602 Rue de la Gauchetière E, Montréal, QC H2L 5E1, Canada
260 Avenue Laval, Montréal, QC H2X, Canada
Cimetière Notre Dame des Neiges, 4601 Chemin de la côte des neiges, Montréal, QC H3V 1E7, Canada
Émile Nelligan (December 24, 1879 – November 18, 1941) was a Francophone poet.
Nelligan was born in Montreal on December 24, 1879 at 602, rue de La Gauchetière (Annuaire Lovell's de 1879). He was the first son of David Nelligan, who arrived in Quebec from Dublin, Ireland at the age of 12. His mother was Émilie Amanda Hudon, from Rimouski, Quebec. He had two sisters, Béatrice and Gertrude.
A follower of Symbolism, he produced poetry profoundly influenced by Octave Crémazie, Louis Fréchette, Charles Baudelaire, Paul Verlaine, Georges Rodenbach, Maurice Rollinat and Edgar Allan Poe. A precocious talent like Arthur Rimbaud, he published his first poems in Montreal at the age of 16.
In 1899, Nelligan began to exhibit odd behavior. He was said to have loudly recited poetry to passing strangers and slept in chapels. He was also experiencing hallucinations and he attempted suicide. He was committed to a mental hospital at the request of his parents. There he was diagnosed with dementia praecox (now more commonly referred to as schizophrenia). He did not write any poetry after being hospitalized.
At the time, rumor and speculation suggested that he went insane because of the vast cultural and language differences between his mother and father. In recent years, however, a number of literary critics have postulated that Nelligan was gay. Some of these sources suggest that he became mentally ill due to inner conflict between his sexuality and his religious upbringing, while others suggest that he never went insane at all, but was involuntarily committed to the asylum by his family for homophobic reasons. No biographical sources published during Nelligan's lifetime contain any confirmed record of Nelligan having had any sexual or romantic relationships with either men or women, although some posthumous sources have suggested that he may have been the lover of poet Arthur de Bussières. Within the École littéraire de Montréal circle with which both Nelligan and Bussières were associated, it was widely believed that Nelligan was confined to the asylum because his mother discovered him and Bussières in bed together, although this claim was not widely publicized until the late 20th century and remains unconfirmed. Conversely, the 1991 biographical film Nelligan depicts Nelligan as a celibate bisexual, portraying him as sexually ambivalent in the face of romantic attractions to both Bussières and feminist activist Idola Saint-Jean, and implying that his mother attempted to commit incest with him.
In 1903, his collected poems were published to great acclaim in Canada. He may not have been aware that he was counted among French Canada's greatest poets.
On his death in 1941, Nelligan was interred in the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal, Quebec. Following his death, the public became increasingly interested in Nelligan. His incomplete work spawned a kind of romantic legend. He was first translated into English in 1960 by P.F. Widdows. In 1983, Fred Cogswell translated all his poems in The Complete Poems of Émile Nelligan. In the fall of 2017, Montreal's Vehicle Press will be releasing Marc di Saverio's English translations of Nelligan, Ship of Gold: The Essential Poems of Emile Nelligan.
Nelligan is considered one of the greatest poets of French Canada. Several schools and libraries in Quebec are named after him, and Hotel Nelligan is a four-star hotel in Old Montreal at the corner of Rue St. Paul and Rue St. Sulpice.
In her 2013 book Le Naufragé du Vaisseau d'or, Yvette Francoli claimed that Louis Dantin, the publisher of Nelligan's poems, was in fact their real author. This claim was also previously advanced by Claude-Henri Grignon in his 1936 essay Les Pamphlets de Valdombre, although Dantin himself denied having had anything more than an editing role in the poems' creation. In 2016, the University of Ottawa's literary journal Analyses published an article by Annette Hayward and Christian Vandendorpe which rejected the claim, based on textual comparisons of the poetry credited to Nelligan with the writings of Dantin.
Several schools and libraries of Quebec bear the name of Émile Nelligan. Since 1979 the Prix Émile-Nelligan has rewarded the authors of a French-language poetry book written by a young poet in North America.
On June 7, 2005, the Fondation Émile-Nelligan and the City of Montreal inaugurated a bust to his memory in the Carré Saint-Louis. Another monument to his memory stands in Quebec City.
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