Alice Munro: Reminiscence, Interpretation, Adaptation and Comparison

by Mirosława Buchholtz (Volume editor) Eugenia Sojka (Volume editor)
©2015 Edited Collection 225 Pages
Series: Dis/Continuities, Volume 8


Canadian writer Alice Munro is the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Literature. This collection of essays by authors from Poland, Canada and France presents an intercultural perspective on her work and a new approach to Munro’s art of short story writing. It offers literary interpretation of the genre, critical perspectives on film and stage adaptations of her work, comparative analysis to the writings of Mavis Gallant and Eudora Welty, exclusive reminiscences of encounters with Alice Munro by Canadian writers Tomson Highway and Daphne Marlatt, and a unique African-Canadian perspective on Munro’s work by George Elliott Clarke.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Intercultural Encounters with Alice Munro. Introduction
  • I: Reminiscence
  • Just before… she wrote
  • Two Stories
  • Three Encounters with Alice Munro
  • II: Interpretation
  • A Touch of Evil in Carstairs
  • A Process of Discovery: Exploring Narrative Structure and Tension in Two Short Stories by Alice Munro
  • Ghost Texts, Patterns of Entrapment, and Lines of Flight: Reading Stories from Too Much Happiness and Dear Life in Connection with Earlier Stories
  • “[T]hat Embarrassed Me Considerably. As It Would Any Man”: The Masculinity Crisis in Alice Munro’s Dear Life
  • III: Adaptation
  • Adaptation in Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are?
  • Courting Johanna: Adapting Alice Munro for the Stage
  • Exploration – Adaptation: Towards Redefining the Relation between Literature and Film. The Case of Hateship Loveship
  • IV: Comparison
  • Alice Munro’s Black Bottom; or Black Tints and Euro Hints in Lives of Girls and Women
  • Impossible Escape from Jubilee and Winesburg: The Making of an Artist
  • Place in Fiction: Alice Munro, Eudora Welty and the Tradition of American Small-town Stories
  • The Canadian Junction: Mavis Gallant’s and Alice Munro’s Narrative Practice
  • Notes on Contributors

Eugenia Sojka
University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland
Mirosława Buchholtz
Nicolaus Copernicus University,
Toruń, Poland

Intercultural Encounters with Alice Munro. Introduction

The opening concert of Canada’s National Arts Centre Orchestra in its 2015–16 season will premier Alice Munro’s last short story collection, Dear Life (2012), as “a multi-media immersive experience,” “a form of sonic reincarnation” of the writer’s “vision of childhood in small-town Ontario” contrasted with “the Romantic European perspective on a child’s vision of heaven as expressed in Mahler’s Symphony No. 4.”1 Alexander Shelley, current NAC Orchestra Music Director, made this intriguing announcement while also expressing desire to share with the audience his passion and delight in Canadian literature, art and film. This intersemiotic translation of Dear Life into a narrative as soundscape creating conditions for visceral enjoyment and pleasure in Munro’s writing, coincides with the rationale behind our project which also aims at achieving a unique immersive experience of “listening” to and taking pleasure and enjoyment in the art of the 2013 Nobel Laureate in Literature. To show the complexity of Munro’s life and work as commented upon, translated and transmuted through the imagination of contributors representing a variety of cultural backgrounds, we have planned a collection of texts for which, following the music metaphor, we adopted a symphonic structure with such four distinct sections or movements as Reminiscence, Interpretation, Adaptation and Comparison.

The musical genre of symphony in general denotes pluralism, which in this collection relates not only to the variety of readings and methodologies proposed by the contributors from Poland, France and Canada, but also to pluralistic perspectives on reality offered by Alice Munro, as well as to pluralism of truth, which her stories explore. Like in a symphony, several lines of thought and movements ← 7 | 8 → come together before following different paths, so in this collection, several ways of approaching Munro’s art are brought together creating interpretation space and generating conditions for opening the texts to new inspiring readings. How does one write about one of Canada’s most accomplished writers in the post-Nobel Prize period, when there is plenty of “uncritical sainting”2 and even unqualified dismissal3 of her work? What questions do we ask or should we ask today about Alice Munro’s texts?

