HOME HEARTSTRING 29: EMOTIONALISM

Quebec is Canada’s seat of emotions. A mass of people always tends to be somewhat emotional. In his 1895 work Psychologie des foules (The Psychology of Crowds), French social psychologist Gustave Le Bon states that, “Masses are feminine.”

The Quebec mass is fickle, short-fused, talkative, extravagant, sensual, mean, conservative and good. The Quebec mass is woman. Hear her roar. Quebecers have trampled on their own hearts too often not to have become hypersensitive.

Abandoned by its mother on the doorstep of a countryside church, then adopted by an English-speaking neighbour who kept washing its mouth out with soap before loaning it to a US neighbour who gorged it with sweets, the Quebec population – which suffered a childhood similar to that of Little Aurore’s Tragedy – was (understandably) bound to have adaptation issues once it made it to adulthood. Waxing sentimental always resonates with Quebecers, which is why we do it a lot in communications.

If we go by the premise that masses are indeed feminine, Jacques Languirand, in De McLuhan à Pythagore (From McLuhan to Pythagoras), adds that Quebec society is feminine on an esoteric level. “There are two types of society,” writes the Quebec radio host, writer, actor and director. “One is Apollonian, meaning it’s more sedentary, more of a withdrawn farm-type society that focuses on feminine concerns like religion, arts, language, and so on. The other is Dionysian and focuses on masculine matters like politics and business.”

To support his argument, Languirand cites US anthropologist Ruth Benedict: “Some societies are peaceful and others are aggressive.” Sociologist Marcel Rioux disagrees with Languirand and prefers to think that historical circumstances are what led Quebecers to suppress their natural Dionysian characteristics.

Analysing Heartstring 29 will help inform the debate. We all agree that when it comes to plucking the emotional instrument of Quebecers, this Heartstring is the one that resonates the loudest. While emotional sensitivity may alternate between being the cause and the effect of our collective Emotionalism, it’s always its outlet. Laugh it up, Pagliacci!

Most Quebecers have known heartbreak, the real kind of heartbreak that often leads to crimes of passion. And those who haven’t encountered it yet hope to live through it someday.

“Young widow in her 30s loves dancing and movies. Looking to meet educated single or divorced man of similar age who likes children to build serious relationship. Promise to send picture if you send me yours first.” It’s no wonder Laure Hurteau’s relationship advice column in La Presse and Janette Bertrand’s Radio-Sexe talk show are so popular.

The handsome Gérard tells the judge that he, “robbed the bank for her [his girlfriend].” (July 6, 1977 edition of La Presse). “On average, there are two bank robberies every day in Quebec,” writes journalist Maurice Gannard. This rate is six times higher than in Ontario where there are 1200 more bank branches. And the numbers for Quebec don’t even include robberies in the province’s 1300 Caisses pops.

Quebecers hold many records, including the one for the highest rate for crimes of passion in Canada. That’s not surprising considering crimes of passion include domestic disturbances requiring police intervention and suicides (which, like in other parts of the world, have grown to alarming proportions in the under-16 age group since 1970).

Montréal-Matin classifieds are totally affordable.” And that’s how some turn a message into a massage (parlour). Joe doesn’t like that kind of place.


“When you’ve been to 312 Ontario and the third-floor establishments on De Bullion Street you refuse to set foot in a massage parlour. If those places aren’t brothels, I wonder who goes there. Back in my day, the people you ran into in brothels were judges and lawyers, not construction workers between shifts. I heard massage parlours lost half their business during the construction strike at the Olympic Stadium.”


Heartstring 29 is the reason we share certain passions with our Latin cousins, including threesomes (which are so very French), Mexican movies with unhappy endings, Italian photo-novels, Spanish masochism and Portuguese-style mourning.

Catering to an audience that secretly consumes a lot of pornographic material, English-Canadian and US advertisers are surprised there isn’t more nudity in Quebec advertising. Are we not supposed to be the French lovers of the North American continent?

Heartstring 10 draws a very distinct line between sex and emotions in Quebec. Most Anglo-Saxons would have a hard time believing that half of all Quebecers were conceived under the covers in a pitch black room. There’s another paradox for you!

A Miami newsstand operator I spoke with was in shock about seeing Quebec men openly leaf through porno magazines with their wives. “Americans would never do that,” he says. “And I don’t get why these men and women giggle together every time they turn the page.”

