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Analysis Of The Elle Novel English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2640 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Douglas Glover is a known Canadian author of various fiction works that has capture readers of different nationalities, belief and preferences. While there were many other works of Glover such as notes Home from a Prodigal Son, The Enamored Knight, and novels such as The Life and Times of Captain N and 16 Categories of Desire [1] , Elle, a novel based on a true or rather historic figure, Marguerite de Roberval, on her way to discovering Canada with her uncle, Jean-François de la Rocque de Roberval. [2] In this novel, he seemed to present Canada is a satiric language with explicit and implicit intentions of ridiculing religion, faith and aboriginals.

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It described the moments of first contact and the discovery of Canada by the European adventurers. These were during the times of Jacques Cartier’s last and rather tragic attempt to colonize Canada. This first contact was described in ways in what did Canada meant to European adventurers and what did Europeans meant to the country’s original habitants and the clash between these two groups; neither of them recognized each other as human. [3] Nevertheless, he associated religion, sex, and revenge in building an image of this newly discovered country or the “New World.” While excerpts of the story are loosely based on facts, the author’s language of conviction has somehow made the story more vivid and looks like more true to life. The author practiced his freedom of expression by choosing to portray such part of history through a work of fiction.

In the course of the story, he also used a great deal of latitude as a means to portray Canada. This is to describe the geographical location of the newly discovered country and to create a glimpse of seasonal experiences of the characters such as winter in portrayal of sadness and will for revenge. Moreover, use of latitude seemed to be used to express distance from the European origins of the characters. This latitudinal distance implicates cultural, traditional and civil differences. This further implies the width of territorial expansion attempts of Europe in the past and may be not so many years before modern times. [4] 

For me, as a reader of the novel, these instruments of literature used by the author affected my understanding of colonization, first contact, faith and religion as associated with lust, sex and may be, love. With the claim that the novel was based on facts, it has some effect for me to assume many events in the story to be true. In some sense I tend to forget it being a fiction and not a direct narration of history (perhaps except Elle turning literally or otherwise into a bear). This may be attributed to the loose boundaries set between imagination and fact. This confusion applies to the personalities used and the actual events narrated. In general, it will be safe to believe that majority of the accounts in the story were based on the author’s imagination and not a simple re telling of written history.

Nonetheless, this also gave me some sense of contempt to inhumane actions on both parties regardless of which side I may choose to give sympathy. If this will be the only book describing the first contact of Canada and its history, I will be facing realizations of the violent, lustful, and inhumane parts of history or the truths that perhaps will never be mentioned on ordinary history books. [5] 

I believe then, that the bigger purpose of the novel is to portray themes not mentioned in the usual history books. Hypocrisy and modesty aside, we can really assume that such themes like sex, violence, lust and other worldly human nature are inclusive of our history. [6] While other critics of Glover say that he did not include human nature to sympathize with in his novel Elle, I believe that these themes can be considered not less than parts of our character and human nature regardless of civilization, religion and nationality.

Moreover, this is also to portray colonization not simply as expansion of territory. It means penetration in an existing culture or rather an intentional or unintentional exchange of culture between the two parties: the colony and colonizers. This is to emphasize that colonization is not a one way process or a transformation from the colonizers to the colony. Rather, it is an exchange or combination of tradition, belief, education and emotional strings.

Other inspirations in the story may be the apparent expansion of trade and prosperity in the ancient times. Colonization and territorial expansion were oftentimes attributed to be acts of European explorers. These expeditions have made tremendous histories and stories worth telling and retelling until these modern times of 21st century. Many of these stories were descriptions of social contacts such as Elle and other novels such as Gulliver’s Travel.

The Themes of the Story

To be specific, the themes that I have observed in the novel include: aboriginals, religion, first contact, issues of gender, family, and sex. Among these themes, I see particular emphasis on religion and faith, issues of gender, and sex as individual values. On the other hand, aboriginals and first contact may refer to the author’s portrayal of Canada at times of European’s attempt for colonization.


In terms of aboriginals, the author might have been inspired by the recent discovery of ancient pagan culture. Portrayal of public execution and burning were mentioned in the stories quite a number of times. Rituals of native people of the New World were also portrayed. This is expected as some aspects of the novel were inspired by the recent rediscovery of ancient pagan classics. These were subtle critic in the practice of religion and its impacts to human thinking.


Excessive practice of religious rituals may cause unfavorable effects on the believers just like Elle’s mother who got consumed to religious rituals and forgot her other responsibilities and may be, even lost her sanity and sense of reality. The novel seemed to portray religion as one of the causes why her mother did not care for her as a child. Her mother was addicted to religious rituals that were described in absurd way such as “licking the foot” of the statue of saints in church. Her father, busy with his own desires for expanding power, did not pay fatherly attention to her too. As a result, or may be because of other causes too, Elle was not a very good mother and did not grow closer to her children too. [7] 

The Protestant and Catholic religions were explicitly ridiculed using direct and yet satiric language. Elle had a priest lover. This is scandalous because of chastity and vow of celibacy imposed and believed to be practiced by the priests. Moreover, the novel also mentioned brutal punishment of Protestants because of simple rule breaking and actions not in accordance to its scriptures. Elle were fond of these and even said, “… I thought the world to be a more exciting place for all the conflict and never missed a public burning or decapitation. [8] This was a portrayal in both implicit and explicit way that religion, sex and brutality are related.


