Corinne Bigot (University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, France): “Patterns of Entrapment, Lines of Flight, Embedded Stories and Resistance to Closure: Reading ‘Thanks for The Ride’ with ‘The Shining Houses’ ”
I propose to read “Thanks for the Ride” and “The Shining Houses” together as if they were two versions of the same story, paying particular attention to the patterns of entrapment that are represented, and challenged, comparing the characters of Lois and Mrs Fullerton, Dick and Mary, and looking at themes such as shame, risk, and exposure, resilience and resistance and the role played by incongruous or unremarkable details. Mostly, I will consider how in these early stories Munro is already playing with devices to challenge traditional closure and will consider the role played by the embedded story in each. To do so I will rely on Deleuze and Guattari’s vision of the short story as organised around the question, “What happened?” and defined by living lines, flesh lines.
Several stories in Alice Munro’s first collection The Dance of the Happy Shades—“Images,” “Time of Death,” “The Day of the Butterfly,” and “A Trip to the Coast”—focus on a young girl’s initiation into the realities of loss and bereavement. Munro links the four stories through her deployment of symbolically freighted images or objects that capture the consciousness of the child, “dazed and powerful with secrets” (“Images”), as she confronts the fact of human mortality. In “Images,” the shadow of death, “the thing you have always known was there,” appears as an omnipresent stalker menacing the child narrator and her family: “All my life I had known there was a man like this and he was behind doors, around the corner at the dark end of a hall.” Similarly, in “Time of Death,” a young girl grasps the fact of her brother Benny’s death only when she glimpses, with terror, the figure of the “scissors-man,” a peddler whom Benny had “run out to meet when he came,” and whose “unintelligible chant” resembles Benny’s infant prattle. In “A Trip to the Coast,” the child May presciently discovers, shortly before her grandmother’s unexpected death, that “the world was filled with an old, dusty, unfriendly light . . . something had changed, something had cracked.” Finally, in “The Day of the Butterfly,” the child narrator apprehends death as a taint or contagion lurking in seemingly “innocent” objects, “no longer . . . to be touched, exchanged, accepted without danger.” As Munro demonstrates, images or objects associated with loss suddenly become infused with a sinister potency, clothing the abstraction of death with flesh and stripping away one’s self-protective distance. The author suggests that the awareness of mortality, a subterranean knowledge even in the youngest of children, reveals itself by way of these images and objects, which “turn shadowy, turn dark” (“The Day of the Butterfly”), and persistently haunt the survivor’s mental landscape. Describing Munro’s “vision of ephemerality,” Eileen Dumbrowski contends that death in Munro’s stories “emerges as a narrative device; it evokes conflicting responses in characters, and it challenges them to define its significance.” I argue that, for Munro’s child and adolescent characters, the recognition of death provokes paradoxical responses both of defamiliarization—a perception that “something had changed, something had cracked”—and a fatalistic acknowledgment of “the thing you have always known was there.” The blend of the ordinary and the strange that lies at the heart of Munro’s fiction is nowhere more apparent than in her early stories about children’s experience of death.
The world of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro’s first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades, first published in 1968, is firmly rooted in the misleading ordinariness of her first person female narrator protagonist’s everyday life in small town Canada. Thanks to Munro’s skillful handling of the specific genre of the short story, in this collection of dense stories focusing on a particular event that eventually disrupts the routine of their everyday, Munro’s characters all experience some kind of epiphany through which they end up getting an insight into their “tender spot”, a truer meaning of their lives than the comfortable, reassuring image they had of themselves, of their family and of their whole world. We will analyze the literary techniques used by Munro, her “art” in all senses of the term, such as her detailed evocation of the setting, her careful construction of characters and use of focalization, her choice of titles, to picture, decipher, explore, transform and illuminate the everyday of her characters and the renewed, sometimes disappointed vision they have of the pattern of their lives, thus exploring the construction of the female subject. We will show how Munro handles the reality of small town Canada in the 1960s by “putting on a mask of ordinariness” to better unveil the magic that lies beneath this reality and highlight the extraordinary within the ordinary which then operates as a “subterfuge”.
