A girl believed to be possessed by an evil spirit is the main character in a new novel by Yarmouth County writer Gérald Boudreau, who says one of the book’s messages is that belief can be a powerful thing.
A retired academic, Boudreau says the book – written in French and titled La p’tite To-Belle – is a work of fiction, although the novel’s end is based on events that happened in Wedgeport in 1810, when the community believed it had a real case of demonic possession on its hands.
Boudreau had written and talked about those events before in his capacity as an academic, but a couple of years ago he decided to approach the topic in the form of a novel. He made a point of separating his book from the actual happenings, and so the setting of the novel is not the early 1800s but rather a century or so later. The location of Boudreau’s story is an unnamed Acadian village. Even the book’s title and cover, he said, have no connection to the actual events.
The novel’s title character is a young girl who, as she grows up, discovers she has special powers inherited from her great-grandmother.
As an adolescent, the girl is abducted and abused, and this experience changes her. From then on, Boudreau says, she appears to be possessed by the devil.
“Her father is beside himself,” Boudreau said, “and his neighbours fear that the diabolical possession may spread among them.”
Desperate – and believing they are dealing with something supernatural – they seek to help the girl by turning to a voodooist kind of recipe, and it’s here that the novel and the actual events from Wedgeport are on more common ground.
Boudreau cites a letter from 1810 that lists the ingredients for a recipe that was supposed to exorcise the evil spirit. They included an earthen pot, 100 needles, 200 pins, a knife, the heart of a black hen and the urine of the possessed person. The whole thing was boiled and it was done at midnight. When an initial attempt failed, it was thought they needed more urine.
The recipe didn’t work, but the girl eventually was cured after a priest was consulted.
(The events in Wedgeport in 1810 actually involved two girls who were thought to be possessed. A different recipe was used for the other one. In her case, Boudreau said, she was taken out in a small boat and dumped in the water four times. She too eventually was cured. Both girls married not long afterwards and had children of their own.)
As strange as that voodooist concoction may seem to us today, 200-plus years later, Boudreau said, “These people really believed it ... They were convinced they were doing the right thing.”
And belief can be powerful, which is a point he wanted to get across in his novel, he said.
“Believing is nine-tenths of the reality, so to speak,” he said. “We say it often: perception is almost reality. That’s what happened in those days because there was very little explanation to some of the things that people witnessed ... If people believe strongly enough in something, it becomes a reality for them and you have to be careful what you believe in.”