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Louky Bersianik: L’Euguélionne (The Euguelionne; The Euguelion)

Bersianik’s novel brought Quebec literature kicking and screaming into the feminist age. And what a way to do it! This novel – part de Beauvoir, part Joyce, all fun – is a wonderful attack on sexism in all its forms, past and present. It is written in chapter and verse form, parodying the Bible, and its parody of the Bible continues, starting with its mocking of the Adam and Eve legend, with Eve wondering what is wrong with Adam as he has no breasts and it looks as though his vulva is falling out. (Bersianik will mock the penis throughout the book, both as an organ and men’s pride in it.)

The Euguelionne of the title – the word comes from the Greek for good news or gospel, another dig at the Bible – is a creature from another planet. On her planet there are two species – the Legislators (who are, naturally, male) and the Pedalists, the females who, as on Earth, do the work. She has arrived on Earth looking for a positive planet and a male of her own species. Naturally, by the end of the book, she has found neither. She is black and beautiful (Bersianik will parody much of contemporary culture). She befriends a journalist called Exile, who has had her own problems with men, and will take a tour around the planet with Exile, astounded at the sexism. Bersianik holds nothing back. From clandestine abortions to trophy wives, from urinating standing up to adverts, from male legislatures to the institution of marriage, it all comes under attack. As well as the Bible and the penis, psychology and language are key targets. Saint Siegfried, as she calls Freud, is, of course, a key target. Language, from professional titles that only have a masculine form (in French) – she gives a list – to all those vicious words used to criticize and attack women (she gives a long list), language is just one of the many ways men use to subjugate women.

Her references are varied. As well as the Bible, we go from Alice in Wonderland to the Brontës (though she does not mention Charlotte Brontë’s apparent death in childbirth), from de Beauvoir to Kate Millett (and other feminists), as well as a whole range of created myths, from the Euguelionne’s planet to mock parables. The latter includes the story of the Fems and the Mascles, with the latter being particularly proud of their magic baton. Of course, the men try to destroy the Euguelionne and, of course, they do not succeed. Even if you are not a feminist – and in this day age why would you not be? – you cannot help but enjoy this amazing work, full of wit, original in form and content, totally subversive and a joyous (though, at times, sad) romp though what it means to be a woman and how men try to undermine that role.

Publishing history

First published 1976 by La Presse
First published in English 1981 by Press Porcépics
Translated by Gerry Dennis, Alison Hewitt, Donna Murray, Martha O’Brien (The Euguelionne)
Translated by Howard Scott (The Euguelion)