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Alice Munro - Nobel Prize Winner is No Tolstoy

October 12, 2013


(left, Alice Munro.)

If Henry Kissinger and Barack Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize,

we shouldn't be surprised that a depressive who depicts middle class Canadian life

as tawdry and banal should last week receive the 2013 Nobel Prize for Literature.

Thus, the Nobel Prize Committee promotes a demeaning materialistic image of life,

as opposed to one that sees man as having a Divine Creator and a spirit that seeks

the Eternal.

Christian Lorentzen has surveyed Munro's oeuvre and describes what

now passes for great literature.

"Reading ten of her collections in a row has induced in me not a glow of admiration but a state of mental torpor that spread into the rest of my life. I became sad, like her characters, and like them I got sadder. I grew attuned to the ways life is shabby or grubby..."

"Poor Rose"

by Christian Lorentzen

(London Review of Books, June 2013) 

(Edited/abridged by

There's something confusing about the consensus around Alice Munro. Her critics begin by asserting her goodness, her greatness, her majorness or her bestness, and then quickly adopt a defensive tone, instructing us in ways of seeing as virtues the many things that might be considered shortcomings...She writes about and redeems ordinary life, ordinary people - 'people people people', as Jonathan Franzen puts it.

Ordinary people turn out to live in a rural corner of Ontario between Toronto and Lake Huron, and to be white, Christian, prudish and dangling on a class rung somewhere between genteel poverty and middle-class comfort...

Reading ten of her collections in a row has induced in me not a glow of admiration but a state of mental torpor that spread into the rest of my life. I became sad, like her characters, and like them I got sadder.

I grew attuned to the ways life is shabby or grubby, words that come up all the time in her stories, as well as to people's residential and familial histories, details she never leaves out. How many rooms are in the house, and what sort of furniture and who used to own it and what is everybody wearing? To ask these questions is to live your life like a work of realism.

I saw everyone heading towards cancer, or a case of dementia that would rob them of the memories of the little adulteries they'd probably committed and must have spent their whole lives thinking about.



bm.jpgThe Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo & Rose (1978) follows a woman, Rose, whose life trajectory bears similarities to Munro's: a hardscrabble childhood in Ontario; devotion to schoolwork and high social anxiety at school; a scholarship to a provincial university; a romance there that leads to an early marriage, decampment to the suburbs of Vancouver, and immediate motherhood; a middle-class existence that renders the husband stiff, even a bit right-wing; a yearning for a more bohemian milieu; adultery of an unsatisfying sort with an artsy fellow; rupture, divorce, squabbles over child custody; temporary self-imposed exile to some snowbound outpost in the middle of Canada where the singles scene isn't exactly hopping and desperate loneliness ensues; a return to Ontario, more bad love affairs, and the caretaking of an aging parent; a lucky break that leads to an exceptional career and something like fame.

...Rose becomes, in the end, an actress on stage and television, not a distinguished author.

'Mischief' is the adultery story in The Beggar Maid: in the maternity ward Rose, whose husband, a former graduate student in history, is now running his family's department store, befriends a woman called Jocelyn who is connected to the university scene in Vancouver. One of their jokes involves starting sentences with the phrase 'I'm no prude but ...'

Clifford, Jocelyn's husband and a musician, kisses Rose at a party, and they start an affair that involves snogging in cafés and a logistically awkward rendezvous in a town where Clifford is playing in a concert. He gets cold feet and the affair is never consummated.

ARP3688911.jpg(In wake of Nobel Prize, unwary people stock up on Munro)

Years later, Rose is divorced and living in rural Ontario, and Jocelyn and Clifford have moved to Toronto. They're all in their forties and their children have grown up. Jocelyn and Clifford invite Rose over for occasional long nights of drinking; they also have it out in front of her about their marital dissatisfactions. One night after a party:

'What can we do?' said Rose. 'We shouldn't drink anymore.'

'We could make love,' Clifford said.

