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The Worlds of Carol Shields

The Worlds of Carol Shields

Edited by David Staines
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 300
  • Book Info
    The Worlds of Carol Shields
    Book Description:

    "Carol was a very fine writer and a remarkable human being, a wonderful person whose work I closely followed for more than 20 years. I interviewed her frequently over those years, with virtually every work she produced -novel, radio drama, play, book of stories. So I had a good sense of the span of her work and also her evolution as a stylist. But the key reason I wanted to make a book focusing on her life and work is that we were friends."-Eleanor Wachtel

    This book strikes the right balance between intimate accounts and literary analysis. It opens with reminiscences by close friend Eleanor Wachtel, which are followed by a study of Shields' poetry by her daughter and grandson, then by various aspects of her fiction, including a detailed examination of her plays. It closes with reminiscences by four close friends: Jane Urquhart, Joan Clark, Wayson Choy and Martin Levin.

    The 23 contributors offer new insights, new theories, and new perspectives about Shields' illuminating career. Only one piece-her obituary written by Margaret Atwood-has been previously published.

    eISBN: 978-0-7766-2186-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
    David Staines
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)
    David Staines

    For Carol Shields, novelist and short story writer, biographer and literary critic, playwright and poet, art offers a means of confronting the joys and dramas of the human condition. As she said in her seminar, “A View from the Edge of the Edge,” at Harvard University on February 10, 1997:

    Years ago, in an introduction to a book of short fiction, the American writer Hortense Calisher talked about the short story being mainly a new world form. Reports from the frontier, she called them, a lovely and accurate phrase that caught my attention. Perhaps, I remember thinking, this is what...

  5. To the Light House
    (pp. 5-8)
    Margaret Atwood

    The beloved Canadian author Carol Shields died on July 16, 2003 at her home in Victoria, British Columbia, after a long battle with cancer. She was 68. The enormous media coverage given to her and the sadness expressed by her many readers paid tribute to the high esteem in which she was held in her own country, and her death made the news all around the world.

    Conscious as she was of the vagaries of fame and the element of chance in any fortune, she would have viewed that with a certain irony, but she would also have found it...

  6. Art Is Making: Carol Shields in Conversation and Correspondence
    (pp. 9-20)
    Eleanor Wachtel

    I am writing about Carol Shields, about our friendship, and how I came to put together a book about her.¹ But first, Carol:

    A few years ago, a journalist writing a profile of Carol, called me up. We met and talked for an hour and then—although he certainly wasn’t writing any kind of muckraking piece—he lamented that he couldn’t find anything bad about her, that he couldn’t find anyone who would say anything bad about her. The article didn’t get published. But, I thought, there has to be something.

    Ah, I thought, go to the children.Mommie Dearest....

  7. The Square Root of a Clock Tick: Time and Timing in Carol Shields’s Poetry and Prose
    (pp. 21-34)
    Anne Giardini and Joseph Giardini

    As the eldest daughter and the eldest grandchild of Carol Shields and her husband Don, we have spent many hours in their homes surrounded by the sight and sounds of the antique clocks that Don collected. There were dozens of them, many quite plain and some more elaborate with gilded dials, mother-of-pearl inlays, or detailed gingerbread carving. Don, a retired engineer, has always kept them in good order and so they click and chirp and sound out the hours, not simultaneously—they are antiques after all—but near enough.

    Visiting Don and Carol’s house as a child, Joseph recalls, I...

  8. All That “Below-the-Surface Stuff”: Carol Shields’s Conversational Modes
    (pp. 35-52)
    Coral Ann Howells

    In her last interview with Eleanor Wachtel in 2002 Carol Shields spoke about the double dynamic of her life, about how “we have to use the time we’ve got to . . . get some words on paper and have lots of conversations with lots of people. I think that’s very important—connecting and having conversations, that’s a huge part of my life. Being interested” (Wachtel 179). Carol talks about language, speech, and writing in the same breath: as a writer she’s interested “in the way the language comes out and goes onto the page, how you can give it...

