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In the Village of Viger

by Duncan Campbell Scott
afterword by Tracy Ware

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list price: $19.95
category: Fiction
published: 2008
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The ten stories in In the Village of Viger portray the life of a rural village as it faces the darkness of its own future. An established milliner, Madame Laroque, is upset by the advent of a younger, more popular rival. An innkeeper’s obsession with the Franco-Prussian War drives his descent into madness. A gardener longs to return to the village in France where his mother was born. At once comical, farcical, and tragic, this superb collection, first published in 1896, anticipates later collections of linked short stories including Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? and Margaret Laurence’s A Bird in the House.

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It was too true that the city was growing rapidly. As yet its arms were not long enough to embrace the little village of Viger, but before long they would be, and it was not a time that the inhabitants looked forward to with any pleasure. It was not to be wondered at, for few places were more pleasant to live in. The houses, half-hidden amid the trees, clustered around the slim steeple of St. Joseph’s, which flashed like a naked poniard in the sun. They were old, and the village was sleepy, almost dozing, since the mill, behind the rise of land, on the Blanche had shut down. The miller had died; and who would trouble to grind what little grist came to the mill, when flour was so cheap? But while the beech-groves lasted, and the Blanche continued to run, it seemed impossible that any change could come. The change was coming, however, rapidly enough. Even now, on still nights, above the noise of the frogs in the pools, you could hear the rumble of the streetcars and the faint tinkle of their bells, and when the air was moist the whole southern sky was luminous with the reflection of thousands of gas-lamps. But when the time came for Viger to be mentioned in the city papers as one of the outlying wards, what a change there would be! There would be no unfenced fields, full of little inequalities and covered with short grass; there would be no deep pools, where the quarries had been, and where the boys pelted the frogs; there would be no more beech-groves, where the children could gather nuts; and the dread pool, which had filled the shaft where old Daigneau, years ago, mined for gold, would cease to exist. But in the meantime, the boys of Viger roamed over the unclosed fields and pelted the frogs, and the boldest ventured to roll huge stones into Daigneau’s pit, and only waited to see the green slime come working up to the surface before scampering away, their flesh creeping with the idea that it was old Daigneau himself who was stirring up the water in a rage.

New houses had already commenced to spring up in all directions, and there was a large influx of the laboring population which overflows from large cities. Even on the main street of Viger, on a lot which had been vacant ever since it was a lot, the workmen had built a foundation. After a while it was finished, when men from the city came and put up the oddest wooden house that one could imagine. It was perfectly square; there was a window and a door in front, a window at the side, and a window upstairs. There were many surmises as to the probable occupant of such a diminutive habitation; and the widow Laroque, who made dresses and trimmed hats, and whose shop was directly opposite, and next door to the Post Office, suffered greatly from unsatisfied curiosity. No one who looked like the proprietor was ever seen near the place. The foreman of the laborers who were working at the house seemed to know nothing; all that he said, in answer to questions, was: “I have my orders.”

At last the house was ready; it was painted within and without, and Madame Laroque could scarcely believe her eyes when, one morning, a man came from the city with a small sign under his arm and nailed it above the door. It bore these words: “Mademoiselle Viau, Milliner.” “Ah!” said Madame Laroque, “the bread is to be taken out of my mouth.” The next day came a load of furniture, — not a very large load, as there was only a small stove, two tables, a bedstead, three chairs, a sort of lounge, and two large boxes. The man who brought the things put them in the house, and locked the door on them when he went away; then nothing happened for two weeks, but Madame Laroque watched. Such a queer little house it was, as it stood there so new in its coat of gum-colored paint. It looked just like a square bandbox which some Titan had made for his wife; and there seemed no doubt that if you took hold of the chimney and lifted the roof off, you would see the gigantic bonnet, with its strings and ribbons, which the Titaness could wear to church on Sundays.

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Contributor notes

Duncan Campbell Scott was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1862. He was educated there and at Stanstead College in Quebec. He entered the civil service in 1897 as a junior clerk in what would become the Department of Indian Affairs; by 1913 he had risen to the rank of Deputy Superintendent General, a position he held until his retirement in 1932.

Urged to write by his close friend Archibald Lampman, Scott became a skilled and popular poet, short-story writer, and casual essayist. His best-known stories, such as those collected in In the Village of Viger (1896), are delicate yet intense explorations of traditional communities and cultures struggling to adjust to a rapidly changing world. His poetry often reflects his concerns for and sympathy with the lives of Native peoples.

Duncan Campbell Scott died in Ottawa in 1947.

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