Moreover, these were the times when religion, greed for power and prosperity and all other arbitrary pleasures such as sex and money were favored more than one’s own family. Parenting is a loose responsibility and not a highly regarded one. This is true in the case of Elle to her children and her from her parents. Her mother did not care for her because of her evident addiction or obsession to religious rituals. She was also not able to care for her children for reasons not explicitly stated in the story. I assume that it is an effect of her experiencing the same from her parents and her own experiences of violence and brutality in her exile.

Inequality against Women

Gender issues were also addressed in the novel. It portrayed how Europeans and Canadians treated women. In spite of membership to highly regarded and respected families and aristocratic upbringing, women suffer from violent and unequal treatment. They were vulnerable not only to sexual assaults but also to inequality to opportunities. In those times, women were not expected to take part to exhibitions, voyages and other privileges entitled only to male counter parts.

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But then again, “headstrong girl” as that of Elle strived to get some good treatment. This is in spite of her aristocratic upbringing; she grew up uniquely as a headstrong girl. While women were seen as sex objects, she in turn treated his lovers, her sex partners as well. In turn he also used men to satisfy her “desire for good sex.” She measure manhood in terms of size of penis and ability in love making. [9] Likewise, Catherine or Comes Winter, the native woman also experienced the same fate just like Elle. It was far easier to punish a woman with her life, including watching her loved ones to die.

Sex and Lust

Sex, on the other hand, seemed to serve as an escape for the characters. The main character seemed to satisfy her frustrations through having lustful sex. She seemed to find equality in sex where she is found in beauty and men make love to her the way she needed to be loved. This is to say that sex, in one way or another, is not just a language of the body. It may also be considered as psychological, a cure or rather means of psychological stress.

Other themes I see in the novel include revenge and karma. The novel showed some sense of these themes when the General, to whom all sufferings of Elle were attributed to, was killed by a bear (which was apparently shown to be her other personality later on). The general was killed by a bear with a “woman’s heart.”

The desire for revenge that was stated in the earlier part of the story was satisfied when the general thought of Elle while meeting his death. He was stabbed and acquired fatal blows- an uncomfortable death that Elle once desired to give him. Although it is uncertain if Elle is really the bear or otherwise, the end indeed justified the means because she seemed to be delighted with the news. Whether random Karma or intentional revenge, Elle would have felt the same: gratified and responsible.

Emphases of the Novel

With these themes, the emphasis of the story relied on human autonomy. Elle, in spite of being a woman with limited physical and may be emotional strength and opportunities, have means to do aberrations with liberty and autonomy as the justifications. Moreover, this can be associated with one’s freedom of expression. Although this may not be easy and may even cause one’s own life, fear of the consequences was the only barrier for freedom of expression. Likewise, there was also a thrust on human nature to appreciate worldly pleasures: power, territory, sex and lust and beauty.

The Personality of Elle

Elle is a French girl who was brought up by an aristocratic family. Her mother, addicted to spiritual and religious activities, did not serve to be a good mother to her. The same was true to his father who was paying more attention to reading books and extension of power. Hence, she grew up as a “headstrong girl” with means to get what she wants. See and react to things she just wanted to. She used sex and books as her escape to reality and thus giving her dreams uniquely hers. She enumerated her desires to be: “mild intoxicants, good sex, witty conversation, cheap printed books, and front seat at public executions.”

Sex outside marriage was known as a sin but giving to lust and earthly desire, they still do it with promises of penance, confessions and indulgence. Yet, in spite of not having married, Elle had many lovers through out the story. It can also be observed that it was not really sex she was fond to. It may also be the desire to have a man on her feet because of her beauty. Or, in another perspective, she may also want to be the cause of men’s weakness.

Some of her lovers mentioned in the story were Richard, a tennis player. He was weak and easy to seduce. He has been in love with Elle since she was 13 but Elle made the first move and seduce him until the two have given in their lustful desires. Another one was the priest and a messenger of his father. He was way too old for Elle but she regarded him good for having a penis a size of a “sparrow” and for loving her well in bed. She also was related to the hunter in the remote island she took refuge into. He taught him some things about bears which may be the means of Elle of acquiring the violent ability of bears or even transforming into a bear. [10] 

Elle’s discovery of faith was not brought about by promising experiences but rather experiences that can be seen better off. However, her faith and epiphany could have been different, perhaps, narrower if experienced differently. Her discovery of faith by being in between the clash or “exchange of corpses” of Old and New World, through her exile and witnessing the same fate to another woman, and knowing the brutal fate of M. Cartier, caused her the deepest understanding of colonization and both party’s resistance of treating each other human.

The Vision of Canada

These experiences of the character brought the readers, including me, to have more sympathy and deeper vision on Canada. The violence, deaths and degradation experienced by the native people in the hands of the European colonists. On the other hand, however, the colonizers such as Cartier also experienced a brutal fate. Hence, this novel, I think is contempt of the inhumane results of colonization. Canada is only one of the many countries that have experienced this vision.

Perhaps all countries that have been attempted to be colonized launched some resistance forces. Each paid their part of violence and brutality in ancient history. However, these events served a deeper purpose to increase social contacts, expansion of trade and prosperity, and maximization of use of natural resources. Yet, as we can see it the modern times, such values, events, and themes may still be applicable. There is still an evident gender inequality, violence, scandals of religion until these times. Hence, such conflicts may also be addressed through rediscovering faith and understanding and paying respect with each other.


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