Arts & CultureCultural Affairs

U of A alumna releases debut graphic novel, ‘The Harrowing Tales of La Corriveau’

Frances Reilly showcases multiple narratives of Marie-Josephte Carriveau, a Québecois woman who was executed by the English in 1763, who Reilly is a direct descendant of.

In 1763, Québecois woman Marie-Josephte Corriveau was convicted as an accessory to the murder of her second husband. She was hanged from a tree by the English and then displayed in an iron cage. Her life and gruesome punishment was embellished over time with imaginary crimes and myths.

University of Alberta alumna Frances Reilly is a direct descendant of Corriveau. In her debut graphic novel, “The Harrowing Tales of La Corriveau,” Reilly retells the tale of her ancestor amidst competing narratives.

frances reilly the harrowing tales of la corriveau

Reilly completed her Bachelor of Arts and Master’s in History at the U of A. She focused on Canada during the Cold War for her master’s degree. Reilly then went on to complete a PhD at the University of Saskatchewan. Since then, Reilly has looked at broader themes of historical narratives and how to interpret them.

Reilly was introduced to Corriveau’s story at the U of S in an early Canadian history course. It was eerie learning about the hearsay that accusations against Corriveau were based on. What made the story more grim was the English court putting Corriveau’s corpse on display as a warning, Reilly explained.

frances reilly the harrowing tales of la corriveau

Later, Reilly’s grandfather took a genealogy test and found that he was a direct descendent of Corriveau.

In 2017, Reilly heard the iron cage Corriveau was displayed in was being repatriated back to Québec from Massachusetts. She started thinking about Corriveau’s story as a series of different ones.

“I was thinking this will make a good academic paper. But the more I thought about it, it was really a visual project.”

Reilly was working as an illustrator for small projects at that point. She always liked comics, but had never done a large project.

“It was a lot of drawing, redrawing, and working on plot. I also learned quite a bit about drawing in the process and I’m much better than when I started,” Reilly explained. She created the graphic novel based on four short stories about Corriveau.

“This graphic novel is essentially four short stories in different styles. I think it works best visually because it’s about how you interpret either a historical event or a story.”

A point of inspiration behind the graphic novel was Reilly’s reflection upon the lack of accessible resources about Canadian history.

“There’s the academic area with a lot of research going into different aspects of Canadian history. Once we get into popular history, it can be self-congratulatory, and we can focus a lot on wars,” Reilly explained. She hopes the graphic novel can spark curiosity in readers to look into Corriveau’s story and Canadian history more.

“There’s a lot more available for Canadians to know about their history without having to go to university or study academic texts.”

Lily Polenchuk

Lily Polenchuk is the 2024-25 Editor-in-Chief of The Gateway. She previously served as the 2023-24 Managing Editor, 2023-24 and 2022-23 News Editor, and 2022-23 Staff Reporter. She is in her second year, studying English and political science.

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