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Carol Shields The Stone Diaries

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Awards: Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Critics Circle Award, and 1993 Governor General's Award for Fiction

Born in 1935, Shields is an American-born Canadian novelist, poet, playwright, and critic.

The Stone Diaries (1993) is the unique fictional autobiography of Daisy Goodwill Flett, whose story encompasses time both before her birth and after her death and covers the more than eight decades of her life in Canada and the United States. Narrated by Daisy but written in the third person (with periodic breaks into the first), the story begins with her birth in 1905 in rural Manitoba, Canada. Daisy's mother, extremely overweight and unaware that she is pregnant, dies moments after Daisy is born. Unable to care for his daughter, Cuyler Goodwill convinces his neighbor Clarentine Flett to raise the child. Soon afterward, Clarentine leaves her husband and, taking Daisy with her, travels to Winnipeg, where she moves in with her son, Barker. Clarentine dies several years later, and Cuyler takes Daisy to Bloomington, Indiana, where he becomes a highly successful stonecarver. There, Daisy matures and enters into a "socially correct" marriage with a wealthy young man who dies during their honeymoon. In 1936 she returns to Canada in search of a life change and marries Barker Flett, who has become renowned for his agricultural research. Daisy finds fulfillment in her role as wife and mother; but after Barker dies, she takes over the rather staid and technical gardening column he wrote for the Ottawa Recorder, and, writing as the lively Mrs. Greenthumb, develops a devoted readership and experiences the most meaningful and rewarding time of her life. Her joy is short-lived, however, as the editor allows himself to be convinced that a more senior staff writer should handle the column. Daisy suffers through a period of depression, eventually recovering and moving to Sarasota, Florida, where she settles into a comfortable, retired life.

Critical reaction to The Stone Diaries has been overwhelmingly favorable. Commentators have praised Shields for exploring such universal problems as loneliness and lost opportunities, and for demonstrating that all lives are vital and significant regardless of outward appearances. The novel has been seen as a brilliant examination of the relationship between one's inner and outer "selves." Critics also note Shields's subtle blurring of the distinctions between fiction, biography, and autobiography. Allyson F. McGill writes: "Shields and Daisy challenge us to review our lives, to try and see life honestly, even while 'their' act of authorship only reveals how impossible it is to see and speak objective truth."

Principal Works

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Others (poetry) 1972
Intersect (poetry) 1974
Susanna Moodie: Voice and Vision (criticism) 1976
Small Ceremonies (novel) 1976
The Box Garden (novel) 1977
Happenstance (novel) 1980
A Fairly Conventional Woman (novel) 1982
Various Miracles (short stories) 1985
Swann: A Mystery (novel) 1987
The Orange Fish (short stories) 1989
A Celibate Season [with Blanche Howard] (novel) 1991
The Republic of Love (novel) 1992
The Stone Diaries (novel) 1993
Coming to Canada (poetry) 1993
Thirteen Hands (drama) 1994

Anita Brookner (review date 4 September 1993)

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SOURCE: "A Family and Its Good Fortune," in The Spectator, Vol. 271, No. 8617, September 4, 1993, pp. 28-9.

[Brookner is an English novelist, nonfiction writer, critic, and translator. In the following review, she remarks favorably on The Stone Diaries, noting Shield's characterization and optimism.]

'I have said that Mrs Flett recovered from the nervous torment she suffered some years ago, and yet a kind of rancour underlies her existence still: the recognition that she belongs to no one.' This marvellous sentence is extracted at random from [The Stone Diaries ,] Carol Shields's...

(The entire section contains 13837 words.)

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Shields, Carol (Vol. 193)