  9. Guilt, Guile, and Ginger in Small Ceremonies
    (pp. 53-62)
    Elizabeth Waterston

    Last winter in Florida I unceremoniously bombarded my friends withSmall Ceremonies.I wanted to see how readers not familiar with Carol Shields’s work would respond to this book, her first published novel. They ritually responded, “What’s with this character Furlong? So he is an American draft dodger—Why should that seem so hilarious to a Canadian author?”

    Oh, but—“Carol Shields was not strictly a Canadian author when she published this book in 1976. She had spent the better part of her life as an American citizen . . . . ”

    “The better part—yeah, I’ll go for...

  10. Revisiting the Sequel: Carol Shields’s Companion Novels
    (pp. 63-80)
    Wendy Roy

    The current proliferation of sequels in both literary and cinematic venues suggests an abiding interest in stories that follow up on and expand previously circulated stories. Sequel novels are written, published, and read for many different reasons, the most commonly expressed being a desire by the reader for repetition, but with difference; a wish by the author to explore in more detail a character or situation from a previous book; and a need expressed by the author or publisher, or both, to continue an economically successful venture. One of the most oftquoted commentaries on sequels is Terry Castle’s 1986 study...

  11. Bio-Critical Afterlives: Sarah Binks, Pat Lowther, and the Satirical Gothic Turn in Carol Shields’s Swann
    (pp. 81-92)
    Cynthia Sugars

    Some time in the early 1970s, Carol Shields, then a master of arts student at the University of Ottawa, sat in the audience at one of the university’s Canadian Literature symposia, the very same symposium series that hosted a conference dedicated to the work of Carol Shields in 2012. Given the strange reflexivity of this coincidence, it is worth noting that Shields directly commented on the symposia and the debates about literary tradition and influence that they helped to foster. Registered as a master’s student in the university’s English Department from 1969 to 1975, and working under the supervision of...

  12. Assembling Identity: Late-Life Agency in The Stone Angel and The Stone Diaries
    (pp. 93-112)
    Patricia Life

    Two Canadian novels, published twenty-nine years apart, facilitate an examination of identity and agency in relation to aging. Carol Shields’s 1993 novelThe Stone Diariesgestures towards Margaret Laurence’s 1964 novelThe Stone Angelin its recording of the life of an aged central female character, its stone imagery, its depiction of aging as decline and loss, and its enquiry into the themes of late-life recollection and search for selfhood and meaning. Both texts focus on the protagonist’s interior life and on the construction of personal identities more than on the action of an external plot. Both present the protagonist...

  13. Male-Pattern Bewilderment in Larry’s Party
    (pp. 113-128)
    John Van Rys

    In the winter and spring of 1997, in a June 2 meeting, and through a January 1998 email exchange, Donna Krolik Hollenberg conducted an extended interview with Carol Shields. That timeframe coincides with Shields’s finishing, publishing, and promoting her novelLarry’s Party.In the interview, Shields confides, “I’ve always been interested in history—what it is, who gets to write it, and what it’s for” (341). In other words, one force that lies behind her fiction is the complexity of history—the various understandings of history, its authoring, and its uses. “I know,” she goes on to explain, “as everyone...

  14. Departures, Arrivals: Canada/United States Migrations and the Trope of Travel in the Fiction of Carol Shields
    (pp. 129-142)
    Alex Ramon

    The reductive classification of Carol Shields as a “domestic” novelist continues to obscure the extent to which travel is a central and recurrent aspect of her fiction. Although several critics—most notably Stephen Henighan in his contentious chapter “‘They Can’t Be about Things Here’: The Reshaping of the Canadian Novel” inWhen Words Deny the World(2002) and Gillian Roberts in her incisive article “Sameness and Difference: Border Crossings inThe Stone DiariesandLarry’s Party” (2006)—have explored Shields’s fiction in relation to issues of Canada/ US border crossing and cultural exchange, Shields’s work still tends to be associated...

