Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie is an epic poem by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written in English and published in 1847. The poem follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians.
The idea for the poem came from Longfellow's friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. Longfellow used dactylic hexameter, imitating Greek and Latin classics. Though the choice was criticized, it became Longfellow's most famous work in his lifetime and remains one of his most popular and enduring works.
The poem had a powerful effect in defining both Acadian history and identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recent scholarship has revealed the historical errors in the poem and the complexity of the Expulsion and those involved, which the poem ignores.
Evangeline describes the betrothal of a fictional Acadian girl named Evangeline Bellefontaine to her beloved, Gabriel Lajeunesse, and their separation as the British deport the Acadians from Acadie in the Great Upheaval. The poem then follows Evangeline across the landscapes of America as she spends years in a search for him, at some times being near to Gabriel without realizing he was near. Finally she settles in Philadelphia and, as an old woman, works as a Sister of Mercy among the poor. While tending the dying during an epidemic she finds Gabriel among the sick, and he dies in her arms.
Composition and publication history
Longfellow was introduced to the true story of the Acadians in Nova Scotia by his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was told a story of separated Acadian lovers by Boston minister Rev. Horace Conolly, who heard it from his parishioners. Hawthorne and Longfellow had attended Bowdoin College together, though they were not friends at the time. Years later, in 1837, Hawthorne contacted Longfellow for his opinion on his recently published tales in the North American Review, which Longfellow praised as works of genius; the two became lifelong friends. Hawthorne was not interested in fictionalizing Conolly's idea because, as he told Conolly, "It is not in my vein: there are no strong lights and heavy shadows." Longfellow took the idea and turned it into a poem after months of studying the histories of Nova Scotian families.
Longfellow, who had never visited the setting of the true story, relied heavily on Thomas Chandler Haliburton's An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia and other books for further background information. He noted his reliance on other sources in his journal on January 7, 1847: "Went to the library and got Watson's Annals of Philadelphia, and the Historical Collections of Pennsylvania. Also, Darby's Geographical Description of Louisiana. These books must help me through the last part of Evangeline, so far as facts and local coloring go. But for the form and the poetry,—they must come from my own brain."
Evangeline was published in book form on November 1, 1847 by William D. Ticknor & Co., and by 1857 it had sold nearly 36,000 copies. During this time, Longfellow's literary payment was at its peak; for Evangeline, he received "a net of twenty-five and sixteenths per cent" royalties, believed to be an all-time high for a poet. Longfellow said of his poem: "I had the fever a long time burning in my own brain before I let my hero take it. 'Evangeline' is so easy for you to read, because it was so hard for me to write."
The poem is written in unrhymed dactylic hexameter, possibly inspired by Greek and Latin classics, including Homer, whose work Longfellow was reading at the time he was writing Evangeline. He also had recently, in 1841, translated "The Children of the Lord's Supper", a poem by Swedish writer Esaias Tegnér, which also used this meter. Evangeline is one of the few nineteenth-century compositions in that meter which is still read today.
Some criticized Longfellow's choice of dactylic hexameter, including poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who said the poem would have been better in a prose style similar to Longfellow's Hyperion. Longfellow was conscious of the potential criticism. When sending a copy of the poem to Bryan Procter, Longfellow wrote: "I hope you will not reject it on account of the metre. In fact, I could not write it as it is in any other; it would have changed its character entirely to have put it into a different measure." Even Longfellow's wife Fanny defended his choice, writing to a friend: "It enables greater richness of expression than any other, and it is sonorous like the sea which is ever sounding in Evangeline's ear." As an experiment, Longfellow reassured himself that he was using the best meter by attempting a passage in blank verse. Even so, while looking over the proofs for a second edition, Longfellow briefly wished he had used a different poetic structure:
It certainly would be a relief to the hexameters to let them stretch their legs a little more at their ease; still for the sake of uniformity I believe they must still sit a while longer with their knees bent under them like travelers in a stage-coach.— Edward Wagenknecht, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. (1966) p. 77
The name Evangeline comes from the Latin word "evangelium" meaning "gospel". The Latin word itself is derived from the Greek words "eu"—"good"—and "angela"—"news".
