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Carol Shields, Narrative Hunger, and the Possibilities of Fiction

Carol Shields, Narrative Hunger, and the Possibilities of Fiction

Edward Eden
Dee Goertz
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Carol Shields, Narrative Hunger, and the Possibilities of Fiction
    Book Description:

    Award-winning Canadian writer Carol Shields has garnered praise from scholars and an international audience of readers. Inspired by the quality and scope of Shields's work,Carol Shields, Narrative Hunger, and the Possibilities of Fictionaddresses her creative exploration of postmodernism. As the first thorough examination of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, this collection of essays establishes the groundwork for future studies of her oeuvre.

    The collection begins with a significant new essay from Shields herself, 'Narrative Hunger and the Overflowing Cupboard,' perhaps her most substantial commentary upon her own aims as a writer. In addition, scholars from Canada, England, the United States, and Australia explore the complexity of Shields's work and her contributions to the genre of the novel. These lively essays reflect Shields's verve and her playful approach to today's sophisticated critical thinking. Among the topics are Shields's use of biography and autobiography, metafiction, popular romance, and symbolism. While the essays foreground the unreliability of language, and hence our inability to know one another or even ourselves, the contributors argue that Shields has taken a step beyond postmodernism by suggesting that we can transcend the limitations of its epistemology.

    Containing several essays onSwannandThe Stone Diaries, Shields's most popular works, and the most extensive annotated bibliography available of works by and about Shields, this collection will appeal widely to scholars, students, and readers of Carol Shields and Canadian fiction.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7275-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    The morning after Carol Shields delivered her address ‘Narrative Hunger and the Overflowing Cupboard’ at her alma mater, Hanover College, I ran into a student who had heard her speak. I asked Gwen what had struck her most about Carol’s speech. ‘She has such a beautiful voice,’ Gwen replied.¹ This response reveals much about the issues Shields raises in the essay that begins this volume. Literary critics might interpret Gwen’s response as a comment on Shields’s distinctive narrative tone, her ability to combine trenchant satire with an appreciation for mystical or transcendent moments embedded in the quotidian. Of course, these...

  5. Section One: Narrative Hunger and the Overflowing Cupboard

    • Narrative Hunger and the Overflowing Cupboard
      (pp. 19-36)

      Someone asked me not long ago what I did when I was not writing or reading. A good question, I thought, and naturally I pondered it. Of course, much that I do can be filed under the title of what Isak Dinesen calls ‘this business of being a woman,’ I cook, shop, write notes, keep in contact with my family. Other than that, I mostly walk around and think about narrative, about the telling of stories, what they mean, these stories – and why we need them.

      Tonight I want to talk about the stories that sustain our culture and...

  6. Section Two: The ‘Precious Oxygen of Permission’:: Shields’s Experiments with Narrative Form

    • Filling the Creative Void: Narrative Dilemmas in Small Ceremonies, the Happenstance Novels, and Swann
      (pp. 39-60)

      In ‘Narrative Hunger and the Overflowing Cupboard,’ Carol Shields describes herself as a writer preoccupied with ‘narrative … the telling of stories, what they mean, these stories – and why we need them’ (19). It is a statement that functions as an apt description of the content of this essay, which aims to explore how Shields uses her narratives to reflect on narrative. Her belief that ‘narrative hunger is part of the human personality’ (20) echoes the view expressed in an essay by Barbara Hardy that ‘we dream in narrative, day-dream in narrative, remember, anticipate, hope, learn, hate and love...

    • The Republic of Love and Popular Romance
      (pp. 61-83)

      InThe Republic of Love(1992), Carol Shields speaks of love ironically, seriously, mockingly, reverently, conventionally, and eccentrically. The novel exhibits clear continuities with the popular romance, adopting its structures and reaffirming the importance of its subject matter. At the same time, Shields removes the love story from the realm of doctor-and-nurse books by adding a dimension of sophisticated intellectual analysis to the traditional focus on emotional and sexual experience. Just asSwannrevises the narrative form of the detective mystery, soThe Republic of Loverevises the romantic novel, incorporating gentle parody of the genre as well as self-reflexive...

    • The Stone Diaries, Jane Eyre, and the Burden of Romance
      (pp. 84-112)

      A year after Clarentine Flett had walked out of her marriage, her husband, Magnus, we are told, discovers four little books in the bottom of Clarentine’s sewing basket: ‘Romantic books, he supposed they were called, ladies’ books with soft paper covers. Nine cents each, the price was stamped on the back. The Nine-Penny Library.’¹ Where they had come from he can only guess – she must have bought them from ‘the old Jew peddler … and read them in secret’ (99–100) – though he cannot understand the need for secrecy: ‘as if he would ever have denied her so...

