Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary

Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary
    Book Description:

    Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary begins with a previously unpublished article by Shields. In the essays that follow, international scholars employ a variety of theories and methodologies in their analyses of her work, including narrative theory, cultural criticism, feminist analysis, psychoanalytic approaches, tropological explication, theories of authorship, and ficto-criticism to demonstrate how Shields's writing represents a genuine revision of literary realism in which the ordinary is subject to contemplation and not just celebration.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6030-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Out of the Ordinary: Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    In March 2003, literary scholars, students, and creative writers gathered in Paris for a colloquium entitled “Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary,” a forum designed to open up an international critical dialogue on the career of Carol Shields. Shields, a prolific writer whose work includes novels, short stories, poetry, plays, criticism, biography, and essays, is by all measures an extraordinary, internationally recognized literary figure: her uncommon talent has been acknowledged by a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Critics Circle Award, an Orange Prize for Fiction, a Governor General’s Literary Award, a Canadian Authors Association Award, the Charles Taylor Prize for literary...

  6. 1 A View from the Edge of the Edge
    (pp. 17-30)

    When I was in London on a book promotion trip a couple of years ago I was asked one question repeatedly and by every British journalist I talked to: why is so much writing, suddenly, coming out of Canada? And, a secondary question, almost apologetically offered, why so much writing by women? I was not, I’m afraid, very well prepared for these questions, and though I love to invent theories, I was wary of concocting one on the spot. It seems every time I do deliver a fast-food hypothesis I’m confronted the very next day by an example that explodes...

    • 2 Voice and Re-vision: The Carol Shields Archival Fonds
      (pp. 33-58)

      Archives are a flow of documents created in time that have been removed from the locale of creation. Looking in the archival files, we see notebooks, manuscripts, letters, and photographs that we can choose to narrate in various ways. Yet this is not a composed narrative: one can start at any point to see a series of dialogues between correspondents or the jottings and notes that are fragments of the author’s dialogue and directives to herself, this is because the onlooker chooses to focus on a certain aspect around which details swirl. Underlying the physicality of archives is the physical...

    • 3 (Es)Saying It Her Way: Carol Shields as Essayist
      (pp. 59-79)

      Carol Shields was widely recognized as a talented, imaginative, and accomplished novelist, playwright, and poet. It is not as well appreciated, however, that she was also an extremely competent and proficient essayist. What attracted her to this form of writing? What was she trying to accomplish in her essays such that she added the genre to her literary repertoire? What was the relationship between her essay-writing and the other genres she practised with so much success?

      One of Shields’s last and most substantial writing accomplishments was a Penguin Life of Jane Austen. Her decision to take on this project was...

    • 4 “Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls”: Into the (Extra)ordinary World of Girls and Women
      (pp. 80-96)

      Various Miracles, the title of Carol Shields’s first collection of short stories, encapsulates her attitude towards the everyday: she sees it as a mix of the ordinary and the extraordinary – “various” usually refers to different things but often within the same general category, while, in contrast, “miracles” hints at the religious and the sacred. The short story “Dolls, Dolls, Dolls, Dolls,” which is part of the collection, is a unique experiment in Shields’s overall design to reveal the extraordinary – be it synonymous with magic, myth, or mysticism – contained in the ordinary. The aim of this paper is...

    • 5 Carol Shields’s The Republic of Love, or How to Ravish a Genre
      (pp. 97-114)

      Among the attempts to give shape to a republic, a state in which supreme power is held by the people and not by a pre-eminent ruler, Carol Shields’s novelThe Republic of Loveis undoubtedly one of the most extraordinary essays at voicing one’s wish to live in peaceful, yet not necessarily placid, coexistence with one’s fellow creatures, even in our bleak and boastful modern times. Both a serious meditation on love and a playful, novelistic exposé of one of the least beloved subjects of artistic expression – that of an ordinary happy life – Shields’s novel leaves the reader...

    • 6 Larry’s A/Mazing Spaces
      (pp. 115-136)

      Larry Weller’s first business card when he sets himself up as a specialist in garden mazes in suburban Chicago in 1988 provides an apt emblem for this essay, as it summarizes in visual profile all the issues related to mazes and spaces that I wish to consider in my reading of Carol Shields’s fictive biography. That card advertises the maze as a physical feature in landscape architecture, while its miniature pictorial representation foregrounds the maze as an artificially constructed space where one can wander slightly disoriented and be amazed, so that the maze may be appreciated as a spatial design...

    • 7 A Knowable Country: Embodied Omniscience in Carol Shields’s The Republic of Love and Larry’s Party
      (pp. 139-156)

      InThe Republic of Love, Tom Avery, one of two central characters in a novel narrated in the third person, briefly addresses his body, observed, as always, by a narrator who mingles voice and perspective with those of Tom: “‘You wimp,’ he said to his dusky penis, but in a friendly tone. He dried carefully between his toes. It had been some time since he had regarded his toes closely. Years.”¹Larry’s Partyis also narrated in the third person. In it, we are presented with a series of questions by a narrator who likewise mingles voice and perspective with...