Longfellow does not explicitly title the opening three stanzas as the prologue, but publishers generally treat these lines as such. The poem's story begins with the end. The French farmers and fishermen who once inhabited the colony of Acadie in Nova Scotia are gone, the moss covered trees and the ocean are left to tell the tale.
THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.
This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it
Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of the huntsman?
Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,—
Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands,
Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven?
Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers forever departed!
Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October
Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them far o'er the ocean.
Naught but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.
Ye who believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient,
Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion,
List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest;
List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.
Evangeline became Longfellow's most famous work in his lifetime and was widely read. Contemporary reviews were very positive. A reviewer for The Metropolitan Magazine said, "No one with any pretensions to poetic feeling can read its delicious portraiture of rustic scenery and of a mode of life long since defunct, without the most intense delight". Longfellow's friend Charles Sumner said he had met a woman who "has read 'Evangeline' some twenty times and thinks it the most perfect poem in the language". Other admirers of the poem included King Leopold I of Belgium. It has been called the first important long poem in American literature.
Prior to the influence of Longfellow's poem, historians generally focused on the British founding of Halifax (1749) as the beginning of Nova Scotia. Longfellow's poem shed light on the 150 years of Acadian settlement that preceded the establishment of Halifax.
The Expulsion was planned and executed by New Englanders and British. Longfellow omitted from the poem New England's responsibility for the event. Through his poem, Longfellow defines the British as responsible for the expulsion and America is cast as a place of refuge.
Longfellow's account was later challenged by Francis Parkman, in his book Montcalm and Wolfe (1884). Rather than blaming the British, Parkman defined the real problem in expulsion as the French influence on Acadians, particularly by Abbé Jean-Louis Le Loutre. American historian John Brebner eventually wrote New England's Outpost (1927), which identified how instrumental New Englanders were in the expulsion of the Acadians.
The poem had a powerful impact in defining both Acadian history and identity in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. More recent scholarship has revealed both the historical errors in the poem and the complexity of the Expulsion and those involved, which the poem obscures. For example, Longfellow's poem renders Acadie a utopia and the Acadians as simply a homogeneous, passive, peaceful, innocent people but obscures the resistance that certain Acadians demonstrated, both politically and militarily, against the British invasion of Acadie. The poem also led generations of Protestant anglophones to sympathize with the plight of a people they often demonized and persecuted for being Catholic. The poem also provided a safe symbolic space for Acadians to develop arguments for more recognition and respect.
Landmarks and statues
In 1920, at Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia, Acadians reconstructed the French church with a statue of Evangeline in the courtyard. Almost a decade later, in 1929, a statue of Evangeline, posed for by silent Mexican film star Dolores del Río, who starred in the 1929 film Evangeline, was donated to the town of St. Martinville, Louisiana, by the film's cast and crew. In 1934, the first state park in Louisiana was named the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site.
Felix Voorhies wrote the book Acadian Reminiscences: The True Story of Evangeline and other later works of fiction expanded upon the material of the poem, claiming the "real names" of the characters had been "Emmeline LaBiche" (in Longfellow, her full name is Evangeline Bellefontaine) and "Louis Arceneaux" (in the poem, Gabriel Lajeunesse) Lafayette, Louisiana, which supposedly belonged to Gabriel, and the grave of Emmeline in the Perpetual Adoration Garden & Historic Cemetery in St. Martin de Tours Church Square, on Main Street, St. Martinville (the site having been determined for its convenience by local boosters about the turn of the 20th century). "Evangeline Oak" trees in St. Martinville also lay claim to marking the original meeting place of Emmeline and Louis.
Another site claiming to have relation to the historical figures that Evangeline was based upon is the Arceneaux House in Hamshire, Texas, which is marked by a Texas Historical Marker. The house was given to Mary Gadrac Arceneaux, great-great-granddaughter of Louis Arceneaux by her husband.
Evangeline has also been the namesake of many places in Louisiana and the Canadian Maritime Provinces. It is also often used as a street name in Acadian communities.
