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The Literary World of Alice Munro

   At around 19:00 on October 10, 2013, Beijing time, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters announced in Stockholm that the 82-year-old Canadian female writer Alice Munro won the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature and praised her as a "master of contemporary short stories". The Nobel Prize jury spoke highly of Munro's artistic creation in the award speech, saying that his works are delicate in plot, penetrating in writing style, and quite characteristic of psychological realism. Given that the Nobel Prize has long favored novelists, Munro's win came as a surprise. In this regard, Peter Englund, Permanent Secretary of the Academy, explained in an interview: "The short story has always been in the shadow of the novel. Munro chose this art form, and she cultivated it very well, close to perfection." Now that the suspense has been revealed, let us get close to this North American novelist who has won the Nobel Prize for short stories and is not yet familiar to Chinese readers, and feel the colorful world she has built with beautiful words for decades.

  Monroe was born on a farm in Wingham, Ontario, Canada in 1931. Her father made a living raising foxes and mink in the early years, and also worked as a local night watchman before starting to run a farm. Mother is a primary school teacher. In the eyes of her parents, Monroe should grow up like many local peasant girls and continue to live a traditional farm life. But at the age of twelve, Munro suddenly decided that he wanted to be a writer. In 1949, at the age of eighteen, Monroe entered the University of Western Ontario with a scholarship, majoring in English and journalism, and began a two-year college life. During this period, Monroe began to experiment with literary creation. In 1950, she first experienced the joy of writing when she published her first short story, "The Dimension of Shadows," in the university's undergraduate literary magazine, Merry.

  In 1951, Monroe ended his college life. That same year, she married college classmate James Monroe and settled in Dandarive, British Columbia. James worked in a local department store, while Monroe lived a quiet life as a housewife. From 1953 to 1957, Monroe's three daughters were born one after another. Unfortunately, the second daughter died just two days after birth; in 1959, Monroe experienced the pain of her mother's death.

  While taking care of her family life, Munro made the most of her free time to write novels. In 1951, she met Robert Weaver, a well-known literary editor and broadcaster of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Weaver admired Munro's talent very much. He grandly promoted Munro's newly created short stories such as "The Stranger" and "A Basket of Strawberries" in the program, which greatly increased Munro's popularity. During this period, Munro's novels also began to appear on the pages of well-known magazines such as "Mayfair", "Canadian Tribune", "Queen's Quarterly", and Munro's literary influence further expanded. In 1963, Monroe moved to Victoria with her husband, where she founded the Monroe Bookstore, and Monroe's life as a pure housewife came to an end.

  In 1968, Munro published her first collection of short stories "Dance of Happy Shadows", which won Canada's most prestigious Governor-General's Literary Award. The collection includes 15 stories, including Walker Brothers Cowboys, Bright House, The Office, Time to Die, Butterfly Day, Boys and Girls, Postcards, Sunday Afternoon, A Trip to the Shore Wait. Munro set the time and space background of most of the stories in small Canadian towns in the 1940s and 1950s in order to discuss themes of love and sex, family relations, class conflicts, growth and aging in a traditional atmosphere. Like the American writer Faulkner, the limitation of geographical boundaries seems to have provided Munro with more room for imagination, and amazing scene descriptions can be seen everywhere in her stories. Munro often inadvertently inserts an image into the uneventful description, which leads to a new understanding of the scene, characters and objects.

  In Dance of the Happy Shadows, many of the characters live almost isolated lives in remote towns. They still work in the store, run the farm and raise their children, as their grandparents did, away from the hustle and bustle of the world outside. But if we read carefully, we will find that Munro also pays due attention to the social movements that were in full swing in the Western world in the 1960s. For example, the female writer in "The Office" narrates in the first person that she cannot write while she is at home with her husband and other family members. She longed for a separate room, a personal space where she could be creative. And this is an important topic of feminist thought in the 1960s. Another story, "The Bright House," tells how a small-town teenage girl keeps silent about the snobbery and rejection of the majority of her new community. The story of the same name "Dance of Happy Shadows" satirizes people's negative attitude towards young people who have difficulties in learning.

  In 1971, Munro published a collection of short stories, The Lives of Girls and Women. Different from "Dance of Happy Shadows", this series of stories mainly revolves around a female character, Del Jordan, so some scholars call it female bildungsroman. Del lived in the small town of Jubilee, Ontario, in the 1940s, initially on a farmstead on the outskirts, before moving to the center of town. Del's mother made a living selling encyclopedias to local farmers. Like Del, she has been trying to broaden her horizons, trying to go beyond the limited experience of Jubilee. But Del is reluctant to acknowledge the resemblance to her mother, feeling like an outsider dissatisfied with small-town life. Through female elders and his own experience of sex, life and death, Del explores the advantages and disadvantages of female identity, and faithfully records the truth about the lives of girls and women. Only a few male characters play important roles in this novel, and the number of female characters is relatively large, which is considered to have a distinct feminist color. 