    • 8 Pioneering Interlaced Spaces: Shifting Perspectives and Self-Representation in Larry’s Party
      (pp. 157-171)

      Carol Shields opensLarry’s Partywith a tweed jacket which her “futile,” “uneventful, average”² protagonist takes by mistake and which is subsequently used in a symbolical and instrumental way to tailor Larry’s psychological and social fabric. How does the repeatedly “mediocre” (113) Canadian become so extraordinary? This ordinary, “miserable adolescent” (165) would indeed remain as such without the construction of a spatialized identity, which renders the character exceptional and serves as the structural frame ofLarry’s Party. InL’expérience intérieure, Georges Bataille discusses the “labyrinthine construction of being,” which, he argues, takes the form of a “course we follow from...

    • 9 Scenes from a (Boston) Marriage: The Prosaics of Collaboration and Correspondence in A Celibate Season
      (pp. 172-190)

      In an essay inPrairie Fire, later included as a foreword to the 1998 reissue of the novelA Celibate Season(1991), Blanche Howard relates her first meeting with future collaborator Carol Shields at an Ottawa book discussion group in the early 1970s: “we soon recognized the other as a ‘book person,’” writes Howard.¹ Separated by family relocations shortly thereafter, the two writers renewed their acquaintance and deepened their friendship through the “Victorian diversion” (73) of regular letter-writing: “Carol loves to get letters –” Howard reflects, “once, visiting [Carol and her family] in Paris, my husband and I were amused...

    • 10 “Artefact Out of Absence”: Reflection and Convergence in the Fiction of Carol Shields
      (pp. 191-204)

      InThe Stone Diariesthe dying Cuyler Goodwill, as re-created in the imagination of his absent daughter, Daisy, muses on the parts of oneself that one never sees, concluding, as his life draws to a close, that one would need a “double mirror” to contemplate those remote quarters of the anatomy forever hidden from the subject’s view. His thought, though focused on body parts, voices Daisy’s understanding of the quest for indirect access, for the mirror that allows moments of glancing recognition through the darkness that hides us from ourselves.

      Daisy’s recourse to her father’s imagined life (and death) constitutes...

    • 11 Eros in the Eye of the Mirror: The Rewriting of Myths in Carol Shields’s “Mirrors”
      (pp. 205-220)

      The rewriting of classical mythology seems to enjoy a special place in Canadian literature, be it in the field of poetry, the novel, drama, or the short story. Anne Carson’sAutobiography of Red(1998) is one of the most recent and outstanding examples of such palimpsestic practice in verse. Robert Kroetsch’s Demeter, the male eponymous hero ofThe Studhorse Man(1970), might be regarded as best emblematizing the recontextualization of myths in Canadian fiction. “Let’s murder Clytemnestra according to the principles of Marshall McLuhan” (1969) by the playwright Wilfred Watson also embodies the hybridized form of the classic rewrite in...

    • 12 Disappearance and “the Vision Multiplied”: Writing as Performance
      (pp. 223-237)

      This essay sets out to throw light on the work of a highly erudite, francophile Canadian writer by placing it within the larger cultural context of certain aesthetic currents such as modernism and postmodernism, in particular their subsidiary tendencies in European and especially French postmodern writing. The discussion will focus first of all on a story from the collectionDressing Up for the Carnival, “Absence,” situating it within the continuum of experimental writers such as Raymond Queneau and Georges Perec, whose landmark works – whether they be direct influences or not – can serve a useful exegetical function. This involves...

    • 13 Large Ceremonies: The Literary Celebrity of Carol Shields
      (pp. 238-255)

      An interviewer for the prestigiousAtlanticmagazine, interviewing Carol Shields after her Pulitzer prize win, must have thought she was on fairly safe ground when she asked Shields about her legendary ability to chronicle the “ordinary life.” Instead, she quickly found the conversational ground crumbling beneath her: “I don’t think I quite believe in the concept [of the ordinary],” Shields insisted. “I don’t quite know what the contrary of ordinary people would be. Heroic people? I’m not interested in writing about heroic people or powerful people or rich people or movie stars, although I believe those people probably have quite...

    • 14 Mischiefs, Misfits, and Miracles
      (pp. 256-270)

      To perform any ficto-critical homage to the work of Carol Shields proposes beginning with an epigraph, a pithy frame, modest rather than forward, introductory in intent but with the gentle exertion of a raised eyebrow, an awning hiding a venerable umbrella shop or sheltering two characters walking arm in arm, enmeshed in a conversation so intense as to ripple with sedulous waves. The effect of Shields’s style and voice, her fictions generous as gestures and intricate as spiderwebs, is to arouse an ardour that can only culminate in another story, thelangue d’oïlof a glow-worm tale. A gesture of...

  10. Index
    (pp. 271-275)