Sabrina Francesconi (University of Trento, Italy): “Alice Munro and the Poetics of Linoleum”
Dance of the Happy Shades can be read as a gateway into the realm of Munro’s Nobel-winning short stories. In order to unveil this fascinating function, this paper explores the presence and use of ‘linoleum’ within the first collection. Not exactly a royal icon, the humble material covers the floor upon which most Happy Shades dance throughout the stories. The stiff and smooth substance first appears as a marker of domesticity, of the private, familiar, seemingly banal space where most stories are set. It also acts on a socio-economic level, indicating the poverty and simplicity of Sowesto rural community’s lifestyles in the Thirties of the last century, the years of the economic Depression. Encompassing mere cultural and psychological implicatures, the linoleum suggests the thin layer of silence and reticence characters use to protect and cover everyday secrets and mysteries. Ultimately, it can be observed as a literary trope, further developed in subsequent collections, which casts light on Munro’s narrative art and vision.
Katherine Hrisonopulo (Saint-Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts, Russia): “Subjectivity, Subjectification and the Expression of Point of View in Alice Munro’s First-Person Narrative”
The proposed paper aims to explore linguistic techniques of expressing the narrator’s point of view and their effects in Alice Munro’s short stories included in the collection Dance of the Happy Shades. Nearly all the stories in this collection present first-person narratives in which the point of view is expressed explicitly (in first-person clauses) and/or implicitly (in clauses with generic you or anticipatory it): I thought (that) – You would think (that) – It seemed (that). Among these alternatives, first-person clauses signal the expression of subjectivity in narration, or, according to Benveniste (1971), the capacity of the speaker to posit himself/herself as a subject. By contrast, the expression of point of view in clauses headed by either generic you or anticipatory it leaves the narrator in the background and invokes either an imaginary addressee, e.g. a reader (you), or a schematic mental frame (it) that receives explication in a subsequent clause. This implicit way of invoking the speaker-narrator(’s point of view) is characterized in Langacker (2000) as subjectification.In what follows, the paper shows that overt expression of subjectivity in first-person clauses results in setting up the actual reality of the narrator’s stance-taking activities and construes the narrator as an agentive subject of mental processing. This creates the subjective framework for the description of some events that were crucial for the narrator in her teens and adolescence. Subjectification techniques in turn contribute to setting up virtual reality with either a virtual viewer aligned with a reader (you) or a schematic mental representation of an external event (it) that implicitly engages a reader in viewing activity and directs his or her attention towards this event. The paper discusses the effects of alternations of subjectivity and subjectification techniques in most stories and pays special attention to the expression of point of view through subjectification alone in the story “Dance of the Happy Shades”.
This paper will explore how Alice Munro, beginning with her first volume of stories, has consistently reshaped the terrain of the post-Joycean short story, particularly regarding Joyce’s legacy of the epiphany. Generally accepted as a concluding moment of revelation or illumination, the epiphany has almost become an essential structural element of the Anglo-American short story since Joyce’s Dubliners. And just as much as the epiphany has been almost universally adopted by short story writers, it has consistently been subject to debate among critics. If the epiphany is broadly conceptualized as a brief illumination of a certain truth, then the central question on which critics have not been able to agree is whether the epiphany may ultimately lead a given story’s readers to the moment’s purportedly immutable truth, or if the epiphanic moment instead belongs only to the character experiencing it. The paper broadly proposes that Munro’s stories, particularly those collected in Dance of the Happy Shades, have formally participated in this critical debate. In so doing, Munro suggests that epiphanies may not always lead to the penetrating or concrete truths that the structural form seems to promise, and that epiphanies can, in fact, sometimes lead their subjects astray. From the first of her stories to the most recent, I propose that she plays so many “games” with the structure of epiphanic self-understanding, offering versions of epiphanies that become caught up in tangled webs of blindness, insight, readership, authorship, and interpretation. While my paper’s implications will extend to the entire corpus of Munro’s work, the present paper will closely read the stories from the 1968 volume. Ultimately, I mean to argue that in these stories Munro maintains the structure of epiphany while draining it of content, such that the only illuminative truth her characters discover is how little truth may actually be known, or at least said. These early stories suggest that whatever “truth” is engendered by the epiphany, it is a truth that by no means leads unquestionably to knowledge. Something is happening to Munro’s protagonist, and something is learned – but neither the protagonist herself nor the reader may say exactly what.
Catherine Lanone (University of Paris-Sorbonne Nouvelle, France): “From ‘A Painful Case’ to ‘Postcard’: Newspaper Cutting, Plot and Commonplace in Joyce and Munro”.