  15. “To Be Faithful to the Idea of Being Good”: The Expansion to Goodness in Carol Shields’s Unless
    (pp. 143-160)
    Margaret Steffler

    In her final novel,Unless,and in a number of interviews toward the end of her life, Carol Shields drew attention to the concept of goodness. She told Eleanor Wachtel at the beginning of 2002 that goodness was “the main preoccupation of [Unless]” and that she had been “interested in the idea of goodness for a number of years” (Wachtel 153). An earlier comment on a more contained version of goodness focused on Shields’s fondness as a child for the world and characters of “Dick and Jane readers” and the way in which “everyone was terribly good to everyone else.”...

  16. Narrative Pragmatism: Goodness in Carol Shields’s Unless
    (pp. 161-176)
    Tim Heath

    Carol Shields makesUnlessinto a work that undeniably invites interpretation under the banner of postmodernism, yet to take the book up as merely postmodern risks opening it into an unavailing exercise that will not adequately unfold its meaning. Meaning, in particular the meaning of goodness and of all the intuitive “little chips of grammar,” as well as the enigmatic title ofUnless,matters greatly because Shields enters the realm of ethics with her inquiry into goodness, with her use of the woman who self-immolates, and with her suggestively allegorical feminist dialogue between Reta Winters and Danielle Westerman, respective avatars...

  17. Shields’s Guerrilla Gardeners: Sowing Seeds of Defiance and Care
    (pp. 177-196)
    Shelley Boyd

    In an interview Carol Shields once stated, “I would never write a war story, I meanthewar story, as it were, is entirely a male-modelled genre. . . . violence has not been a part of my experience and I am far too fond of my characters to want to do them violence” (Anderson 143–44). Although Shields rejected war narratives as unfamiliar and unappealing, she was drawn to an alternative form of battle taken up entirely by her female characters—guerrilla gardening. Among the many homeowners who tend their yards in Shields’s fictional worlds is a peculiar cast...

  18. Cool Empathy in the Short Fiction of Carol Shields
    (pp. 197-222)
    Marilyn Rose

    In reviewing Carol Shields’s short story collectionVarious Miracles(1985),New York Timesbook reviewer Josh Rubins refers to her “serious whimsy,” a “fragile amalgam that . . . is sometimes surprisingly powerful as well as highly engaging. (11)” He notes the way that some of Shields’s “tiny fictions” have “sizable impact” and observes that her stories are somehow “disarming,” and pull “the reader inside her reckless imagination before the usual resistances can take shape.” He concedes that not all of her stories are equally successful: some are merely droll or seem to strain for effect. The best, however, exhibit...

  19. The “Perfect Gift” and the “True Gift”: Empathetic Dialogue in Carol Shields’s “A Scarf” and Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Scarf”
    (pp. 223-248)
    Elizabeth Reimer

    Mothers, daughters, and gift giving: in two mirroring stories written by Carol Shields and Joyce Carol Oates we are invited to penetrate some of the mysteries of these expressive transactions. The titles themselves suggest a dialogue between the two writers: Oates’s “The Scarf” was published in 2001, one year after Carol Shields’s “A Scarf” appeared inDressing Up for the Carnival.Oates reviewed Shields’s collection of stories but it is not known whether her story responds directly to Shields’s or whether the stories germinated independently. Nevertheless, they form a dialogue with each other even as they highlight the importance of...

  20. Prepositional Domesticity
    (pp. 249-262)
    Aritha van Herk

    Carol Shields claimed once, in my hearing, that she wasn’t a very good cook. I registered the comment’s wry self-deprecation, and immediately knew that she had performed one of those marvellously ironic sleights of hand that made her very talent both inconspicuous and adroit. She was not about to broadcast her abilities withboeuf en daube,how she had perfected exactly the dish that Mrs. Ramsey presides over in Virginia Woolf’sTo the Lighthouse:the “beef, the bay leaf, and the wine” (Woolf 80) combining into the “exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice” (Woolf 100) rising from the...

