Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Carol Shields: Author of biographical novels

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Carol Shields’s (1935-2003) novel The Stone Diaries (1993) is perhaps the only book to simultaneously win Canada’s Governor General’s Literary Award (1993) and America’s Pulitzer Prize (1995). This American-born Canadian writer is the author of a total of ten novels, five short story collections, three poetry books, and eight plays. Besides, he has also written a discussion book on the leading writer of Canadian literature, Susanna Modi. He also wrote a biography on Jane Austen, an important figure in English literature.

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Carroll’s ‘Suzana Modi: Voyage and Vision’ was published in 1976. Before this, his first novel called ‘Small Ceremonies’ was published. The central character of the novel is a woman named Judith Gill – who is a writer, mother and wife at the same time. Interestingly, Judith herself is researching Sujana Modi. And so the reader very easily understands that this Judith is actually a Carol Shields herself.

The next year in 1977, Carroll’s second novel Ñ ‘The Box Garden’ was published. The heroine of this novel is the sister of Judith of the first novel. It is this attempt to bring one’s life to life that characterizes Carroll, culminating in The Stone Diaries, where a woman named Daisy Goodwill Flett narrates her autobiography throughout the novel. In the novel ‘Larry’s Party’ published in 1997, we find the words of a Larry Weller. Carroll’s latest novel, Unless, which was published in 2002, is also about what critics say is ‘autobiographical’.

Carol Shields’ fiction has been called ‘domestic’, ‘feminine writing’ by many. Mother of five Carol’s statement did not contradict these comments, but supported them. He used to say ‘I love domesticity’. He used to say about himself ‘I became the mother who type’. And the fact that female characters predominate in his novels.

A novel written by Carroll is called: ‘Swann: A Mystery’. The novel revolves around the mysterious death of a Canadian woman poet named Mary Swan. In fact, we know that the poet’s name is Pat Lowther (1935Ñ1975). It may also be said in this context that Carroll is believed to have named his much-discussed novel ‘The Stone Diaries’ after Pat’s book of poems ‘The Stone House’ (1977).

Carol Shields was Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg from 1996 to 2000. He received a total of fifteen honorary doctorate degrees. On September 8, 2016, the University of Manitoba unveiled a bust of Carroll. The Carol Shields Memorial Labyrinth was built in 2008-2009 in Winnipeg’s historic Kings Park. It may be mentioned that Larry, the main character of Carroll’s ‘Larry’s Party’, is also an artist in building mazes. Many believe that Larry’s labyrinthine love is actually a reflection of Carol’s attitude. And so Larry’s favorite flowers are used in this maze built in memory of Carol Shields.

It can be said in this context that Carroll went to Scotland in 1955 to study under the funding of the British Council. There he met Donald Half Shields, a Canadian engineering student. They got married in 1957 and moved to Canada permanently. Carroll’s novel ‘Larry’s Party’ won the ‘Orange Prize for Fiction’ in 1998. Carroll’s last novel, Unless, was shortlisted for the 2002 Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Booker Prize, and the Orange Prize for Fiction. Carroll’s biography of Jane Austen won the $25,000 Charles Taylor Prize.

Carroll’s novel ‘Swan’ was also made into a movie during his lifetime – in 1996. Carroll’s novel ‘The Republic of Love’, published in 1992, was filmed in 2003. Directed by Deepa Mehta.

Margaret Atwood wrote about Carroll’s ‘Swan’ novel ‘One of the best novels I have read … deft, funny, poignant, surprising and beautifully shaped – in total command of itself and its language.’

But the poet Mary Swan never appeared as a character in the novel ‘Swan: A Mystery’. Rather, it is how the four people around him saw Swann. And through that description, a swan emerges in front of the reader. Those four people are Sarah Maloney, Morton Jimroy, Rose Hindmarch and Frederick Cluzy. Mary Swan, who used to write poetry, was killed one day by her brutal husband. A few days after his death, one day his poems fell into the hands of a connoisseur – her name was Sarah Melony. He gave a speech on Mary. One expressed interest in writing a biography of Mary after hearing Sarah’s words. His name is Morton Jimroy. Morton tried to gather information from various sources. Morton does not hesitate to resort to dishonesty in that work. Rose Hindmarch is a librarian Ñ Rose works at the library where Mary goes. After the death of Mary Swann, the publisher of her book is the fourth character of the novel – Frederic Crusi.

I would like to say one thing about this biographical novel. The books were titled ‘Mary Swan’ and ‘Swan: A Mystery’. However, it seems that the final name of the book was ‘Swan’. An edition published by Vintage Canada in 1996 that the present writer had the opportunity to read bears such a hint. The vintage edition however has a chapter at the end called ‘The Swan Symposium’. This is actually the framework of the film adaptation of the novel. Carroll uses two poems by Mary Swan at the beginning and end of the novel. A poem by a woman poet from a village in the province of Ontario is like this:

The rivers of the country
Shrink and crack and kill
And the water of my body
Grow invisible.

Although the reader may perceive it as actually written by Carroll.
I would like to end the current discussion with Carroll’s ‘Startle and Illuminate’. The book is not actually written by Carroll – written about Carroll – but makes extensive use of Carroll’s writings. The writings that Carroll wrote, especially on writing, were compiled by Carroll’s daughter Ann Giardini and grandson Nicholas Giardini, using the necessary information. Hence the word editor is added before their names. This book can be compared with the popular American author Stephen King (b. 1947) ‘On Writing: Memoir of the Craft’ (2000) and Anne Lammt (b. 1954) ‘Bird by Bird: Some Instructions of Writing and Life (1994). can

We know the personal life of Carol Shields – she is both a writer and a writing teacher. He taught creative writing. His speech-discussion about writing is not less. Read, edited, commented on friends’ manuscripts at various times. He also exchanged letters with other contemporary writers at various times regarding writing techniques etc. A collection of all in ‘Strattle A-Illuminate’. There are two introductions at the beginning of the book – one written by the daughter, another by the grandson. Another thing that Mae-Pute did together was to summarize the contents of the fourteen chapters of the book. At the end are several letters.

In the essay ‘Writers are first readers’, Carroll’s peculiar sensibility is revealed. He wrote, ‘Gradually I realized that the book I should actually write is the book I wanted to read and the book I couldn’t find in the library. First, this essay contains a detailed analysis of Carroll’s personal lessons. There are readings and comparisons. In the second essay, ‘Boxcars, Coat Hangers and Other Devices’, Carroll analyzes his motivations for writing new books. The article also has the author’s analysis of how he has entered new forms in new novels. Carroll also sheds light on how a novel with one goal in mind has progressed to a different goal in his writing career. In ‘Be Bold All the Way Through’ Carroll has some advice for writers – what to do, what not to do.

Before concluding, I would like to say that Carol Shields is one of the three contemporary Canadian writers that Lorraine York highlighted in her book ‘Literary Celebrity in Canada’ (Toronto, 2007).

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