Abstract to be posted soon
Christine Lorre-Johnston (University of Paris-Sorbonne Nouvelle, France): “Picturing the Imagination: A Study of the Drafts of ‘Images’ ”
Alice Munro revises her stories almost endlessly, fine-tuning her writing so the tone, the atmosphere and details of a narrative seem right. Stories that have been published in a magazine – The Montrealer, The Canadian Forum, or Tamarack Review for the stories in Dance of the Happy Shades, or The New Yorker since the 1970s – are often revised before publication in a collection. Munro may even slightly alter a story for a reading. Yet more versions of Munro’s stories are available as unpublished drafts in the Alice Munro collection at the Taylor Family Digital Library of the University of Calgary. With the stories in Munro’s first collection, it is particularly rewarding to examine the development of her writing from one draft to another, as we glimpse a writer experimenting with various strategies. This paper will focus on the drafts of the story that was eventually published as “Images,” as well as other untitled drafts that can be related to it, to analyse how the writing is shaped. There are several versions of the beginning of the story in particular, before the narrative comes to the plot per se, as Munro searches for the best way to evoke the girl protagonist’s familiar childhood world, but also its mysteries and fears; description of the setting is eventually replaced by the direct introduction of the main characters. There are also variations on the motif of the house, which appears as Joe Phippen’s “hole in the ground” or kind of “cellar” in the published story, and as caves the girl makes in the snow in some of the drafts. We can see Munro testing various images as she seeks to convey a sense of a comforting home, and of the frightening wilderness that lies beyond it, through images that don’t oppose the two but link them, reflecting the process of defamiliarisation and refamiliarisation that is at work in the story. By titling the story “Images,” Munro suggests that what she is doing in this story is experimenting with images that capture a child’s imaginative world.
Claude Maisonnat (University of Lyon 2, France): “Grandmothers Beware: Deadly Feminine Desires in ‘A Trip to the Coast’”
L’étude consistera à montrer que contrairement à ce que persiste à dire Munro, qui considère cette nouvelle comme l’une de ses moins réussies, il y a bien un encodage narratif très précis qui témoigne de modalités d'écritures qui demeurent subtiles. Cependant, au-delà de la dimension narrative de la nouvelle il s’agira d'interroger la question du désir féminin au moyen des catégories psychanalytiques lacaniennes.
Jennifer Murray (University of Franche-Comté, France): “Sexuation in Alice Munro’s ‘Boys and Girls’ ”
The enigma of sexual difference is the nodal point of Alice Munro’s “Boys and Girls” (Dance of the Happy Shades, 1968). The Lacanian concept of sexuation, which defines the positions of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ as belonging to discordant logical structures, will serve to illuminate the complex path of the unnamed female protagonist of this short story (and secondarily, of her younger brother) in coming to assume a position as a sexed subject. While the oedipal structure, including Lacan’s revision of Freud’s account, clarifies the initial identifications and idealizations which inform the process of sexuation, the story brings to light the inadequacy of this perspective to situate the speaking being as ‘sexed’. Through a metaphorical parallel with the fate of the farm horses, Mack and Flora, each of the children will encounter, incarnated in the figure of the father, the law of the symbolic order, or in other words, the necessity of symbolic castration; each will be called upon to assume a position on the side of man, or of woman.
Claire Omhovère (University Paul Valéry – Montpellier / EMMA, France): “Places in Alice Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades”
When W. H New claims that, in Alice Munro’s writing, “western Ontario radiates into story-making” (The Cambridge History of Canadian Literature 381), the Canadian critic is not merely acknowledging the regional dimension of her short fiction. Region, of course, is an aspect of Munro’s fictional world on which critics have abundantly commented ever since the acclaimed publication of her first collection Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), but it is frequently to marvel at the universalism her stories achieve despite their narrow focus on small-town lives, as if to pre-empt possible associations with parochialism. Himself an exacting stylist, New uses a resultative construction to point to the generative propensity of region in Munro’s fiction where places do serve referential purposes, but more importantly where they also fulfil formal and poetic goals. Places are containers for story material which they contribute to shaping into narrative: they are ”locatory matrix[es] for things” (E. Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical Survey 34), and the stories of how these things came about. Because of their various contents, places also favour metonymic associations that, indeed, “radiate” into constellations of images. Metonymies, as Jakobson and David Lodge have famously shown, do not disrupt the syntagmatic contiguity underlying realism, for they tend to reinforce the connective tissue of the narrative. But metonymies also derealize the objects they purport to describe, insofar as they enhance the figurative possibilities of language and, ultimately, its poetic thrust away from the literal – “la poussée des symboles” which, according to Henri Mitterand, both threatens and enriches the realist text of fiction. Such are the directions I propose to explore in this presentation to better understand the dual, contradictory brand of realism found in Alice Munro’s stories and its relation to the representation of place.
