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Abstract

This essay takes as its starting point my experience as a male critic of Carol Shields's work. Throughout the researching and writing of my PhD on Shields, I have noted with curiosity the surprise registered by many people upon discovering that a male critic would choose to write about the work of a female author. This reaction, confirmed by other male academics working on female authors, raises a number of interesting questions. What does it mean for a male critic to write about the work of a female author? Why is this still considered surprising, unusual, even strange? Is this view symptomatic of the kind of disturbing devaluation of women's fiction (and of women's experience generally) that Shields herself explores so candidly in her final novel Unless (2002)? I suggest that the anti-feminist backlash (outlined by Faludi [1991]), and the profitable establishment of popular literary genres such as "Chick Lit" and "Lad Lit," have led to a retrogressive "hardening" of gender roles within popular culture, one which endorses a simplistic relationship between author and audience, presuming that texts "by" women must necessarily be "for" women only. Situated within the context of Shields's own professed ambivalence about her status as a "women's writer," and drawing on the theories of Emma Wilson, the essay attempts to broaden out into a wider reflection upon issues of gender and identification within contemporary literary culture. Shields's work, I argue, subverts assumptions about gendered reading patterns, encouraging through its polyphony and its use of dual narrators a mobile and flexible reading experience which allows the reader to inhabit a range of perspectives and to read productively across gender binaries.

Disciplines

Arts and Humanities | Social and Behavioral Sciences

References

Anderson, Marjorie. "Interview with Carol Shields." Prairie Fire 16.1 (1995): 139-50.

Atwood, Margaret. Second Words: Selected Critical Prose. Toronto: Anansi 1982.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. London: Routledge 1990.

Cariou, Warren. "Larry's Party: Man in the Maze." Carol Shields: The Arts of a Writing Life. Ed. Neil K. Besner. Winnipeg: Prairie Fire 2003. 87-96.

Colwill, Nina Lee. "The Worth of Women's Work." Dropped Threads: What We Aren't Told. Ed. Carol Shields and Marjorie Anderson. Toronto: Vintage 2001. 339-41.

Denoon, Anne. "Playing with Convention." Books in Canada 22.9 (1993): 8-12.

De Roo, Harvey. "A Little Like Flying: An Interview with Carol Shields." West Coast Review 23.3 (1988): 38-56.

Faludi, Susan. Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. London: Chatto & Windus 1991.

Ferris, Suzanne and Mallory Young eds. Chick Lit: The New Woman's Fiction. London: Routledge 2005.

Fuss, Diana. Essentially Speaking: Feminism Nature & Difference. London: Routledge 1989.

Garner, Marion. "Length Matters: Carol Shields on the Short Story." Read Magazine (2000). 29 July 2003 www.randomhouse.ca/readmag/previous_issues/carol_shields.htm. www.randomhouse.ca/readmag/previous_issues/carol_shields.htm

Henighan, Stephen. When Words Deny the World: The Reshaping of Canadian Writing. Ontario: Porcupine's Quill 2002.

Hill, Tobias. Rev. of Dressing Up for the Carnival. The Observer 13 February 2000. 20 May 2003 http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2000/feb/13/fiction.carolshields

Howells, Coral Ann. "In the Subjunctive Mood: Carol Shields's Dressing Up for the Carnival." Yearbook of English Studies 31 (2001): 144-54.

Irvine, Lorna. "A Knowable Country: Embodied Omniscience in Carol Shields's The Republic of Love and Larry's Party." Carol Shields and the Extra-Ordinary. Ed. Marta Dvorįk and Manina Jones. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press 2007. 139-56.

Mercer, Korbena. "Skin Head Sex Thing: Racial Difference and the Homoerotic Imaginary." The Masculinity Studies Reader. Ed. Rachel Adams and David Savran. Oxford: Blackwell 2002. 188-200.

O'Brien, Lucy. She Bop II. London: Continuum 2002.

Ramon, Alex. Liminal Spaces: The Double Art of Carol Shields. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars 2008.

Shields, Carol. "Arriving Late Starting Over." How Stories Mean. Ed. John Metcalf and J. R. (Tim) Struthers. Ontario: Porcupine's Quill 1993. 244-51.

Shields, Carol. Larry's Party. London: Fourth Estate 1997.

Shields, Carol. "The Same Ticking Clock." How Stories Mean. Ed. John Metcalf and J. R. (Tim) Struthers. Ontario: Porcupine's Quill 1993. 88-89.

Shields, Carol. The Stone Diaries. London: Fourth Estate 1993.

Smiley, Jane. Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. London: Faber 2005.

Steinem, Gloria. Moving Beyond Words. New York: Simon 1994.

Wilson, Emma. Sexuality and the Reading Encounter. Oxford: Clarendon 1996.

Wright, Elizabeth. Psychoanalytic Criticism: Theory in Practice. London: Methuen 1984.

First Page

170

Last Page

182

Language

eng

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