In Louisiana, places named Evangeline include:
- Evangeline Parish, Louisiana
- Evangeline, Louisiana, a community in Acadia Parish where the first oil well in Louisiana was drilled
- Evangeline Hall, a residence hall built in 1936 at Louisiana State University
Places named Evangeline in Canada include, for example:
- Evangeline, Gloucester County, New Brunswick
- Evangeline-Miscouche, a rural community in Prince Edward Island
- Evangeline, a community within Greater Moncton in Westmorland County, New Brunswick
The Evangeline Trail is a historic route in Nova Scotia that traces the Annapolis Valley, ancestral home of the Acadians. The scenic trail is lined by more than a dozen small Acadian villages, running from Grand-Pré, site of the first expulsions, south to Annapolis Royal near the Habitation at Port-Royal, historic site of the original French settlement in North America. The Evangeline Trail ends in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on the southwest coast.
There have also been numerous film adaptations of the poem Evangeline. Evangeline was the first Canadian feature film, produced in 1913 by Canadian Bioscope of Halifax. It was shot in the Annapolis Valley and at Grand-Pré. In 1919, Raoul Walsh made a film based on the poem for 20th Century Fox. It was suggested by and starred his wife Miriam Cooper. The film was one of the duo's biggest hits but is now lost. In 1929, Edwin Carewe made a film version starring Dolores del Río, shot in Louisiana and accompanied by a theme song written by Al Jolson and Billy Rose.
The poem was mentioned in the movie Angel Heart, starring Mickey Rourke and Robert De Niro. Evangeline is also referenced in the 2009 Disney film The Princess and the Frog, wherein a Cajun firefly named Raymond falls in love with Evangeline, who appears as a star. Following his death, they are reunited and appear side-by-side in the night sky.
Music and musical theatre
Evangeline has been the subject of numerous songs:
- A popular song in French titled "Evangeline" was written in 1971 by Michel Conte. Originally sung by Isabelle Pierre, a version performed by Annie Blanchard won the ADISQ award for most popular song in 2006.
- Robbie Robertson of The Band wrote the song "Evangeline", performed with Emmylou Harris. In his lyrics, Evangeline is a girl from the Maritimes who awaits her absent lover in Louisiana, but the storyline and time period differ from Longfellow's original. Another Robertson song, "Acadian Driftwood" from 1975, was also influenced by Longfellow's poem.
- A half-hour suite of guitar music by guitarist and composer Loren Mazzacane Connors, based on scenes in the Longfellow story, was released as a compact disc titled Evangeline (RoadCone, 1998), with a title track vocal by Suzanne Langille.
- Indie folk artist Tony Halchak released an EP titled A Tale of Acadie in 2011, based on the poem but told from Gabriel's point of view.
The Canadian folk singer-songwriter Susan Crowe mentions the "statue of Evangeline" in her song "Your One and Only Life", the first track on an album entitled The Door to the River released in 1996.
A 2013 musical adaptation, by Canadian Ted Dykstra, premiered in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and was revived in 2015 in Prince Edward Island and in Alberta at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre. The production featured Brent Carver as the father.
An opera based on Evangeline, composed by Colin Doroschuk, debuted in 2012 in reduced concert form, and was first performed in full in 2014 at Opéra-Théâtre de Rimouski. Doroschuk had previously been a member, with his brothers, of the Canadian pop band Men Without Hats.
Edmonton Opera's Brian Deedrick directed an original musical version of Evangeline, written by playwright Winn Bray and composer Tom Doyle, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for the Mount Royal College theatre, in 2000.
- The opening phrase of the poem, "This is the forest primeval", has entered the cultural lexicon.
- A depiction of Evangeline from Longfellow's poem was incorporated into the Dominion Atlantic Railway logo along with the text "Land of Evangeline Route". Additionally, there was once a Via Rail train known as the "Evangeline" that ran from Halifax to Yarmouth, but it ended in 1990.
- L'Évangeline was also an important daily newspaper in New Brunswick, from 1949 to 1982.
- Evangeline Downs is a horse racing track located near Lafayette, Louisiana.
