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The major political or ideological essays of the 19th century were not the work of orators or public figures (Papineau, Mercier, Laurier) but the discussions and chronicles of some leading journalists (Étienne , Arthur ). L'Avenir du peuple canadien-français (1896), by sociologist Edmond de Nevers, was a cultural and deeply political essay, a mixture of idealism, pessimism and prophecy. In the 20th century as well, the best political essays have been the work of a few well-educated journalists (Olivar Asselin, Jules Fournier, André ) and nationalist historians (Lionel , Michel Brunet). They raised (or revived) the question of Québec's relations with London and Paris and with English Canadians; they were as concerned about war and conscription as about elections.

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Philosophical and political essays, pamphlets, manifestos and polemic exchanges are all arguably forms of the essay. When placed in their original contexts, they afford excellent opportunities to observe sociopolitical and cultural phenomena of their eras. Polemical texts and pamphlets are not always self-evidently critical in nature, and they are made all the more effective when the author's indignation is camouflaged. A complete polemic structure is to be found as an undercurrent in accounts of early voyages, in private and administrative correspondence and in the writings of religious orders in New France. Generally addressed to authorities in the mother country, these texts crystallize metropolitan antagonisms around Canadian situations. They contain a double contradiction, expressing the New World in the linguistic and cultural codes of the mother country, which is itself replete with antagonisms such as those between Recollets and Jesuits or, at another level, proponents of evangelization and champions of exploitation.


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Since the midseventies, the literary journal Liberté has published the best political essays on topics such as language and translation, official bilingualism and biculturalism, culture, money and the State. It has dedicated special issues to topics such as referendums, majorities and minorities and Anglo-Montrealers. Many contributors to Liberté include political articles in their collections of essays. For the late André Belleau (Surprendre les voix, 1986), is not racist, but anti-racist, a tool of development. So thinks Jean Larose, whose la Petite Noirceur won a controversial Governor General's Award in 1987. Larose is a vivid polemicist in la Souveraineté rampante (1994), addressed to shy, tired, soft sovereigntists.


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Unlike literary criticism, which necessarily passes judgement on the work under study, the literary essay freely considers the written work, offering nondefinitive, personal comments on its aesthetic value. The literary essay first appeared in newspapers and magazines of the mid-19th century as well as in papers presented in literary circles, at the Institut canadien and in similar reading groups. These first stirrings prepared the way for true literary essayists, Étienne Parent and Napoléon Aubin, Abbé Henri-Raymond , Octave , Arthur Buies and a few others who were prompted by religious and moral concerns to deal with aesthetic questions.