Thomas, Audrey 1935
(Full name Audrey Grace Thomas) American-born Canadian novelist and short story writer.
Often presenting her stories from the perspective of female characters, Thomas describes modern human relationships, particularly the discouraging prospects for caring, nurturing bonds between men and women. According to Carole Gerson, Thomas creates "penetrating expositions of characters and their unresolvable muddles, which lead the reader along the delicate filaments of the tangled relationships we all spin for ourselves as parents, children, spouses, lovers, and friends."
Thomas was born in Binghamton, New York, to a high school teacher and a housewife. Family life was strained due to constant quarreling by her parents about financial troubles. Contrasting the relationship of her mother and father with that of better-suited couples, Thomas stated: "It was years before I realized that husbands and wives actually shared one room." Furthermore, she has observed the influence of their unstable marriage on her own development: "When you have parents who behave like children, parents who refuse to take charge of their own lives, then how can you ever be a child yourself?" Thomas wrote poetry as a young girl but had little enthusiasm for her studies at the local high school, where she was unhappy. However, she secured a scholarship to a boarding school for her final year of high school and subsequently attended Smith College on scholarship. In order to afford a year abroad studying in St. Andrew's, Scotland, Thomas worked for two summers as an orderly at the Binghamton Asylum for the Chronic Insane, which locals referred to as The Hill. About her job then she observed: "If anything made me a writer (if writers are made, not born) I think it was The Hill. For although my family life was pretty terrible emotionally, I had, in fact, led a sheltered existence. . . . I had not known there were people like this in the world." While abroad for her junior year, Thomas traveled to many European countries and, after graduating from Smith in 1957, she worked in Birmingham, England, teaching primary school. She married in 1958 and returned to North America in 1959, settling near Vancouver, British Columbia. From 1964 through 1966, her husband held a position at a university in West Africa, necessitating their relocation to Kumasi, Ghana. While there, Thomas suffered a late miscarriage, a traumatic experience that served as the basis for her first published story, "If One Green Bottle . . . ", which appeared in 1965 in The Atlantic Monthly. This story generated interest on the part of the publisher Bobbs-Merrill, which signed Thomas to a contract for a book of short stories and a novel; the collection Ten Green Bottles was published in 1967. In 1969 she moved to Galiano Island, British Columbia, and became a Canadian citizen in 1979. Thomas has held posts at several Canadian universities.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Thomas has stated on several occasions that her fiction is autobiographical. In a CBC Radio interview quoted by Larry Scanlan, she expressed this opinion: "I think everybody writes autobiography. I think everybody writes one story, has one thing that really interests them, and I suppose what really interests me is the relationship between men and women." Her short stories are set in many different locales, including British Columbia, Africa, Mexico, Greece, Paris, and Scotland, but a few themes recur throughout her collections: emotional abuse and neglect, loneliness, the demands of motherhood and marriage, male chauvinism, gender politics, unhealthy relationships, self-exploration, and independence. In the story "Aquarius," a husband wallowing in self-pity blames his condition on his wife's vitality. "Harry and Violet" is about a relationship that suffers because the man resents his lover's child.
In "Out in the Midday Sun" a woman hides a letter from a publisher who has accepted her manuscript, knowing that her husband will be jealous of her success. The stories of Ladies & Escorts tend to focus on female characters who are in the process of gaining self-assurance and independence. The collection Real Mothers portrays single women who face the challenge of parenthood alone or while pursuing new relationships. Described by Kathryn Barnwell as "an often-painful exploration of gender roles as they have been constructed in the post-Second World War period," The Wild Blue Yonder depicts women who seek companionship but instead endure the misogyny of men. Published in one volume, Thomas's novellas Munchmeyer and Prospero on the Island are interrelated: the first is an account of Munchmeyer, a vain, pedantic, and unsuccessful writer who leaves his wife and family to live out his rather vague creative impulses; the latter is about a woman writing a novel about Munchmeyer while living with her children in a cabin on an island. The works are highly literary and allusive, incorporating metafictional commentary, wordplay, and extensive references to noted writers and works of literature. Here Thomas addresses the nature of writing and the relation between authors and their fiction.
Because many of Thomas's stories revolve around female characters and the difficulties posed for them in maledominated cultures, some critics consider her work feminist fiction. Evincing little formal experimentation, her short stories revolve around characterization and the moments that define and illuminate her characters' lives. In general, readers prefer Thomas's short fiction to her novels. As Joel Yanofsky has commented: "Thomas is at her best within the boundaries of the short story; she is at her most effective creating a fiction that is subtle and fragile, that is made up of hard choices and vivid moments."