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How often have you enjoyed a book or movie where the story seemed so real that you assumed it may very well have happened? Or perhaps you’ve experienced a novel or film based on fact; taking place in an historical time


or surrounding a particular event in history. Authors will often sense a need to intertwine a fictional work into an actual event to add an element of realism to their story or relate a tale that should have been told.

The epic poem Evangeline, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1850, is an early example of this literary technique. Longfellow was a native of Portland, Maine; born in 1807. In 1821 he entered Bowdoin College and upon graduation was offered a professorship in modern languages there. In order to prepare himself, he spent three years traveling and studying in Europe.

During dinner with a university colleague in 1845, Longfellow heard the sad story of a young Acadian girl whose separation from her intended husband during the Grand Pre’ exile resulted in a lifetime of search for her long lost love.

He was inspired by the poignant account and 5 years later completed a beautiful poetic literary account of that 17-year old Acadian girl he named Evangeline, daughter of a wealthy farmer in the small town of Grand-Pre’. She was promised to be married to Gabriel whose father was the local blacksmith.

During the tragic deportation, Gabriel and Evangeline were separated as were so many others. Evangeline spends the remainder of her life searching for her long lost love. She never marries, becomes a Sister of Mercy and later a nurse, attending to the people afflicted with a terrible plague. She eventually finds Gabriel, now much older, and dying from this terrible disease. He tragically expires and soon after Evangeline dies of a broken heart.

Over time this poem became more and more accepted as a true story about a girl named Emmeline Labiche and her love, Gabriel Arceneaux; and that their last meeting took place under a live oak tree located near the St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church in St. Martinville. As a result of this story, an historical landmark commemorating the end to this tragic love story was built in the city of St. Martinville; there you’ll find the famous oak tree, church, and memorial to Evangeline.

Carl Brasseaux, an assistant director of the Center of Louisiana Studies at the University of Southwest Louisiana (now University of Louisiana at Lafayette) released a book in 1988 recognizing the literary achievement of Longfellow; however pointing out the absence of any specific written evidence that Evangeline ever existed. However, it was noted that stories such as this, would certainly have occurred as they related to the account of the Acadian exile from Nova Scotia.

The poem was so popular in fact that two Hollywood films were made (1922 and 1929), depicting the tragic story of Evangeline.

If you’d like more information about St. Martinville and the Evangeline story visit this informational website: St. Martinville