    • Autobiography As Critical Practice in The Stone Diaries
      (pp. 113-146)

      ‘Biography is my consuming passion,’ Carol Shields told an interviewer in 1999.¹ Her writing career bears out that self-assessment. While Shields was a graduate student at the University of Ottawa during the 1970s, she completed a study of nineteenth-century Canadian autobiographical writer Susanna Moodie; during that same decade, she made a fictional biographer of Moodie the narrator of her first published novel,Small Ceremonies, and wrote an essay on intersections between autobiography and fiction (‘Three Canadian Women’). Shields has since written a novel that focuses on the posthumous reconstruction of a murdered poet by biographers and academics (Swann) and a...

    • ‘The Subjunctive Mode of One’s Self’: Carol Shields’s Biography of Jane Austen
      (pp. 147-172)

      Although, as Wendy Roy points out in the preceding essay, Carol Shields has stated that ‘biography is my consuming passion,’ it was not until 1999 in an interview for theAtlantic Monthlythat she claims to have finally written a ‘real biography,’ a ‘short biography of Jane Austen, for James Atlas’s series of biographies about writers written by writers.’¹ Significantly, this particular literary biography is both about a renowned woman writer and written by a renowned woman writer who not only identifies herself as a feminist but also identifies Austen as a literary foremother.² These observations alone are enough to...

  7. Section Three: To ‘Shorten the Distance between What Is Privately Felt and Universally Known’:: Reaching beyond the Word

    • Fat, Nail Clippings, Body Parts, or the Story of Where I Have Been: Carol Shields and Auto/Biography
      (pp. 175-200)

      ‘[N]o species of writing seems more worthy of cultivation than biography,’³ confidently stated Dr Johnson. Judith Gill, of Carol Shields’sSmall Ceremonies, would like to agree. So would Morton Jimroy ofSwann. Both, however, belong to a post-Freudian age in which the scrutiny of motives has contributed to replacing the figure of the biographer as patient investigator with that of the literary scavenger.⁴Small Ceremonies(1976) andSwann(1987) show Shields not only exposing this unsavoury aspect of the biographer’s craft, but also anticipating the challenge launched by Malcolm Bradbury by descending into the self-made labyrinth of the biographer’s writerly...

    • ‘She Enlarges on the Available Materials’: A Postmodernism of Resistance in The Stone Diaries
      (pp. 201-229)

      Daisy Goodwill enters the world in a torrent of blood and grief, aware from day one of the postmodern condition(s) that will vex her from girlhood to old age. Early in the effort to construct the story of her life, Daisy sounds discouraged, apologetic, even, for wanting to make something beautiful from such ragged fragments: ‘Blood and ignorance,’ she frets, ‘what can be shaped from blood and ignorance?’ Nevertheless, she persists in this project of making meaning from the rough materials of her bodily existence — a mass of flesh and fancifulness – which she ‘feel[s] compelled to transform into...

    • Treading the Maze of Larry’s Party
      (pp. 230-254)

      Near the end ofLarry’s Party, characteristically out of chronological order, we read a Dear John letter sent to Larry by his soon-to-be ex-wife, ‘bossy, pedagogical Beth.’² She slathers her rejection of Larry with the kind of flowery figure of speech that gives literary language a bad name:

      Darling Larry,

      All this will be easier for you if you think of life as a book each of us must write alone, and how, within that book there are many chapters … Your spiritual signature, sweet Larry, has illuminated mine, and I like to think that our combined epigraph has sent...

    • The Swann Who Laid the Golden Egg: A Cautionary Tale of Deconstructionist Cannibalism in Swann
      (pp. 255-282)

      ‘Let’s fuck and fuck and fuck forever,’ says Dorrie to Larry in the early pages ofLarry’s Party.¹

      Refreshing, isn‘t it? To hear one clear, abrasive, generative word you know the meaning of, a word still capable of squirting juice. You grow alert, excited, ashamed, nervous, especially in this context – a scholarly work – especially after you’ve swirled around in the maelstrom of this ‘Circuitous Introduction…’

      Fuck.’ What a relief!

      Larry‘s not relieved:

      ‘Do you have to say that? … Can’t you just say “making love”?’

      ‘You say “fuck,”’ she said to Larry. ‘You say it all the time.’...

  8. Section Four: Annotated Bibliography

    • Carol Shields: An Annotated Bibliography
      (pp. 285-301)

      Section I of this bibliography lists Carol Shields’s published fiction, drama, poetry, and criticism. Her works are classified according to genre, and listed chronologically within each category. The publication details are those of the first editions, and information about literary prizes is also given. A summary of contents is given for her critical writing only, since her imaginative work is discussed elsewhere in this volume.

      section II of the bibliography lists all the critical articles on Shields’s work (excluding book reviews) that have appeared in English- or French-language books and journals. A summary of contents is given for each item...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 311-314)
  10. Index
    (pp. 315-323)