Aurore!  The Mystery of the Martyred Child

La Presse, Montreal, Friday, September 28, 1984


Renewed Awareness…

[Text cut: names of the authors, of the cast, and of the technical crew -- see the article in Le Devoir, September 28, 1984]

Sixty-four years ago, a Quebec City court was given the responsibility of judging a woman, Marie-Anne Houde, the second wife of Télesphore Gagnon, a farmer from Fortierville. She was referred to as the cruel stepmother because she had tortured to death Aurore, a daughter from Télesphore Gagnon's first marriage, a little 10-year-old girl, on whom the disoriented stepmother inflicted the worst treatment.

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Fifty-four wounds, caused by whippings and blows with an axe handle and a red-hot poker, were found on the body of the torture victim. The cruel stepmother had made her drink soapy water and eat soap. Her father also beat her occasionally and he was a co-accused in this affair. Two actors, Léon Petitjean and Henri Rollin, immediately wrote a play recounting these events.

Aurore l’enfant martyre has been performed on stage over 6000 times since the twenties. No play has drawn more people to Quebec theatres. It was made into a film in 1951.

We thought she was dead and buried, but now the Théâtre de Quat’Sous has resurrected little Aurore. She is depicted in a different light, in a more contemporary form. The original play has been rearranged. On stage, the set of the house of torture merges with the courtroom of the courthouse where the trial is being held. We witness a few beating sessions in the kitchen or the attic of the house, then we are taken to the courtroom to watch the witnesses being examined.

The Aurore of the Quat’Sous is therefore a "revisited" Aurore. Aurore is less present. Those around her are more so. The cruel stepmother and Télesphore are no longer the only accused. The blame extends to the entire community, to the entire village -- including the parish priest -- to all those who knew and who took a very long time to get involved in order to end the butchery.

This play is neither very good, nor very bad. Let's just say it's necessary. Because there were still officially 2749 mistreated children in Quebec in 1982. It is one thing that the directing is questionable, when a plea that begins in Court continues in the kitchen without a transition, and that it's a bit overdone when Aurore, who is dead, clings to the attic screen to ask the judge to pardon her parents. However, the by and large very satisfactory acting, the excellent work of Louison Danis and of Adèle Reinhardt, and the significance of the debate, is another.

The Théâtre de Quat’Sous was right to resurrect Aurore. It reminds us that there are still among us, as elsewhere, children who are victims of the madness or the sadism of their elders and that it is always better, in those cases, to act sooner rather than later.

Source: Raymond Bernatchez, "Aurore l'enfant martyre," La Presse (Montréal), September 28, 1984.

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Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History