While commenting on her own writing, Munro has not put too many demands on her readers, which is perhaps the reason why her fiction seems to be so vulnerable and such an obvious target of caustic remarks. She does not protect herself behind the shield of feminism, though at the same time she accepts the obvious label of “women’s writing.” She denies being “a political person,” and in a conversation with Stefan Åsberg, she announces simply: “I want people to enjoy my books, to think of them as related to their own lives in ways.” In our overtheorized times, such declarations sound old-fashioned or juvenile. Most critics today take them at their face value, and do not bother to peek behind Munro’s camouflage of naïve, wide-eyed attentiveness. And so they are left with a handful of vignettes and not any wiser.

In this volume, we have sought pluralistic and dialogic approaches conducive to multiple perspectives and attentive readings of texts. In the symphonically structured collection, we propose a critical international and intercultural standpoint on Munro’s art of short story writing that is not limited to a literary interpretation of the genre, but also gives critical perspectives on film and stage adaptations of her work. Apart from the rare studies of adapting Munro for the stage and comparative analyses with Mavis Gallant’s and Eudora Welty’s writing by academics from Poland, Canada and France, we present exclusive reminiscences of encounters with the author by such Canadian writers as Tomson Highway and Daphne Marlatt, and include an essay by George Elliott Clarke, whose text offers a unique African-Canadian perspective on Munro’s work.

Readers of Alice Munro’s fiction have been eager to acknowledge her phenomenal memory of people, places and emotions, which belong to times long gone. It seems to be a misunderstanding widespread among many of her readers, though, to view Munro simply as a meticulous documentalist: a recorder of sounds and smells, a landscape painter, an analyst of individual and social ← 8 | 9 → minds. Only a few of her readers – especially artists and her compatriots – can, however, determine with some degree of certainty the proportions of memory and invention in her writing. Many critics have been trying to unlock the secrets of Munro’s art. It is insightful to peruse the keywords and key phrases recurring in critical works on Munro to see what has been enticing readers to this work, both with reference to its thematics and artistry.

Alice Munro has been considered one of the foremost writers of psychological fiction in English dealing with such topics as: doubleness of reality, identity in relation to gender, nationality and genre, identity and relationships, self-discovery and self-alienation, relational nature of identity formation, relational nature of the world, emotional geography of Southwestern Ontario, the relationship between identity and physical and social environment, geopoetics, auto-bio-geo-graphy, challenging the borders of national narratives and deconstructing great narrations of imagined communities. With reference to the artistry of the short story genre, the following keywords are most illuminating: open-endedness, complexity, irony, paradox, double vision, irony, subtext, multiple telling, polyphony, hybridity, dialogue with past storytelling traditions and conventions, challenging certain traditions while working within them, using communal narrative strategies of folktale, legend and gossip, language with denseness and precision characteristic of poetry, narrative techniques based on textile crafts, patchwork piecing, quilting, stitching, intertextuality, and destabilizing notions of unity, coherence and balance.

This dry catalogue of features of Munro’s writing may sound impressive, but it does not, however, explain the phenomenon of her art. We agree with Richard Howard’s statement that:

[t]he qualities of a first-rate writer cannot be defined, but only experienced. It is just the thing in him which escapes analysis that makes him first-rate. One can catalogue all the qualities that he shares with other writers, but the thing that is his very own, his timbre, this cannot be defined or explained any more than the quality of a beautiful speaking voice can be. (vi)

Munro’s fiction may well offer all above qualities and characteristics, but it also gives much more. What this “more” might be, is precisely the question the volume addresses by applying a variety of perspectives grounded in the intense experience of Munro’s art of short story writing.

We have attempted four different ways of approaching Alice Munro’s fiction and – at the same time – four different forms of its enjoyment: auto/bio/geo/graphical reminiscence, interpretation of her selected stories, adaptation of her ← 9 | 10 → works for stage and screen, and comparison with her antecedents and contemporaries.

Part One, “Reminiscence,” consists of three recollections: Daphne Marlatt’s prose poem, two stories by Tomson Highway, and an essay on three encounters with Alice Munro by Gerald Lynch. In an email responding to our invitation to contribute, Daphne Marlatt recollects: “I never actually met her but earlier in my life her Lives of Girls and Women was an important book for me, one I later taught, so I will see whether I can write something about it.” Tomson Highway recalls in his stories two occasions on which he had a conversation with Alice Munro, and both accounts are prime examples of auto/bio/geo/graphy in that they encompass each conversing party in their social and geographical context. Gerald Lynch offers in his essay not only an account of actual encounters, but also reflections on Munro’s symbolic presence in Canada’s cultural and academic space. His impressive report on the most recent Munro conference in Canada has a European echo in Corinne Bigot’s concluding remarks on a Munro seminar she organized in France in 2014.

