Writing women's lives : the fictional aesthetic of Alice Munro
Grieve, Meghan Claudina
Master of Arts
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When questioned by interviewers about matters of craft, Alice Munro is usually vague in her responses, once insisting that she has "no idea how to write a story" (The Globe and Mail) E. I). Her reluctance to make any statements about the theory behind her writing forces readers and scholars to look to Munro's fiction for answers. The frequent appearance of female artist figures in her stories, and the concern of these characters with practical and theoretical issues related to writing, suggests that Munro is allowing her work to speak for itself. The primary objective of this thesis is to explore Alice Munro's fictional aesthetic and to delineate its components through specific reference to the stories themselves. A survey of Munro scholarship reveals that little attention has been paid to the female artist figure in Munro's work. Throughout her career, Munro presents us with female writers at various stages of life, and in so doing sheds light on her own thoughts about her craft. As Munro herself ages, so do her heroines, thereby allowing for an analysis of her women's development through time. The stories examined in chapters three through five are arranged in a chronological format, from a sampling of early published stories to the most recent collections, and either feature female writers or deal with matters associated with writing. Chapter two is devoted entirely to a study of Munro's only attempt at the novel form, Lives of Girls and Women. Lives merits close scrutiny because it traces the growth of a young woman writer from childhood into early adulthood. A close study of Lives reveals several keys to Munro's fictional aesthetic. The main character, Del, grows up in a rural Ontario farming community which frowns on such intellectual pursuits as reading and writing. Her struggle to reach the point at which she can begin to write seriously provides insight into Munro's own development as a writer. Del's ultimate recognition that material for her novel exists in her seemingly ordinary surroundings is integral to Munro's sensibility. In chapters three and four, additional aspects of Munro's fictional aesthetic are revealed through a study of five short stories. The women in these stories deal with such issues as the difficulties associated with being a woman pursuing a writing career, power and narrative authority, and the tension between fiction and reality. The importance of surface details or texture and the role of writer as observer are also examined through the experiences of Munro 's female characters. The concluding chapter includes references to stories contained in Munro's latest collection of new stories, Open Secrets. Similar themes and techniques resurface in these most recent stories but are artfully woven into the background with unprecedented sophistication. The elements of Munro's fictional aesthetic are disclosed in chapter five in an effort to identify what makes Munro's style so unique and captivating.