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Alice Munro PDF

328 Pages·2012·2.39 MB·English
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C r i t iCa l in s i g h t s Alice Munro Alice_Munro.indd 1 9/17/2012 9:01:49 AM Alice_Munro.indd 2 9/17/2012 9:01:49 AM C r i t iCa l in s i g h t s Alice Munro Editor Charles E. May California State University, Long Beach SAleM PreSS A Division of eBSCO Publishing Ipswich, Massachusetts Alice_Munro.indd 3 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM Cover Photo: © Paul Hawthorne/AP/Corbis editor’s text © 2013 by Charles e. May Copyright © 2013, by Salem Press, A Division of eBSCO Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be used or reproduced in any man- ner whatsoever or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or me- chanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retriev- al system, without written permission from the copyright owner. For permissions requests, contact [email protected]. ∞ The paper used in these volumes conforms to the American National Standard for Permanence of Paper for Printed library Materials, Z39.48-1992 (r1997). Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Alice Munro / editor, Charles e. May. p. cm. -- (Critical insights) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-4298-3722-4 (hardcover) -- ISBN 978-1-4298-3770-5 (ebook) 1. Munro, Alice--Criticism and interpretation. I. May, Charles e. (Charles edward), 1941- Pr9199.3.M8Z54 2013 813’.54--dc23 2012019661 priNTed iN The UNiTed STATeS of AmericA Alice_Munro.indd 4 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM Contents About This Volume, Charles E. May vii Career, Life, and Influence On Alice Munro, Charles E. May 3 Biography of Alice Munro, Charles E. May 19 Critical Contexts Alice Munro: Critical reception, Robert Thacker 29 Doing Her Duty and Writing Her life: Alice Munro’s Cultural and Historical Context, Timothy McIntyre 52 Seduction and Subjectivity: Psychoanalysis and the Fiction of Alice Munro, Naomi Morgenstern 68 Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro: Writers, Women, Canadians, Carol L. Beran 87 Critical Readings “My Mother’s laocoon Inkwell”: Lives of Girls and Women and the Classical Past, Medrie Purdham 109 Who does rose Think She is? Acting and Being in The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, David Peck 128 Alice Munro’s The Progress of Love: Free (and) radical, Mark Levene 142 Friend of My Youth: Alice Munro and the Power of Narrativity, Philip Coleman 160 in Search of the perfect metaphor: The Language of the Short Story and Alice Munro’s “Meneseteung,” J. R. (Tim) Struthers 175 The complex Tangle of Secrets in Alice munro’s Open Secrets, Michael Toolan 195 The houses That Alice munro Built: The community of The Love of a Good Woman, Jeff Birkenstein 212 honest Tricks: Surrogate Authors in Alice munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, David Crouse 228 Narrative, Memory, and Contingency in Alice Munro’s Runaway, Michael Trussler 242 v Alice_Munro.indd 5 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM “Secretly Devoted to Nature”: Place Sense in Alice Munro’s The View from Castle Rock, Caitlin Charman 259 “Age Could Be Her Ally”: late Style in Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness, Ailsa Cox 276 Resources Chronology of Alice Munro’s life 293 Works by Alice Munro 296 Bibliography 297 About the editor 301 Contributors 303 vi Critical Insights Alice_Munro.indd 6 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM About This Volume Charles E. May With remarkable unanimity, reviewers, critics, and fellow authors agree that Alice Munro is the best short-story writer in the world to- day. robert Thacker, who has done a marvelous job in this volume of analyzing and synthesizing the vast amount of criticism that has il- luminated the complex fiction of Alice munro, quite rightly points out that throughout her distinguished career, Munro has stayed out of the limelight of the literary world and the morass of social debate, instead doing what she loves most and does best—writing. many of the critics cited here by Thacker, and most of the reviewers summarized by him in his authoritative biography, frequently justify their praise of munro’s fiction by arguing that the numerous characters and complexity of plot in her stories, especially her most recent ones, make them somehow novelistic. Yet Munro has always insisted that she does not write as a novelist does, that when she is writing a short story she gets a kind of tension she needs, like pulling on a rope at- tached to some definite place, whereas with a novel everything goes “flabby.” characters and events do not really matter in her stories, she says, for they are subordinated to an overall climate or mood. Munro’s best work is usually about the hidden story of emotion and the secret life, communicated by atmosphere and tone. Her greatest stories sim- ply do not communicate as novels do. As Ailsa Cox points out in her discussion of Munro’s last book, Too Much Happiness (2009), the author, who recently celebrated her eight- ieth birthday, has more than once threatened to give up writing. How- ever, since the publication of Too Much Happiness, she has published four new stories. As I try to explain in my own essay in this book, these four stories demonstrate that the brilliance of Alice Munro’s work de- rives not from any “novelistic” qualities but rather from their embodi- ment of the short story’s singular method of exploring universal real- ity. The true power of her stories lies in what can only happen in the About This Volume vii Alice_Munro.indd 7 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM imagination, where, as Munro wisely knows, paradoxes abound: truth can develop out of lies, reality can derive from fantasy, and good can result from bad. Timothy mcintyre suggests in his examination of munro’s Scots protestant cultural background that her fictional exploration of the complex relationship between everyday reality and imaginative ar- tifice developed, ironically, out of growing up in a culture in which reading and writing were more tolerated than celebrated. McIntyre re- minds us that although writing was the only thing Munro wanted to do, it was something she was unable to explain or justify to her family. Fortunately, although her love of literature was not actively fostered by her parents, neither was it strongly discouraged, for her father