Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

André Mathieu: Aurore la vraie histoire (Aurore: The True Story) (1990)

Interest in the Gagnon affair was revived during the 1980s and the 1990s, owing, in particular, to the publication by Alonzo Leblanc in 1982 of his reconstruction of the text of the play Aurore, l’enfant martyre (Aurore, the Child Martyr). The novel by André Mathieu was part of this trend. Based on extensive research, this book set itself apart from the other literary works of its kind by the interest the author took in reconstructing the Gagnons' "real" story.


This novel is very thick and describes in detail the characters and the events. The story begins in 1905 with the future parents of Aurore, Télesphore Gagnon and Marie-Anne Caron, courting each other. We learn the details of their marriage and of their family life. These chapters are interspersed with others that deal with the marriage of Napoléon Gagnon and Marie-Anne Houde, Aurore's future stepmother. Throughout the story, we read about significant events in the history of Quebec (construction of the Quebec City Bridge, death of Wilfrid Laurier). The author then shows how the characters' paths cross. After Marie-Anne Houde's husband dies, she offers to help and treat Marie-Anne Caron, who is seriously ill. The latter dies thanks to Marie-Anne Houde's "good care." Télesphore Gagnon marries Marie-Anne Houde only one week after his first wife dies. Aurore, who is back home (she had been living with her grandparents), gradually begins to be subjected to ill-treatment. The reader witnesses her deterioration and her death. Those around them are well aware that something serious is happening in the Gagnon family and try to intervene, but it is already too late and Aurore dies from much ill-treatment. The book ends with a summary of the trials and of the lives of those around Aurore following the events.


Aurore: We see all the stages of Aurore's life in this novel. It is the only novel in which she calls her stepmother Maman.

The father: Télesphore Gagnon is a hard worker, strong, and serious. He is sober and proud with a sense of family. He despises lazy people. Télesphore is cold with his children; he doesn't appear to have any feelings towards them.

The mother: Marie-Anne Caron is pale, fragile, very beautiful, elegant, not very authoritarian and then sick with tuberculosis.

The stepmother: Marie-Anne Houde is not very pretty. She is often compared to a reptilian creature, or even the devil. She had meningitis at the age of twelve and during her adolescence she had violent headaches. She seems to be a bad woman, dry and hypocritical, who beats her children for no reason. She takes pleasure in seeing others suffer. She is very energetic, a good cook and clean. She knows how to do all her woman's work very well. She knows how to win people over. She leaves some with a very good impression, while others don't like her at all. Later, she is mentally disturbed and wants to get rid of Télesphore's daughters.

The neighbour: Exilda Lemay is Télesphore's age. She has chubby cheeks and a threatening expression. She is a mother. She takes care of Joseph, the youngest of the family, when Marie-Anne Caron is sick. She has serious misgivings about Marie-Anne Houde. She thinks that she brings bad luck. She finds the deaths of Joseph and Marie-Anne Caron suspicious. She sees Aurore with all her sores and goes to inform the parish priest.

About the author:

MATHIEU, ANDRÉ (1942- ). Novelist and publisher, born in Saint-Honoré (Beauce). After secondary school at the Collège de Saint-Raymond (Portneuf), he studied two years at the École normale de Sherbrooke (Sherbrooke Teachers College) (1959-1961). He taught in the Beauce region until 1975. He went into business in 1975-1976, then gave himself a sabbatical year and became an author, for lack of anything better to do, he said, then for pleasure. Having known difficulties at the start of his writing career, he became a publisher and efficiently organised on his own the sale and publicity of his books, which he declared to have written for the general public and not for the critics. Between 1978 and 1983 he published eight novels and a stage play. When his first book Demain tu verras (1978), came out, André Carpentier wrote: “A new author with a dense but powerful style, passionate but always clear and often very colourful. [...] An author to keep a close eye on.”

Taken from Hamel, Réginald et al., Dictionnaire des auteurs de langue française en Amérique du nord, Montréal, Fides, 1989, p. 961-962.

Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History