In Quebec, sex is either funny or shocking. None of our nudie films have ever replaced Love Story in our hearts, that sap-fest-of-a-movie with the unhappy ending, much to the relief of our drama queen tendencies.

We’re always quick to laugh, but we’re just as quick to reach for a Kleenex. Five or six generations of women like Donalda – the despicable Séraphin’s saint-like wife – have kept us (over) emotionally aware to ensure that the generations of Quebecers still traumatised by La petite Aurore l’enfant-martyre and Coeur de Maman can still feel moved.

In the February 1974 issue of Maclean’s magazine, Daniel Pinard can’t quite understand why our TV series are so popular. “It all started with Claude-Henri Grignon (author of Un Homme et son péché).” Since then, Quebecers have not been able to leave the new universe created by TV, like the Plouffe and Tremblay kitchens, the Jarry family’s neighbourhood and the Joyal clan’s village. Three million viewers – that’s half the people in Quebec – sit down to watch the Berger family or Rue des Pignons every week. We have to wonder if it’s the ratings we need to question or our sanity! Later in the interview he adds, “If the Greeks recognize themselves in Homer’s Odyssey, what image do Quebecers identify with? At Radio-Canada, we laugh or we cry. We don’t advocate.”

This somewhat harsh judgment extends to all other types of TV shows that appeal to Quebecers, from sporting events to music hall performances. We obviously can’t limit programming to shows just about French philosopher and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin.

Université de Montréal psychologist André H. Caron is also interested in soap operas. Most of his findings regarding this phenomenon of mass consumption apply to Quebec advertising since they both promote the same values, like not including major ideological themes and violence, showcasing kitchen and living room situations, selling an exaggerated concept of friendship and escaping loneliness. “In soap operas,” says Caron, “one achieves happiness through family, friends, and gaining comfort through honest work (money doesn’t seem to bring happiness). The values showcased in these programs are those of the middle class. Soap operas are successful because they present realistic characters in everyday situations instead of incredible adventures.”

As long as there is sadness and joy, there will be Quebecers. In this vale of tears that is Quebec – where we seek refuge in soap operas that fuel the war between our two major TV networks, binge-read cheesy romance novels by French author Magali, and never tire of listening to French songstress Edith Piaf and her fellow countryman, actor and singer Tino Rossi – it’s safe to assume that any communication tugging at this Heartstring will quickly reach its target.

The emotional behaviour of our women when abroad rarely goes unnoticed. For example, the French are surprised to find out that these American French women are not as puritanical as their English-speaking counterparts. To use one of French soldier and historian Brantome’s old expressions, Quebec women tend to “let loose in bed” after their first bottle of champagne.

The Quebec ministry of tourism will prove French soldier, explorer and writer Baron de La Hontan right in referring to our women as descendants of Les Filles du Roi, whose virtue would never pass muster in any confessional.

Infused with a hint of TV and radio personality Claude Fournier’s humour, the infamous Québec, Yes Sir! brochure published sometime around 1970 encouraged Americans to learn some interesting facts about triangle-shaped Quebec. Here is the paragraph entitled “Love.”


“With their Latin blood, Quebec men are quite the womanizers, but Quebec women take the cake when it comes to matters of the heart. They don’t need advice or to take lessons from anyone, even the women in France, where their reputation precedes them. There are two ways of approaching our women depending on if they were born before or after the war. Pre-war Quebec women are romantics. They want to get to know you for a few hours before getting down to business. As for post-war Quebec women, they’re more direct. They gladly forego all the hearts and flowers stuff, preferring to have some real fun instead. Just remember to be careful in bed, because our women give birth to 2500 sets of twins each year. You’ll have to fight for their affections, but the effort is worth it since these petite brunettes have 34½-25-35 measurements, making them disproportionate in a very appealing way.”


If this paragraph didn’t help restore a balance in tourism with the US, I no longer understand anything about marketing. I’m carefully holding on to my copy of Québec, Yes Sir! since only 200,000 of the flyers were produced. It includes a mouth-watering recipe for sugar pie on page 47, too.

