Anjela today (1/4)
Anjela Duval
Anjela today
The Environmental Poetry of Anjela Duval
Anjela Duval and the traditional Breton ballad
Anjela Duval,

Anjela Duval,

A Breton peasant-writer[i]

Ronan Le Coadic*

While Breton literature written in French counts such prestigious names as Chateaubriand, Lamennais or Ernest Renan, literature written in the Breton language is quite unknown. Because it has rarely been translated, it remains almost entirely ignored by those living outside of the peninsula. Yet due to a particular socio-linguistic context it is also relatively unknown within Brittany itself. Indeed, very early the Breton language was ignored by the upper classes in Brittany, who were fascinated by the French royal court. The last Breton sovereign to give speeches in the Breton language was Alain IV Fergant. This was at the beginning of the XIIth century. Several centuries after the annexation of Brittany by France, the Breton language was repressed by the State. The struggle around language began during the revolutionary Terror. It was revived by the Third Republic, which forbade the use of Breton in church and encouraged public school teachers to punish children who spoke Breton in school. These factors led to the transformation of Breton into a popular, mostly spoken language. Its use greatly declined after the Second World War. Nonetheless, beginning in the XIXth Century and mostly after the 1930's, a few men of letters attempted to revive the Breton language and to endow it with literary works of quality. While their elitist efforts undeniably bore some fruit, the vast majority of the Breton population was not affected (1 100 000 persons in 1950, 250 000 in 1990), since most were incapable of reading in Breton. Thus we are presently faced with a paradoxical situation : talented authors belonging to the regional intelligentsia, yet who are rarely native Breton speakers, produce works in Breton that have a universal appeal, yet which are both inaccessible to non-Breton speakers (since rarely translated), and indecipherable to native speakers (since they are illiterate in their mother tongue). One author does however stand out from the rest. She is the poet Anjela Duval. A few of her works have been translated into French[ii] and English[iii]. Moreover, being at once a peasant, a native-speaker and an erudite, she expressed herself in an admirable way, mingling literary Breton with the vernacular language. Not only does her work distinguish her from other Breton authors, but so does her life. In the present article we will attempt to present the teachings of universal appeal contained in both her work and her life.

Anjela Duval devoted herself to the search for the truth that lies beyond appearances without concerning herself with what her contemporaries might think of her or of her quest. She fought during her entire life to harmonize her actions and her thoughts. Last but not least, she found happiness by devoting her life to others…

[i] I would like to thank Lenora A. Timm for her advice and for her translation of Anjela Duval's poems  (from Breton) and Claire Schiff who translated this paper (from French).

* Teaches at the University Institute for Teacher-training in Brittany.

[ii] Cf. Piriou 1971, Laouenan 1982 and Duval, Hélias and Philippot 1995.

[iii] Cf. Timm 1990.

Anjela today (2/4) - The quest for truth
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