Part Two, “Interpretation,” opens with an essay by Lola Lemire Tostevin who offers a careful reading of the title story of the collection Open Secrets. She takes exception to the common misunderstanding of Munro as “a nice little woman who writes nice little stories.” Dissecting the narrative thread by thread, Tostevin shows Munro’s unerring skill in gently unwrapping the secrets of her most lifelike protagonists. Her manner of handling everyday evil is – as Tostevin proves – both subtle and revolutionary.

Kim Aubrey’s essay on Alice Munro, “A Process of Discovery: exploring narrative structure and tension in two short stories by Alice Munro” was first published in North Dakota Quarterly (Vol. 73, No. 3) in 2006, as “Driving through Munro Country: One Reader’s Journey through Two Short Stories.” It provides a reading of “Floating Bridge” and “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” exploring Munro’s use of the fictional modes of realism and romance, expressed in modular and linear construction, to subvert her own and her reader’s expectations, and to forge a more expansive form for the short story.

Reading a few stories from Munro’s last two collections with the earlier stories they clearly evoke, Corinne Bigot examines the complex role played by intratextuality in Munro’s work. Earlier texts, acting like ghost texts, explain and ensure the haunting quality of Munro’s stories such as “Child’s Play” (Too Much Happiness) and “Gravel” (Dear Life). In connection with earlier stories, she also explores patterns of entrapment and lines of flights in “Train” or “Dimensions,” and loss and recovery in “Face” and “To Reach Japan,” relying on ← 10 | 11 → Gilles Deleuze and Felxix Guattari’s definition of the short story as defined by living lines.

Central to Alicja Piechucka’s essay is the topical concept of the masculinity crisis. The phenomenon, which receives increasing scholarly attention nowadays, is traceable in Alice Munro’s latest and, in all likelihood, last work, the short story collection Dear Life. The essay focuses on the male protagonists of selected stories, namely “Amundsen,” “Corrie,” “Pride” and “Train.” The male characters are examined in terms of their masculinity and how they fulfill – or rather fail to fulfill – traditional male roles. Munro’s heroes are husbands, fiancés, lovers, boyfriends and friends; as such, they inevitably define their masculinity vis-à-vis the women in their lives. The essay discusses the psychological, corporeal, sexual, social and economic dimensions of the masculinity crisis as depicted by the Canadian writer, with particular emphasis on issues of patriarchy, paternalism, feminism and most significantly, men’s growing anxiety and trauma, coupled with a sense of frustration, insecurity and inadequacy.

At the beginning of Part Three, “Adaptation,” Katarzyna Więckowska argues that adaptation, understood as a process of constant modification, is a key theme of Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? (1978). The collection of stories presents the formation of identity as an ongoing translation of various cultural scripts into lived practice, foregrounding the role of images and social patterns of identity, which one should aspire to. In her article, Więckowska explores a number of such scripts, including references to literary works, so as to illustrate the depiction of identity as a process, where the attempts at adapting oneself to new conditions or images invariably end in failure. The sense of inescapable failure is reinforced by Munro’s narrative technique, which emphasizes brokenness and constant interruption, and which, positioned between the novel and the short story, provides another example of adaptation.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
Short Stories film and stage adaptations intercultural analysis of literature 2013 Nobel Laureate in Literature
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 225 pp., 10 b/w fig.

Biographical notes

Mirosława Buchholtz (Volume editor) Eugenia Sojka (Volume editor)

Mirosława Buchholtz is Professor of English Literature and Head of the English Department at Nicolaus Copernicus University in Poland. Her research interests include American and Canadian literature. Eugenia Sojka is Head of the Canadian Studies Centre at the University of Silesia, Poland and former Vice-President of the Polish Association for Canadian Studies. Her research interests focus on Canadian diasporic and Indigenous literature and culture.


Title: Alice Munro: Reminiscence, Interpretation, Adaptation and Comparison
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228 pages