Definitions

Evangeline

Evangeline

[ih-van-juh-leen, -lahyn, -lin]

Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie is a poem published in 1847 by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The poem follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the Great Upheaval. The work was written in dactylic hexameter reminiscent of Greek and Latin classics, though Longfellow was criticized for the meter. Longfellow got the idea for the poem from his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne and published Evangeline in 1847. It has remained one of his most enduring works.

Overview

Evangeline describes the betrothal of an Acadian girl named Evangeline Bellefontaine to her beloved, Gabriel Lajeunesse, and their separation as the British deport the Acadians from Acadie in the Great Upheaval. The poem then follows Evangeline across the landscapes of America as she spends years in a search for him. Finally she settles in Philadelphia and, as an old woman, works as a nun among the poor. While tending the dying during an epidemic she finds Gabriel among the sick, and he dies in her arms.

Analysis

The name "Evangeline" means "good news" or "bearer of good news", from Greek euangelion, meaning "good news" (generally translated, "Gospel").

Poetic structure

The poem is written in dactylic hexameter, possibly inspired by Greek and Latin classics, including Homer, whose work Longfellow was reading at the time he was writing Evangeline. He also had recently, in 1841, translated "The Children of the Lord's Supper", a poem by Swedish writer Esaias Tegnér, which also used this meter. Evangeline is one of the few nineteenth century compositions in that meter which is still read today.

Some criticized Longfellow's choice to use dactyllic hexameter, including poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who said the poem would have been better in a similar prose style as Longfellow's Hyperion. Longfellow was conscious of the potential criticism. When sending a copy of the poem to Bryan Procter, Longfellow wrote: "I hope you will not reject it on account of the metre. In fact, I could not write it as it is in any other; it would have changed its character entirely to have put it into a different measure. Even Longfellow's wife Fanny defended his choice, writing to a friend: "It enables greater richness of expression than any other, and it is sonorous like the sea which is ever sounding in Evangeline's ear". As an experiment, Longfellow reassured himself that he was using the best meter by attempting a passage in blank verse. Even so, while looking over the proofs for a second edition, Longfellow briefly wished he had used a different poetic structure:

Composition and publication history

Longfellow was introduced to the true story of the Acadians in Nova Scotia by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne and Longfellow had attended Bowdoin College together, though they were not friends at the time. Years later, in 1837, Hawthorne contacted Longfellow for his opinion on his recently-published tales in the North American Review, which Longfellow praised as works of genius; the two became lifelong friends. Hawthorne was not interested in fictionalizing it so Longfellow turned it into a poem after months of studying the histories of Nova Scotian families. Longfellow, who had never visited the setting of the true story, relied heavily on Thomas Chandler Haliburton's An Historical and Statistical Account of Nova Scotia and other books for further background information. Evangeline was published in book form on November 1, 1847, and by 1857 it had sold nearly 36,000 copies. During this time, Longfellow's literary payment was at its peak; for Evangeline, he received "a net of twenty-five and sixteenths per cent" royalties, believed to be an all-time high for a poet.

Longfellow said of his poem: "I had the fever a long time burning in my own brain before I let my hero take it. 'Evangeline' is so easy for you to read, because it was so hard for me to write".

Critical response and impact

Evangeline became Longfellow's most famous work in his lifetime and was widely read. Contemporary reviews were very positive. A reviewer for the Metropolitan said, "No one with any pretensions to poetic feeling can read its delicious portraiture of rustic scenery and of a mode of life long since defunct, without the most intense delight". Longfellow's friend Charles Sumner said he had met a women who "has read 'Evangeline' some twenty times and thinks it the most perfect poem in the language". Other admirers of the poem included King Leopold I of Belgium. It has been called the first important long poem in American literature.

Though Longfellow had no links to the Acadians or Louisiana, the Cajuns have adopted his story into their culture. In 1934, the first state park in Louisiana was named the Longfellow-Evangeline State Park. Evangeline has become relatively common among the descendants of the Acadians.

Later works of fiction expanded upon the material of the poem, claiming the "real names" of the characters had been "Emmeline LaBiche" (in Longfellow her full name is Evangeline Bellefontaine) and "Louis Arceneaux" (in the poem, Gabriel Lajeunesse). Among sites which claim a relation to these pseudohistorical figures are a house north of Lafayette, Louisiana, which supposedly belonged to Gabriel, and the grave of Emmeline in the Perpetual Adoration Garden & Historic Cemetery in St. Martin de Tours Church Square, on Main Street, St. Martinville (the site having been determined for its convenience by local boosters about the turn of the 20th century). A statue of Emmeline stands nearby — posed for by silent film star Dolores Del Rio, who starred in the 1929 film Evangeline, and donated to the town by the film's cast and crew.

References to Evangeline in real life

Evangeline is the name of a Parish in Louisiana, a rural community in Prince Edward Island, and a small settlement in the Acadian Peninsula in New Brunswick. It is also often used as a street name in Acadian communities.

The first Canadian film produced in 1913 was Evangeline. A popular French song titled "Evangeline" written in 1971 by Michel Conte and originally sung by Isabelle Pierre is based on her story. This song, performed by Annie Blanchard, won the 2006 ADISQ award for "Most popular song". The Evangeline Trail is a historic route in Nova Scotia that traces the Annapolis Valley, ancestral home of the Acadians. Picturesque especially in Summer and Fall, the trail runs from Grand Pré, site of the first expulsions, south to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia near the original French settlement in North America, Port Royal, Nova Scotia. More than a dozen small Acadian villages line the trail. A 1998 musical adaptation of the story was recorded and released on CD, and a 1999 production staged at the Strand Theatre in Shreveport, Louisiana was taped and broadcast by PBS in 2000.

References

External links

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