  21. “Grand Slam”: Birthing Women and Bridging Generations in Carol Shields’s Play Thirteen Hands
    (pp. 263-276)
    Nora Foster Stovel

    Carol Shields is most famous as a novelist, but she worked in many genres, including drama, producing and publishing four plays in the 1990s:Departures and Arrivals(1990),Thirteen Hands(1993),Anniversary(1998) with David Williamson, andFashion, Power, Guilt and the Charity of Families(1995) with Catherine Shields. Her interest in theatre started early: in “I/Myself,” a poem about her childhood self, she calls herself “theatrical even then” (6). Shields’s interest in drama led her to view many plays: in her “Preface” toThirteen Hands and Other Plays(2002),¹ she recalls: “I was an avid theatre-goer in the sixties...

  22. Archives as Traces of Life Process and Engagement: The Late Years of the Carol Shields Fonds
    (pp. 277-292)
    Catherine Hobbs

    For an archivist, treating the final portion of a person’s archives, particularly archives one is very familiar with, is a rare privilege. I am fortunate to have been able to acquire and process the latter part of the Carol Shields fonds which traces the final phase of her story and I was able to bring to this task the knowledge I have from working with the previous instalments of her archival fonds for many years.¹ What follows are my reflections as an archivist on the latter portions of Shields’s archives and what they might mean for research, both for their...

  23. The Voices of Carol Shields
    (pp. 293-294)
    Joan Clark

    Carol Shields and I met thirty-six years ago when we were flying to Japan where our husbands were attending a Geotechnical Engineering Conference. An hour out of Vancouver, Don Shields suggested he and I change seats, and Carol and I talked pretty well non-stop across the Pacific. We began by talking about our work: at the time Carol had published two novels, two books of poetry, and short stories; I had published two children’s novels, poetry, and short stories. From there we moved onto other writers and their books, discussing those we admired, those we dismissed in the reckless way...

  24. The Clarity of Her Anger
    (pp. 295-298)
    Jane Urquhart

    Many things could be said, and no doubt have been said, in praise of both Carol Shields and the work she created: her humanity, her ability to record and celebrate what others might see as less than dramatic lives, her skill in character development (evidenced by the veracity of dialogue, eccentricity of action, and sensitive renditions of her character’s inner lives), and her ability to put together beautifully crafted sentences. I loved Carol and loved everything about her work, and, at the end of the day, what I loved more than anything was what I will call the clarity of...

  25. My Seen-Sang, Carol Shields: A Memoir of a Master Teacher
    (pp. 299-304)
    Wayson Choy

    In the form of a rather personal memoir, I would like to examine Carol Shields’s characteristic “goodness,” that is, how I now perceive her quality of “goodness,” and how this quality has inspired my own writing.

    It was through her teaching that “goodness” became real to me, and came to matter very deeply. If you will forgive me, I feel that I have come, at last, after thirty-eight years to understand that Carol Shields had all along been what my father in his formal Cantonese would honour as one of myseen-sangs,one of my “master teachers”.

    In 1976–77,...

  26. Carol Shields
    (pp. 305-312)
    Martin Levin

    The first time I met, or perhaps encountered is the better word, Carol Shields was in 1994, on assignment for the now-defunctCanadian Imperial Oil Review.I sense barely repressed laughter, but, despite its less than trippingly literary name and provenance, theReviewwas a wellmade quarterly magazine, as interested in Canadian culture as it was in Canadian oil.

    Carol, who, I was soon to learn, hid an astringent sharpness beneath an exterior of sweet agreeableness, found nothing risible in the assignment and agreed to cooperate. To begin with, she allowed me to sit in on a workshop she was...

  27. Contributors
    (pp. 313-317)