Oriana Palusci (University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’, Italy): “An Ecocritical Reading of Alice Munro’s ‘The Shining Houses’ ”
Ecocriticism has found little resonance as a methodology in the Canadian literary panorama compared to the American experience, even if nature has always been pivotal to Canadian writers. This occurs even more so in the case of Alice Munro’s short stories, which have seldom been read with a focus on natural features and/or from an ecocritical perspective. Scholars have investigated Munro’s literary output through a number of filters and of critical tools, but generally her meticulous depiction of nature remains in the background/as a background. My contention is that “The Shining Houses”, first broadcast on CBC Wednesday Night (June 6, 1962) and later included in her first collection Dance of the Happy Shades as the second story, displays some of the main environmental concerns of the ‘60s and outlines the boundaries of the Canadian dilemma swinging between past and present, nature and progress, self and community. Indeed, “The Shining Houses” functions as an important tessera in Munro’s account of a changing Canadian landscape, introducing her very personal mapping of the land.
Ulrica Skagert (University of Kristianstad, Sweden): “The Rupture of the Ordinary as an ‘Awkward Little Space’: Evental Moments in ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’ ”
“Dance of the Happy Shades,” the title story of Alice Munro’s first published collection, offers a glimmering example of an absolute reorientation of the ordinary that we now have come to know as particular to Munro’s narrative art. Often in Munro’s stories something happens, not out of the ordinary but as a fracture in the surface reality of common life, and the event has consequences that reach far beyond the momentary circumstances of the situation. The event will show to have bearings on some of the fundamentals of human experience, such as truth, ethics, empathy, choice and the force of art. Through the light of Alain Badiou’s concept of the event and evental site, I will discuss how the narrative of the drama of a piano recital catches something that in Badiou’s words “cannot be reduced to its ordinary inscription in ‘what there is’.” Tightly woven to the circumstances of the situation, the perception of what takes place is key. As we will see, and as the main character in a much later Munro story realizes, there is a perceptive power in narration. Again and again characters in Munro’s stories seem “to be looking into an open secret, something not startling until you think of trying to tell it.” It is what startles the main character in “Dance of the Happy Shades” that indicates a possibility, a space of liberation from ordinary thinking that compels her to decide a new way of being and relate to her experiences.
Pascale Tollance (University of Lyon 2, France): “ ‘The Peace of Utrecht’ or How to Deal with Remains”
At the same time as it explores the resurgence of a haunting past, “The Peace of Utrecht” addresses the role played by fiction when avoidance seems to have become the key to survival. To a “version” of the past “safely preserved in anecdote, as in a kind of mental cellophane” that Helen and Maddy hang on to, the narrative opposes a counter story which forces its way back into the present in a particularly violent manner, all the more so when the mother is resurrected in the form of bits and pieces formally attached to her body, unwrapped and exposed to the gaze of Helen. In the crucial scene where an aunt opens a box containing the dead woman’s belongings, the mother’s clothes do not appear, as some suggest, as “sad and beautiful tokens of a life” (Rasporich), but rather as remnants or leftovers that threaten the daughter in an experience close to abjection. The motif of remains, or more generally, of what cannot be safely put away and left in its place is omnipresent in “The Peace of Utrecht” and contaminates the narrative in its smallest details. Whilst the main strategy adopted by those who are left behind consists in disposing of anything that comes in the way and sticks out (a strategy which also informs the narrator’s attempt at a cold and clinical account), it is complemented by the tendency to saturate gaps or voids to prevent anything disturbing from working its way in. “The desert between” the two sisters turns out to be full of noise and laughter and yet remains starkly empty. This reading of the story is incomplete if one overlooks another, seemingly contradictory, aspect, namely the frustration experienced by the character in front of a past that refuses to speak to her. In the episode which lends the story its title, the historical reference introduced is often the focus of critical commentary while too little attention is paid to Helen’s reaction in front of what she describes as her own hand or “handwriting”. In this Proustian moment, something is brought home to the character not just in a violent disruptive way: from the loose page, a scrap from the past, something can be made whole again, if only fleetingly. The title must thus also be read as an invitation to reflect on the poetics of a story which makes it possible to puncture the “cellophane” of fiction or legend and allows an encounter with the real which sustains the desire to write. One should also point out that, finally, it is through an object which is broken to pieces that a true form of language is momentarily restored between the sisters (an object connected to the past and, in many respects, to the mother). Beyond this particular story, the broken bowl can be seen as the emblem of an aesthetics which finds in the fragment its particular power and momentum – and, potentially, a relief from the deceptions of fiction.
