Farm Life

Thirty Acres

Photo is of June Afternoon, by Konstantine Rodko, from the cover of the 1991 edition of Trente arpents by Flammarion.

Trente arpents ( translated into English as « Thirty Acres, » but « Twenty-Five » would have been more accurate) is the tragic story of the rise and fall of turn-of-the-last-century farmer Euchariste Moisan, as told by québécois novelist Ringuet (Philippe Panneton, b. 1895 – d. 1960). Contemporary farmers can still identify with Moisan, who, by dint of immeasurable effort, hard work and selfless sacrifice over many years, became a prosperous farmer in his 50s. But life’s rewards are not always proportionate to the efforts expended, and a nefarious combination of misfortune and poor judgment lead Moisan to his downfall, the loss of his farm, and an end-of-life exile in a New England town. Ringuet captures the essence of the farmer’s soul, his deep attachment to the land and the changing seasons, and his innermost conviction that nothing is earned without effort and sacrifice. Ringuet masterfully portrays Euchariste Moisan and other characters in the novel, endearing them to the reader who hopes for a happy ending, despite the unfolding tragedy. The author’s knowledge of things agricultural is impressive, and readers with some familiarity with life on the farm will be surprised by his references to activities and ways of doing which persist today, despite years of mechanisation (in the 30s, farmwork was with (real) horsepower, without man-made chemicals and with lots and lots of elbow grease). The most surprising aspect of the book is its literary style, which ranges from a sophisticated, almost academic, prose to the rough joual of its protagonists. Many of the expressions he quotes are still popular today. The book ends almost ruefully, as Ringuet makes the reader share Moisan’s regret that his life has not ended as he had intended. Destiny has decided otherwise, as he loses everything and is forced into American exile instead of a peaceful existence on his land, surrounded by his loved ones – a truly tragic end for a man whose first  (and possibly only) true love was his land.