Friday January 31, 2014 | 09:26 AM

             “Longfellow Days” is celebrated in Brunswick, ME every February, in honor of the birthday of Bowdoin College alum and Maine poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, born February 27, 1807, in Portland.

Longfellow is an important writer for Franco-Americans and French Acadians, who know him as the author of “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie”. This globally famous epic poem published in 1847, depicts the emotional trauma about “le grand derangement”, or “the great upheaval”, when the British forcibly expelled the Acadians from Nova Scotia.

 “Evangeline” is a fictional heroine whose name is a metaphor for the 1755 French Acadian “le grand derangement”. Although the heroine’s sad journey didn’t pass through Maine, her myth connects with Franco-Americans, and Acadians throughout the state, especially those living in the St. John Valley as well as Longfellow’s many followers.

Francoise Paradis, of Buxton and a native of the St. John Valley, is proud of her Acadian heritage. In a tribute to Evangeline, Paradis re-published Evangeline in a large print contemporary coffee table edition, including illustrations printed in the 1886 edition of the poem, copyrighted by Ernest W. Longfellow, who was Henry’s son.

Evangeline large print by Paradis

Paradis published a coffee table large print edition of Evangeline with illustrations from an 1886 edition of Longfellow's poem (a photo gallery link follows in this blog)

Additionally, Paradis produced an audio recording of the poem, read by the author’s great-great nephew, Layne Longfellow.

Moreover, Paradis rescued two statues, one of Evangeline and another of Notre Dame de l’Assumption, the patron saint of the Acadians, in a soon to be closed  Roman Catholic church in Chelsea Massachusetts. She asked for and obtained permission to move both statues to Maine’s Acadian Village in Van Buren. 

Paradis continues to expand her tribute to Evangeline. She’s writing a teachers guide to the poem and a story about the impressive statues she obtained from Notre Dame de l'Assumption in Massachusetts, now installed in the Acadian Village.

I republished ‘Evangeline’, because I visited a high school where they were using photocopies of the poem, as they did not have books.  I wrote a brief history of Acadians, including the Acadians of the St. John Valley, so readers would have a context for the poem and could connect the Story to St. John Valley's Acadians., “. Says Paradis. She also added a glossary to explain the old English words, to make the poem more accessible to modern readers. 

An important inclusion in the Paradis re-publication is a copy of the official royal acknowledgement of the great upheaval, dated December 9, 2003, authorized by Queen Elizabeth II of England.

Among books I’ve personally collected about Evangeline, is one originally published in 1866, titled “Longfellow’s Evangeline”. This tiny antique book contains a treasure trove of history about the Acadians and how Longfellow came to write the internationally famous poem.

Evangeline 1896 edition cover Twenty Five Cents

Copyright 1896 by Alice M. Longfellow, the author's daughter.

Cover price Twenty-Five Cents

Setting this book apart from others about the same subject is the republication date in 1896, by Alice M. Longfellow (1850-1928), the author’s oldest daughter. (“Price Twenty-Five Cents” is printed on the cover of the 1896 edition.)

Obviously, Longfellow’s daughter must have approved of this particular book. An introduction tells the history of the Acadian expulsion and how its story impacted on her brother, and why he was motivated to create an international epic about their plight.

Additionally, Longfellow’s daughter writes a history of the poem, in the 1896 edition. 

Alice M. Longfellow 1921

Alice M. Longfellow in a 1921 group photograph

“The origin…is one of those interesting incidents of the relations of authors toward each other….,” she writes.  Apparently, Longfellow was alerted to the story by fellow writer, Nathanial Hawthorne, who was also a Bowdoin College alum. A diary entry is quoted, written on October 24, 1838, where Longfellow writes how he heard from a “French-Canadian about a story of a young couple in Acadie.  On their marriage day, all the men of the province were summoned to assemble in the church to hear a proclamation. When assembled, they were all seized and shipped off to be distributed through New England, among them the new bridegroom. His bride set off in search of him, wandered about New England all her lifetime, and at last, when she was old, she found (him) on his death bed.”

Although Hawthorne said he “could not see a story in this theme”, Longfellow  “at once caught at it as the suggestion for a poem”.

Since 1847, “Evangeline” has been published internationally and it was produced as a popular silent movie in 1929, starring Dolores Del Rio.

Although Evangeline is a fictional heroine, her legend transcends the centuries since 1755, and she’s become a messenger to the world about le grand derangement. 

A program about Longfellow with poetry readings is planned beginning Saturday, February 1st, at Bowdoin College with host Senator Angus King. Check this site for information:  http://www.brunswickdowntown.com/longfellowdays

A picture gallery with information about the republished “Evangeline” poem by Francoise Paradis, EdD, is available at this site:  http://tinyurl.com/ldebk3q

The Acadian Village website is http://www.connectmaine.com/acadianvillage/

 

About this Blog

Juliana L’Heureux is a freelance writer whose articles about Maine’s Franco-American history and culture have appeared in Portland newspapers for 25 years. She serves on the Maine Franco-American Leadership Council.

Juliana and her husband Richard live in Topsham ME. Feel free to contact her at Juliana@mainewriter.com.

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