har- bored a secret wish to write and her mother was drawn to the theatrical. forced to leave school for financial reasons, munro got married and had little time to read and write while performing the domestic chores of wife and mother; fortunately, however, her husband was liberated and educated enough to believe that his wife’s creative efforts were worthwhile. As McIntyre notes, one does not have to be familiar with the lower-class Scots Irish inhabitants of southwestern Ontario in the mid-twentieth century to appreciate Munro’s work. Indeed, as many of the essays in this volume suggest, it is her love and knowledge of lit- erature—storytelling, narrative technique, metaphor making, classical myths, fantasies, and fairy tales—that provide the most illuminating context for her brilliant fiction. In a preface to The View from Castle Rock (2006), arguably the most intimate book she has ever written, Munro says that when she was in her mid-sixties and beginning to put together research about her fam- ily, she was also writing a “special set of stories” that she did not in- clude in her previous four books of fiction, for although they were not memoirs, they were closer to her own life than other stories she had written. All the stories in this “special set,” which appear in the second section of The View from Castle Rock, point to Munro’s life devoted to being a writer. As a young woman in “Lying under the Apple Tree,” viii Critical Insights Alice_Munro.indd 8 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM she has secret poetic ideas about looking up through apple blossoms, which has an irresistible formality for her, like kneeling in church. Af- ter an interruption of what was almost her first sexual encounter, mun- ro says that over the next few years, sardonic, ferocious men in books, like Heathcliff and rhett Butler, became her only lovers. In “Hired Girl,” when Munro, seventeen, takes a summer job with a family, she has erotic and romantic fantasies about them and the glamorous people who visit them. When the summer is over, the husband gives her a copy of Isak Dinesen’s Seven Gothic Tales (1934), and as soon as she begins to read, she loses herself in the book, believing that this gift of literature has always belonged to her. These are Alice munro’s most personal stories, portraits of the artist as a young woman. Medrie Purdham’s discussion of Lives of Girls and Women (1971), Munro’s only novel and the closest thing to a Künstlerroman she has ever written, convincingly shows how, in spite of the ostensible realism of her early fiction, an important context of munro’s work is a classi- cal literary tradition, not a tradition of simple mimesis. When Del’s mother, Addie, dips her pen into her laocoon inkwell, she provides a striking metaphor of Munro the artist dipping her own pen into the classical fount of Greek, roman, and Christian mythos. likewise, Purdham suggests that Del (and therefore Munro), drawn as she is to the formality of rituals and rites and the metaphorical nature of Chris- tian narratives, is more interested in the aesthetics of religion than its ethics and more fascinated by the theatrical than the theological. Simi- larly, David Peck shows how in the stories of Flo and rose in The Beg- gar Maid (1979), Munro explores the relationship between real life and role-playing, suggesting that as characters get caught up in pretense and become what they play, they not only discover who they are but also create their own identity. Mark levene discusses the importance of metaphor in Munro’s stories in The Progress of Love (1986), which in its exploration of the relationship between surface and depth is, like theater, another literary means by which one thing “stands in” for an- other in order to reveal its significant identity. And Naomi morgenstern About This Volume ix Alice_Munro.indd 9 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM applies a sophisticated aspect of psychoanalysis to munro’s fiction to discuss the story “Trespasses” as an exploration of the importance of storytelling and role-playing as keys to the ultimate secret of identity, the age-old oedipal question: who am i? Philip Coleman persuasively argues that Munro pushes her focus on the literary means that characters use to create their identities even further in Friend of My Youth (1990), by developing the self-reflexive narrative method of using short stories to think about the existential and emotional importance of narrative in human life. Coleman notes that although munro has not discussed theoretical aspects of her fic- tion in discursive form, she reflects on narrative in her fictional work. Although Munro is concerned with the issues that confront women, Coleman reminds us, she is not what one would call a feminist writer. Although she is concerned with the social life of small-town Ontario, she is not what one would call a regional writer. rather, as Coleman points out, Munro most often turns to literature to make sense of the self and the world in which one lives. As evidence of Munro’s focus on the language of literature to discover the nature of human reality, J. r. (Tim) Struthers tackles the complexity of munro’s best-known and most analyzed story, “Meneseteung,” paying particular attention to the nature of metaphor and the multilayered contexts that create the significance of the story. Probing the often-theatrical complexity of what Munro’s characters try to conceal in her turning-point collection, Open Secrets (1994), michael Toolan argues that even as her stories take on the ambition of novels in their psychological depth and complexity of plot, they con- tinue to be built on the basic characteristics of the short-story form: brevity, density, and intensity. Jeff Birkenstein approaches the issue of whether Munro’s stories primarily exhibit the characteristics of short stories or the qualities of novels by examining the relationship between stories in Munro’s The Love of a Good Woman (1998). Synthesizing the thematic issue of a community of women with the generic issue of x Critical Insights Alice_Munro.indd 10 9/17/2012 9:01:50 AM

Alice Munro's The Progress of Love: Free (and) radical, Mark Levene 142. Friend of My Youth: Alice of exploring universal real- ity. The true power of her stories lies in what can only happen in the itself is episodic, the way different selves, clearly marked as separate in time, are reunited in
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