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Vol 38  No 15
June 8, 2006


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Oration honouring Roland Le Huenen

To quote Eulalie Mackechnie Shin, late of the more or less mythical and entirely contrary town of River City, Iowa, “BAAAAALLLZZAAAC!” For Mrs. Shin, dignified mayor’s wife and peerless leader of the Ladies’ Cultural League, inclusion of Balzac’s scandalous books in the town’s library was emblematic of the “trouble in River City.”

Fortunately, Balzac is today much more appreciated and far better understood than in the rural Midwest of Meredith Willson’s Music Man. And few understand him better, or have contributed more to his widespread appreciation than the man we honour this afternoon, Dr. Roland Jean Le Huenen.

Roland Le Huenen was born at Saint-Pierre et Miquelon. Although he missed being born a Newfoundlander by a mere handful of kilometres, he had the good sense to have some Newfoundland forebears. After completing his early education on his home island, he traveled to the mainland ­ of France ­ to pursue his post-secondary studies. He was awarded a PhD from the University of Strasbourg in 1968. In July of the same year, he was appointed assistant professor of French, Victoria College, University of Toronto.

One might well wonder whether he has ever paused since then for a leisurely meal, a good night’s sleep, or even to catch his breath, so prodigious has been his output. At the University of Toronto he has risen through the ranks, serving as chair of the Victoria College Program in Semiotics, associate chair and co-ordinator of graduate studies, Department of French, and his current position, director of the Centre for Comparative Literature. In fact, his association with the University of Toronto began as early as 1963, the first of his eight years as an instructor in its Summer School at Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, a program that served as a model for Memorial’s own Frecker Institute. In 1975 he founded and became director of the University of Toronto Summer Program in Strasbourg.

In addition to his work at the University of Toronto, Dr. Le Huenen has been a visiting professor at the universities of Montréal, Tel Aviv and Paris, and Queen’s University. From 1986-94 he was holder of the Distinguished M. E. Jones Chair in French Language and Literature, Department of Modern Language and Literatures, State University of New York at Buffalo, New York. The Distinguished M. E. Jones Chair was established in 1929 with the stipulation that the chair holder be a native of France of high scholastic attainments. Past chair holders have included André Maurois, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Foucault, Louis Marin, Michel Butor and Michel Serres.

Dr. Le Huenen has served as primary supervisor for 30 doctoral dissertations and secondary supervisor for another 28. And, of course, he has enjoyed a sizeable share of committee and administrative work.

That Dr. Le Huenen is held in high esteem by his peers nationally and internationally is witnessed by his presence on dozens of editorial, selection and advisory committees. He is a frequent grant winner from SSHRC, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the National Council for Scientific Research.

Dr. Le Huenen is a prolific writer. He has authored four books, edited five and contributed chapters to over two-dozen others. Twenty-one of his articles have appeared in both French and English language publications, including Revue des Sciences Humaines, Littératur, Semiotic Inquiry, Poetics Today and Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics. Conferences, lecture series and symposia have been enriched by his presentations, more than 70 to date, in Canada, the United States, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Israel.

This prodigious output can be explained only in part by Dr. Le Huenen’s apparent capacity for working round the clock. The other significant factor is the diversity of his research interests, which lie in three distinct areas. The first of these, and the subject of his first book, is literary semiotics, narratology, and the theory of literature. The second, and one of the areas in which he has written most widely throughout his career, is 19th and 20th Century French literature, with particular emphasis on the works of Balzac.

A more recent focus of Dr. Le Huenen’s research is travel literature, or récits de voyage. He has published scholarly editions of Discourse on Voyages to the New World; Contes, récits et legends des îles Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, winner of the France-Acadie Book Prize, and Arthur de Gobineau’s Voyage à Terre-Neuve.

The latter book may be of particular interest to Newfoundlanders. A protégé of de Tocqueville, Gobineau was an embassy secretary who was posted to Newfoundland in 1859 as part of an effort to resolve disputes arising around French fishing rights in waters south of the island. He traveled extensively, especially along “The French Shore” and was an avid writer. His essays, stories and letters give a vivid, if not always entirely accurate, picture of Newfoundland in the mid-19th century. Dr. Le Huenen’s edition complements the original text with an introduction and extensive explanatory notes.

The breadth, quality and importance of Dr. Le Huenen’s work is widely recognized. In addition to the France-Acadie Book Prize and the Distinguished M. E. Jones Chair, he has been awarded the rank of Chevalier des Palmes Académique by the government of France and elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Académie des Lettres et Sciences Humaines. Chancellor, in recognition of his exemplary work as an educator, mentor, administrator, editor, author and scholar, I present to you for the degree of doctor of letters, honoris causa, Roland Jean Le Huenen.

Kjellrun Hestekin
University orator

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