in 1987 under the title, Love Me, Love Me Not. Other works of fiction followed including the novels, Doux-Amer (Best Man) in 1960, Quand j’aurai payé ton visage (The Legacy) in 1962, and Des Morts (1971), but it is her memoirs, Dans un gant de fer (1965) for which she is most remembered.
After Roland retired, Claire and Roland moved to France. While there Claire translated some major English-Canadian works into French including Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel and Robertson Davies’ The Manticore.
They moved back to Canada and settled in Quebec City in 1982 and after Roland’s death in 1986 many of Claire’s literary friends encouraged her to write again. She wrote some texts for literary magazines and then in 1999 she published Toute la vie, a short collection of short stories. She would go on to write several short novels that were published by the same publishing house. Her last work, Le Feu purificateur, was published in 2008 when Claire was 94.
Claire will turn 100 on April 18. She no longer writes; her memory has faded. She lived on her own until January of this year. She had fought fiercely for a long time to keep her independence. However, she could no longer cope on her own. Now she lives in a home. Her room has a bookcase filled with books of some of her favorite authors, copies of her own works and on the window sill are placed some of her favourite pictures. When Claire takes the picture of Roland in her hands, she never fails to bestow on it a loving kiss.
Claire has forgotten a lot of her many life experiences, the titles of her works, the numerous awards, including the Order of Canada, she has received over the years. However, she should not be forgotten as she has contributed much to Quebec society in particular and to Canadian culture in general. Over the years she has inspired many of her readers and those who have listened to her while been interviewed on radio and TV and those that have met her at the annual Quebec City book fair. There is a wonderful documentary, Quand je serai vieille, je rangerai mon stylo (When I am old, I’ll put away my pen) (2009) directed by Jean-Pierre Dussault and Jean Fontaine in which the viewer is able to get a good appreciation of her fascinating and charming personality.
Claire, despite life’s challenges, finds it easy to smile, laugh, make puns, give and receive affection, and sing her favorite songs especially when she recieves visits from her family and friends. May she keep smiling as often as possible to the very end of her rich and varied life.
(See photo below)
(A playful Claire Martin striking a Greta Garbo pose ) Photo: Denis Lortie (2012)