Discussion Topics (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In many of Carol Shields’s works, the reader must become an investigator or biographer who tries to uncover the life of another person. How does Shields use artifacts such as lists, letters, and conversations as clues to learn more about Daisy Goodhill Flett in The Stone Diaries?
Two of Shields’s works, The Stone Diaries and Larry’s Party, present the lives of Daisy Goodwill Flett and Larry Weller, respectively. In what ways does the gender of the two main characters alter the ways Shields structures and develops the themes of the novels?
In Unless, Shields explores gaps in understanding, particularly within families. Discuss the trajectory of Reta Winters’s quest to understand her daughter, Norah.
Shields is a poet, biographer, novelist, short-story writer, literary critic, and dramatist, yet one could argue that elements of each of these genres appear in her longer works. Show how Shields’s expertise in a number of forms manifests itself in longer works such as Unless.
Many of Shields’s characters find fulfillment by persevering. How does this perseverance contribute to the growth of Jack and Brenda Bowman’s marriage in Happenstance?
Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Carol Shields began her writing career as a poet with the publication of Others in 1972 and Intersect in 1974; she would return to her poetic roots with 1992’s Coming to Canada. Shields wrote in various genres; in addition to composing novels and poetry, she was a short-story writer, an essayist, a playwright, a literary critic, and a biographer. Shields collaborated on a number of projects across genres with other writers. She coauthored the novel A Celibate Season with Blanche Howard, cowrote the drama Anniversary (pr., pb. 1998) with Dave Williamson, and edited two essay anthologies with Marjorie Anderson, Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told (2001) and its sequel, Dropped Threads 2: More of What We Aren’t Told (2003). Long an admirer of the British novelist Jane Austen, Shields researched and wrote a literary biography of the author that was published in 2001 to great acclaim.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
The success that Carol Shields experienced as a novelist is remarkable given that she did not publish her first novel until she was forty, although her talent as a writer was apparent much earlier. In 1965 she received recognition from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for a poem she entered in a contest; by the mid-1970’s, she had published two volumes of poetry. It was her first novel, Small Ceremonies, however, that captured the attention of critics and the reading public. In the three decades of her career as a novelist, her works met with both popular and critical approval. Small Ceremonies won the Canadian Authors’ Association Award for the Best Novel of 1976. Shields’s popular The Stone Diaries was short-listed for the Booker Prize, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1994, and received the Pulitzer Prize in 1995. Her other award-winning novels include Larry’s Party, recipient of the Orange Prize for women’s fiction, and Swann: A Mystery, recipient of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Canadian Mystery. Her final novel, Unless, was nominated for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. In other genres, Shields received the CBC Prize for Drama in 1983, and her biography Jane Austen was awarded the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction in 2002. In recognition of her talents as an author, Shields was named a fellow of both the Guggenheim Foundation and the Royal Society of Canada. In 2003 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Manitoba.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Russo, Maria. “Final Chapter.” The New York Times Magazine, April 14, 2002, 32-35. A personal profile of Shields.
Shields, Carol. “An Interview with Carol Shields.” Interview by Donna Krolik Hollenberg. Contemporary Literature 39, no. 3 (Fall, 1998): 339-355. Discusses the writer and her craft.
Slethaug, Gordon E. “‘The Coded Dots of Life’: Carol Shields’s Diaries and Stones.” Canadian Literature 156 (Spring, 1998): 59-81. A useful critical study.
Trozzi, Adriana. Carol Shields’ Magic Wand: Turning the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. Rome: Bulzoni, 2001. Examines Shields’s writings at length.