Tom Ue (University College London, Great-Britain): “Gender, Subjectivity, and Narrative in ‘Boys and Girls’ ”
In Sarah Polley’s Away from Her (2006), Fiona’s doctor (Alberta Watson) asks her (Julie Christie) what she would do if she were the first person to spot a fire in a movie theatre. Fiona, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, replies, as she looks to her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent) for confirmation, “We don’t go to the movies much anymore, do we, Grant? All those multiplexes showing the same American garbage.” This nod to American cinema, its monotony, and its global distribution reminds us of how much Canada and its film culture have changed since, spurring us to re-examine the few adaptations of Munro’s work onscreen. This paper examines Munro’s “Boys and Girls” alongside Don McBrearty’s Academy Award-winning 1983 adaptation. I argue that Munro’s treatment of metanarration—the story repeatedly gestures towards its being focalized from the perspective of a first-person narrator and that it is revealed to us in retrospect—is imbricated in the narrative structure of McBrearty’s film, the first words of which are, tellingly, “I can’t see.” The film, as is the story, is preoccupied with subjectivity as it speaks to power and perception: its conclusion, with Megan Follows’ character telling Laird (Ian Heath), “They aren’t ever going to catch me,” gives Munro’s ironic ending an assertive edge, spurring us to reconsider her treatment of subjectivity, both individual and national. Munro’s story was first published in Montrealer in December 1964. Its questions are global in their implications, I argue, during this culturally definitive period for both Canadian publishing and cinema.
Héliane Ventura (University of Toulouse 2- Jean Jaurès) : “The Ethics of Responsibility from Accident to Murder in Alice Munro’s ‘The Time of Death’ and ‘Child’s Play’ ”
The death of a mentally handicapped child is represented in “The Time of Death” (1968) and reconsidered forty years later in the story entitled “Child’s Play” (2009). In the former story Benny is involuntarily scalded to death by his sister, in the latter Verna is purposefully put to death by two little girls. Both stories move from a process of denial to a process of acknowledgement of responsibility, they move from depersonalisation to the emergence of an ethic subject but paradoxically enough the move towards responsibility is marked by paralysis. Patricia voices her grief through a scream. She hollers in the garden, outside the house where the accident has taken place, and she has to be put to sleep temporarily. Marlene sits in her car, unable to turn on the ignition key. Through a close examination of the use of language, the analysis will attempt to show how Munro’s stories represent the subjectivation of a character or a narrator in the process of “giving an account of herself.”
Jean-Marc Victor (University of Paris-Sorbonne, France): “Happy Shades of ‘June Recital’ in ‘Dance of the Happy Shades’: Munro’s Dance with Welty”
The influence of Eudora Welty’s short fiction on Munro’s is an established fact. Of all the tales that make up Dance of the Happy Shades, the titular story is the one in which Welty’s mark is most perceptible as there is little doubt that it is partly a rewriting of Welty’s “June Recital”, the longest story in her famous cycle The Golden Apples (1949). This paper will explore the nature and function of intertextual echoes between both stories as well as the significance of Munro’s departure from her much admired model.
“After supper my father says” - such are the first words in Alice Munro's first collection of short stories, Dance of the Happy Shades. Quite a misleading subject as far as the other texts are concerned: fathers are few and far between indeed whereas families tend to be mostly composed of grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters and sisters. Laws, interdictions and rules are therefore uttered, not by a father as in this opening clause, but by feminine presences (a grandmother in “A Trip to the Coast”, a mother in “Dance of the Happy Shades”, eg.) One might wonder whether this feature corresponds to a post-colonial attempt at displacing authority and reinventing a literature that has killed the British father figure – in the wake of Herman Melville’s American replacement of fathers by brothers for instance. Still, the law made by the Father makes strange incursions, through the mention of King Lear in “Sunday Afternoon” for example, although the play will not be read in the end. This paper wishes to interrogate the resurgence not only of the law of the Father but also the appearance of a surrogate and equally suffocating one through feminine “feeling” and “tradition” (see “The Peace of Utrecht”, p. 204). I shall contend that codes are ultimately displaced, not towards women, but children through a series of rituals, linguistic and otherwise.