- The 1999 musical version of Evangeline was performed in 2014 at the Conseil Acadien de Par-en-Bas theatre in Tusket, Nova Scotia. An actor travelled from Louisiana to perform the role of Gabriel.
- Historical flaws in the poem (and in the Voorhies work) are revealed, as there is no record of the surnames "LaBiche", "Bellefontaine", nor "Lajeunesse" in any of the censuses taken of the Acadians.
- McKay, Ian; Bates, Robin (2010). In the Province of History: The Making of the Public Past in Twentieth-Century Nova Scotia. McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-3703-3. JSTOR j.ctt81b7b.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
• Blanc, Barbara Le (2003). Postcards from Acadie: Grand-Pré, Evangeline & the Acadian Identity (2nd ed.). Gaspereau Press. ISBN 978-1-894031-69-1.
- Jobb, Dean (2005). The Acadians: A People's Story of Exile and Triumph. J. Wiley & Sons Canada. pp. 17–18. ISBN 978-0-470-83610-1.
- Miller, Edwin Haviland (1992). Salem Is My Dwelling Place: A Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne. University of Iowa Press. p. 72. ISBN 978-0-87745-381-9.
- McFarland, Philip (2004). Hawthorne in Concord: Nathaniel Hawthorne. Open Road + Grove/Atlantic. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-1-55584-688-6.
- Calhoun, Charles C. (2004). Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Beacon. p. 180. ISBN 978-0-8070-7039-0.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Nelson, Randy F. (1981). The almanac of American letters. W. Kaufmann. p. 182.
- Williams, Cecil B. (1964). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Twayne. p. 150.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Hebert-Leiter, Maria. Becoming Cajun, Becoming American: The Acadian in American Literature from Longfellow to James Lee Burke. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009: 27. ISBN 978-0-8071-3435-1
- Calhoun (2004), p. 189.
- Williams (1964), p. 155.
- Wagenknecht, Edward (1966). Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Portrait of an American Humanist. Oxford University Press. p. 231.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Williams (1964), p. 151.
- Wagenknecht (1966), p. 129.
- Wagenknecht (1966), p. 77.
- Katsev, Igor. "Origin and Meaning of Evangeline". MFnames.com. Archived from the original on 2012-03-04. Retrieved 2009-01-23.
- Evangeline, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Boston: Ticknor & Company, 1847
- Williams (1964), p. 82.
- Wagenknecht (1966), p. 148.
- Williams (1964), p. 82; Wagenknecht (1966), p. 8
- McKay & Bates (2010), pp. 40–42.
- McKay & Bates (2010), pp. 39, 99.
- John Brebner. Acadia before the conquest of Canada. Columbia University Press. 1927.
- McKay & Bates (2010).
- John Grenier. The Far Reaches of Empire: War in Nova Scotia, 1710–1760. Oklahoma University Press, 2008: 6
- McKay & Bates (2010), p. 128.
- Williams (1964), pp. 155-156.
- Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. "Evangeline Oak Louisiana Historical Marker".
- Texas State Historical Commission. "Arceneaux House Texas Historical Marker".
- Olson, Ted (2005). Crossroads: A Southern Culture Annual. Mercer University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-86554-978-4.
- Esthay, Sheila. "Office of Conservation – First Oil Well in Louisiana". Department of Natural Resources. State of Louisiana. Archived from the original on 2018-08-25.
- "Ariane Moffatt, Pierre Lapointe win deuces at ADISQ awards". CBC. 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2007-01-10.
- McKenna, Mike. "TONY HALCHAK – A TALE OF ARCADIE".
- "Musical of the Month: Evangeline". The New York Public Library. Retrieved 2016-04-03.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Evangeline, Citadel Theatre, accessed May 11, 2016
- "Opéra-Théâtre de Rimouski in June Premiered Colin Doroschuk's Evangeline". Opera Canada. June 22, 2014. Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2016 – via HighBeam Research.
- Charlotte Gray 'The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder' Random House, 2004
- "Louisiana actor travels to Tusket, NS". The Vanguard. Archived from the original on 2017-08-05.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
- Census Records, Incorrect Surnames.
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