Trips to the beaches of Mexico and the French Antilles taken by our TV celebrities and nurses have always been a hot topic of discussion, and often a crying shame. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, Quebec girls are usually well-behaved at home, but let them loose in Guadeloupe and they quickly forget their goody-goody habits.

Sensitive, sensual and romantic, Quebec women can’t resist the exotic nature of palm trees any more than they can the sexy accents of Tino Rossi and Spanish tenor Luis Mariano. You have to see the TV commercial where Ricardo Montalban sells Maxwell House coffee to a swooning Janette Bertrand to fully appreciate the power of Heartstring 29.

In Histoires d’amour de l’histoire du Québec (Love Stories in Quebec History), historian Hector Grenon is a lot more candid about this delicate subject than my old copy of the Marist Brothers’ Résumé d’histoire du Canada (Summary of Canadian History). I don’t mean to give in to Heartstring 12, but Grenon’s revelations about Pierre D’Iberville’s marital problems and Roberval’s morbid jealousy issues are far from shocking to us.

When he goes into detail about how French fur trader and explorer Radisson liked chasing through the woods as well as chasing after pretty Huron women who ran around naked as the day they were born, we’re not that surprised either. But when he reveals that our saint-like founder, Samuel de Champlain, liked to do it too…now that’s some jaw-dropping news right there! Rumour has it that Champlain gave his wife, Hélène, an entire island in exchange for her forgiveness…

I am in no way looking to preach anaesthesia sexualis feminarum since Quebec men are just as romantic as their women, except they don’t show it. They could be compared to the emotional bears out of a Félix Leclerc song. But that doesn’t stop Joe from having very strong opinions on the matter.


“We’ve got some great looking women in Quebec, petite dark-haired beauties with nice curves and lively eyes. I like ‘em round instead of skinny. I believe a woman’s generosity is directly proportional to the size of her bra. I’m always suspicious of women with small breasts. My mother weighed over 200 pounds and laughed all the time. Her sister, a nurse, was as thin as a rake and I never heard her laugh once.”


Happy are the Quebecers for they still get moved by simple things that seem to have lost their reason for being just about everywhere else in North America. Joe Tremblay doesn’t care for his feminist cousin who thinks everything is as serious as a heart attack.


“Women’s lib in Quebec is a woman’s issue. I don’t think it’s something you can be for or against. It’s evolution, really. The only ones who are for or against this movement are the extremists who are trying to push some other cause as well.”


The events of October 1970 (The October Crisis) shook Quebecers to their very core, stripping them of their desire to laugh. That moment in our history is hard to forget. Nothing seemed funny anymore, except the US feminist movement and its over-the-top radicalism. From the safety of a phone booth on New York City’s 5th Avenue, I was able to look on as hundreds of enraged (and that’s putting it mildly) women marched through the street, with the heaviest-set waving huge bras around and carrying signs labeling men – the source of all evil – as chauvinists and pigs.

As the product of a matriarchal society, the first thing that struck me was how zealously angry – and, in my humble opinion, unattractive – these neo-suffragettes were. It made it impossible to take anything they were saying seriously. I imagined this march taking place at the corner of Peel and Ste-Catherine and that’s when, under the influence of the same Messianism that often takes hold of us here in Quebec, I yelled out, “They shall not pass.”

The Quebec Anti-Feminist Movement, known as the MAQ, was founded in early December 1970. It was a humorous movement driven by the Latin proverb castigat ridendo mores (one corrects customs by mocking them). By Socratic method or US-style absurdity, its aim was to warn Quebec women that certain radical feminist movements were making fools of themselves and that, under the protection of Heartstring 11, there was no need for them to follow suit in the same ridiculous fashion. The MAQ was successful in reaching its objectives, which were to get feedback, rise up against extremists, make people laugh and get Quebec women to become more aware of the equality between both sexes.

By the time the International Year of the Woman came around five years later, people had had the chance to calm down so the discussion started making sense again. While addressing the closing meeting of the 1975 Year of the Woman conference in Ottawa, sociologist and adwoman Thérèse Sévigny said with spot-on timing, “It is crucial for us to remember that the situation of women will not change without the situation of men changing at the same time. Men and women will need to work together to redefine themselves, embracing their new roles and choosing what they will make of their place in a developed society.”

But Sévigny didn’t specify if a developed society had to renounce the effects of Heartstring 29 or not.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.