Busy busy day–no time to blog until now, and not much time for that anyway, but: one of my favorite authors, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize in Literature today! (See also this nice notice in which she makes a feminist point about being only the thirteenth woman to win the prize, and also includes a link to a CBC story.)
Her work is especially relevant to women’s historians, I think, because so many of her stories span several decades and are frequently compressed little nuggets of twentieth-century North American women’s history. If you’ve never read Munro before, don’t start with her much-hyped (and sure-to-be-emblazoned-with-gold-foil-stickers) latest collection, Dear Life. Start with some of her earlier works like The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose (1978), a fascinating document about girlhood and young adulthood in an Anglo-Canadian provincial Ontario town and the relationship between two women of different generations.
Talk about a writer of domestic fiction who addresses universal themes like shame, lust, and all varieties of love and disappointment. There’s a lot of shame and lost innocence in Munro’s works, many of which focus on girls’ adolescence and young womanhood, and the choices and constraints that Canadian women faced in the years after World War II and before the full flower of the sexual revolution.
Alice Munro on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, “the troubles of Erie-land,” and the inspiration for her writing career:
17 thoughts on “Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize in Literature”
I love Munro. That’s all. Nothing profound, just that her stories are so amazing!
I’ve always admired Alice Munro’s conciseness (concision?) – it approached poetry.
She rivals Tillie Olsen in her ability to live without blinders as a woman, but miraculously have the breath left to describe the experience.
This worldwide recognition is good news indeed.
I was so happy to hear this. I read The Lives of Girls and Women when I was in my early 20s and then read everything else ever written by her.
(way)Back when I was reading not just *anything*, but a little bit of *everything,* (c. 1990/1991) I read her volume of short stories: _Friend of My Youth_, and remember liking it a whole lot. I had a stack of varied fiction on the proverbial night-table, and even when I stopped, the stack stood there for years (it was actually an antique chair) to remind me of that weird surge of intellectual energy that could with some regularity keep me from going blank after 11 p.m.
I’m very pleased to have read this news yesterday. Munro is one of my favourite authors. If I’m going to spend time on literary fiction, it’s almost always going to be someone like Munro who’s more interested in promoting reading and literary culture.
I sadly culled her books from my personal library when we moved to this house, knowing that I could get them from the library whenever I wanted and that the interested grad student would truly benefit from having the four or five volumes I was giving up. Now I’m kind of wistful I can’t just pick one back up again and revisit her brilliance immediately.
I hear that sales of her books went on a mighty surge after this news came out. hooray!
“Dear Life” is disappointing: I didn’t finish. But “Hateship, Friendship …” rocked my world and even better was “Selected Stories,” for its wide time swath; it’s got history. If you saw “Away From Her” you will want to check out “The Bear Came Over the Mountain”–fills in some gaps.
I learned that some of her stories are now available open access, for those who haven’t read Munro and are interested:
As Dostoevsky opined, we have all crawled out from beneath Gogol’s Overcoat. And to where? Right into Chekhov’s Trivial Incident. When I peer through my monocle at a modern short story I see characters who can barely be distinguished from the author, I see a setting that is truly as bleak as the truck stops for which the genre was named, I see characters watching television and driving around in order to honor the generic North American day, I hear utterances that come out wrong and are then unheard and ignored, I read descriptions of people whose appearance is completely unremarkable in every way, and of course I see conflict, the bedrock of storytelling, not the kind that is created by physical action, or difficult choices, or an uncertain outcome, but rather the kind that a character will experience as an unexpressed fleeting existential twinge caused by one of the aforementioned banal exchanges. Alfred Nobel would dynamite himself if he could see what the short story has come to.
Monocle Man echoes many another man through history: “That can’t be good writing, because just look what she wrote about!”
Only certain kinds of writing are worth writing, my dear. It must be War and Peace, or well, perhaps something like Othello — shall I kill the hussy or NOT? What a difficult CHOICE! — but it can’t be women’s lives and their choices, because that’s just bleak. Just unremarkable. Just BANAL.
Unless it’s by Jonathan Franzen, in which case it’s genius!
Even I, the one who gets culture from yoghurt, have heard of Alice Munro. So I followed Susan’s link to some of the open stories. I read the earliest one in the list, Boys and Girls, 1968, and Runaways, 2003.
If there’d been an antidepressant in the house, I would’ve taken it afterwards. She’s right up there with Chekhov and Gogol. (I grew up in a Russian-speaking household with a literature prof mother, so I read them first as a teenager.) She’s captured the essence of how sexism pulverizes souls and lives, at least in those two stories.
I needed the antidepressant for the thought that someone with such gifts and so widely read has laid it out so clearly, and yet I can’t say I’ve noticed much increase in understanding of how the other half lives. Not even among the elites who read Munro.
There’s no hope.
The careful reader will see that, although I am prone to gender essentialism, I left it out of this discussion.
Let’s take my beloved Raymond Carver for example. His stories are just as bleak, pointless, plotless, precious, and free of dramatic tension as those of Jhumpa Lahiri. The only difference is that I have deep empathy for the Carverian narrator because my previous life experience includes large swaths of fishing, drinking, poverty, strife, and fauxchismo. I can plainly see how a story entirely about a guy getting drunk and ruminating about his relationships does not hold universal appeal or shed light on the human condition.
My point is that ever since James Joyce hinged The Dead on one moment of profound dialogue, the template seems to be profoundly interior and as a result petty.
Raymond Carver “free of dramatic tension?” Whatever, dude.
I think you miss a lot of the history of the domestic novel/short story if you think it begins with Joyce. Mme. Bovary was a very interior novel, too.
OK, there is dramatic tension in Carver, but generally it fizzles out with the characters driving home from wherever they were and ruminating on this and that.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I read so many stories, authored by men and women, that are like pick a poignant yet mundane circumstance from column A, pick a microscopic dialogical shard from column B, pick an overwhelming dreadful sensation from column C, and there you have it.
Forgive my generalizations in this thread. I feel like can do better on the history of narrative modes, so I am going to retreat to the lit-bro cave with Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, surely the finest work this vexing topic of interiority.
Monocle Man insists he has left his gender essentialism out of this comment he writes specifically to complain about Alice Monro winning the Nobel Prize for her banal little stories.
Then he explains how he likes “Carvarian” fictionista so much more, with their mimetic representations of huntin’ and shootin’ and other manly activities! I mean, who wouldn’t!
Except you girls, of course, with all your love of I don’t know, knittin’ and babies and similar unfizzly matters.
When I peer through my monocle, I can see that you teach fiction writing. And I think that you can see that, due to the effort I put into my comments here and the bon mots that bring a wry smile even to those who find my viewpoint to be mired in false consciousness, and due to the fact that I only post on matters of literature, I come to this site with a sincere heart.
I took a couple of creative writing classes at the university in the late 1980’s. For the record, I was terrible, and my lack of any sort of meaningful life experience was matched only by my pretentiousness. But I must say that there was an overwhelming push back against meta, absurd, and highly modern fiction, and that, yes, everyone wanted to write the perfect story with the perfect humble setting and the perfect wayward utterance that leads the protagonist into just the right understanding of his wretched and misbegotten past.
So, let us lay down our possible disagreement about Alice Munro, let me praise you for teaching the craft, and let me ask you this – are there any trends you can identify or generalizations you can make about the prose stylings and narrative aspirations of your students?
I don’t think Monocle Man is making a comment about women’s literature in particular.
And it’s kind of hard to disagree with what he says.