  In 1972, Monroe and her husband broke up, and their 21-year marriage came to an end. Monroe returned to Ontario and was invited to be a writer-in-residence at the University of Western Ontario. Two years later, she published her third collection of short stories, "Things I've Always Wanted to Tell You." The collection includes 13 short stories, including "How I Met My Husband", "Walking on Water", "Family Understanding", "Tell Me Right or Wrong", "Winter Wind" and so on. The stories are filled with women in various relationships, sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, grandmothers and friends. Deep within them there is hope and affection as well as unhappiness and resignation as they compete with the past, present and foreseeable future. 

  In 1976

  , the University of Western Ontario awarded Monroe an honorary doctorate. In the same year, Monroe married the draftsman Gerald Flemlin, whom he had known since college, and they settled their home in a small town called Clinton after marriage. After that, Munro's creation entered a mature period, and his artistic level became more sophisticated. From 1976 to 1990, Monroe published "Who Do You Think You Are?" "(1978), "Jupiter's Moon" (1982), "The Process of Love" (1986) and "Friends of My Youth" (1990), four short story collections, and won the Governor's Literary Award twice.

  "who do you think You Are? "Continuing the writing mode of "Girls and Women's Lives", Munro used ten interrelated stories to explore the personal growth of the heroine Rose, including "Royal Smash", "Privilege", "Half a Grape", " Wild Swans, The Beggar, Providence, Simon's Luck, etc. The story basically unfolds as follows: Rose was born in poverty, and completed university education with a scholarship obtained through hard work. After graduation, he experienced marriage and family life, but unfortunately broke up with his lover, and finally realized his self-worth by becoming an actor and a university professor. However, "Girls and Women's Lives" mainly focuses on the heroine Del Jordan, narrated in the first person, thinking about the emotional and spiritual bonds between self and others; while "Who Do You Think You Are?" " uses an omniscient third-person narrative method to show the intricacies of the heroine Rose's self-knowledge and worldview formation behind the social relationship. Opening story "Royal Smash" tells the complex relationship of love, hate and bullying between Rose and stepmother Flo. The fifth story "The Begging Girl" further expands the field of vision, and one of the themes it focuses on is the individual's special nostalgia for his hometown. Ross has dreamed of leaving the impoverished and backward town of Hanraty since she was a child, but when she really wanted to leave, when she heard her rich boyfriend Patrick say that her hometown was a dirty place, what filled her heart was loyalty and protection for her hometown :
  The strange thing is that her loyalty to her hometown grew spontaneously from then on. Now that she was sure of leaving the place, her loyalty and defense grew stronger every time she thought of Hantila, of Flo's shops and houses and the unremarkable dirty country scene. Quietly she would contrast her sentiments with Patrick's descriptions of the beauty and mansions of his hometown. In contrast, her loyalty and pride for her hometown was much stronger than Patrick's. But the truth is Patrick hasn't given up anything from his hometown.
  After entering the 1990s, Monroe, who was in his sixties, still kept writing, and successively published "Open Secret" (1994), "A Good Woman's Love" (1998), "Hate, Friendship, Courtship, Love". , Marriage (2001), Escape (2004), Overlook from Stone City (2006), Too Much Joy (2009) and Dear Life (2012). Le Literature Prize and Man Booker International Literature Prize in the bag, and finally reached the pinnacle of his literary career through this year's Nobel Prize for Literature.
  Just like the "Shandong Gaomi" written by Chinese Nobel laureate Mo Yan, Munro's 60-year literary creation also presents distinct local characteristics. Her carefully constructed literary world is generally set in southern Ontario, Canada, and some scholars even call it the "Monroe Land". Specifically, it is bounded by Lakes Huron and Erie to the west and south, the town of Goderich to the north, and the town of London to the east. There, ordinary women of different ages live, and they are experiencing life stages from teenage girls to wives and mothers, to middle age and old age. According to Jane Smiley, an American female writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it is precisely because Munro always focuses on the lives of ordinary women and constantly seeks inspiration from herself that she can portray the twists and turns and hidden secrets of women's psychology vividly. So "delicately accurate, almost perfect". With the further development of Munro's "Nobel Prize Effect", we have reason to believe that more Chinese readers will discover the charm of Munro's narrative, feel more resonance of meaning, and realize the impermanence of life.


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