A writer named Albert Laberge had written a coldly realistic novel on rural life, Bitter Bread, many years before Ringuet wrote his Thirty Acres. Laberge was obliged to publish his writings privately, but that does not explain why he was so overlooked and remained relatively unknown for many years. In his critical attitude to the clergy whom he treated like fallible human beings, and in the introduction of sex into a society where it was taboo, he broke new ground. He was ahead of his time. Bitter Bread throws some sharp darts in the direction of the Church. A bishop's visit is turned into a hilarious fiasco; a priest is served Javel water to drink, or liquor that has not been watered down. The uncharitable conduct of the characters is enough to disturb the Church. When the principal female character turns into a churchgoerlater on in the novel, it is presented as a painful experience for the priests, one that Laberge evidetly relishes in describing. The modern reader will consider the passages dealing with sex trivial, even funny, but such was not the case in the eary 1900s. A urinating contest, a woman raising her dress to insult a school teacher, two people having intercourse, the youthful heroine enjoying a certain pleasure when a calf licks her fingers, all this brought the wrath of the Church down on Laberge. Sex was taboo. Though the Church encouraged large families, it did not permit much discussion on the subject of sex itself. Laberge was thus condemned for having violated a sacred principle.
Albert Laberge (1871-1960) was born in Beauharnois, Québec. His father was a farmer. Albert studied at Beauharnois College before going to Sainte-Marie in Montreal with the ambition of becoming a priest. He lost his faith in 1891 and was expelled from College for having read books that were not recommended at the time. He studied law from 1892 to 1896, but never practised. Instead, he worked at La Presse as a sports writer and art critic. When an excerpt from his first novel, La Scouine (Bitter Bread) first appeared in 1903, Mgr. Bruchési condemned it for being pornographic. Laberge married Mme. Eglantine Aubé in 1910, and Pierre, his only son was born in 1911. La Scouine, published by the author in sixty copies in 1911, is Laberge’s only novel. He purchased a house in Chateauguay, a few miles southwest of Montreal, and retired from La Presse a year later due to fatigue. From then on he wrote many short stories and works of criticism. Laberge stopped writing in 1956 with the death fo his wife. His own death occurred on April 4, 1960.
In the last few years his work has been “rediscovered” and he has become the object of considerable critical interest as a pioneer Canadian naturalist writer.