Jocelyn and Rose said, 'Really?' at exactly the same time. Then they linked their little fingers and said, 'Smoke goes up the chimney.'

Following which, Clifford removed their clothes. They didn't shiver, it was warm in front of the fire. Clifford kept switching his attention nicely from one to the other. He got out of his own clothes as well. Rose felt curious, disbelieving, hardly willing, slightly aroused and, at some level she was too sluggish to reach for, appalled and sad. Though Clifford paid preliminary homage to them both, she was the one he finally made love to, rather quickly on the nubbly hooked rug.

Poor Rose! For the rest of the book her assignations and affairs are either botched by snowstorms or cut short because the man dies of cancer without calling her back. She sees her ex-husband in an airport and he looks shriveled and full of hatred for her. 'At some level', sex will always appall her: she can't help it - it's her prudish upbringing.

(The whole review appears here)

First Comment by Dan:

I was in a high school play from the 1930's called 'Our Town' by Thornton Wilder.   It was just a simple play about a young mother and her relatives and friends she grew up with living in a small American town, the kind most people in America grew up in at that time. 

However, that play had a mysterious effect on those who were in it or saw it.  I was living in such a small town my senior year.   The scenes were this young woman's happiest memories - yet there was a sense of foreboding somehow that seemed to weight them down.    For one thing, we learn that a character in each memory are people who have already died.    Sure enough, at the end, she remembers that she's just died - and she has to take her place in a grave with only the people she knew in the little town to keep her company......FOREVER. 

Here's the Synopsis of 'Our Town' - Act I: Daily Life.  Act II: Love and Marriage. Act III: Death and Eternity.
I recognized the same foreshortening of the natural cycle of life in the title of a rap song aimed at teens in the 1990s -- BIRTH, SCHOOL, WORK, DEATH.

I tell you this play's portrayal of life in old fashioned American town where everyone knew their neighbor, and nobody had to lock their doors at night seemed like a fate worse than Hell.   

It had real repercussions.  Many of my graduating friends decided to move away as soon as they graduated.  Many couples started arguing and broke up.  One quiet young man drove his Rambler to the dam one night and blew his brains out. How much of these episodes were related to the play can never be known.   All I know is that rehearsing that play for weeks depressed me at what should have been a happy semester.  

I forgot the play forty years ago, and only lately did I learn that Thornton Wilder was a homosexual, who stayed in the closet his whole life.  His plays were made into major films in the 1940's, and presented in small town high schools and colleges all over America for decades, yet audiences  never knew they were letting a man that despised normal daily life, marriage, children and normal society - because he was queer. 

From an article in the 1946 Christian Science Monitor, "Play 'Our Town' is Banned in Soviet Berlin Sector.  The Soviet Union prevented a production of Our Town in the Russian sector of occupied Berlin "on the grounds that the drama is too depressing and could inspire a German suicide wave."

So no - it doesn't surprise me to see this witch Alice get a Nobel Prize for Nihilism.

"We shall unleash the Nihilists and the atheists, and we shall provoke a formidable social cataclysm which in all its horror will show clearly to the nations the effect of absolute atheism, origin of savagery and of the most bloody turmoil. Then everywhere, the citizens, obliged to defend themselves against the world minority of revolutionaries, will exterminate those destroyers of civilization, and the multitude, disillusioned with Christianity, whose deistic spirits will from that moment be without compass or direction, anxious for an ideal, but without knowing where to render its adoration, will receive the true light through the universal manifestation of the pure doctrine of Lucifer, brought finally out in the public view. This manifestation will result from the general reactionary movement which will follow the destruction of Christianity and atheism, both conquered and exterminated at the same time."

attrib. to Albert Pike

Related - Makow - Tennessee Williams , A Streetcar named Straightbashing

Comments for "Alice Munro - Nobel Prize Winner is No Tolstoy "

Peter G said (October 15, 2013):

Well Henry it seems that with each passing year the Nobel prize committee declares its allegiances with increasing zeal. What a shower.
Lets not forget that these lightweights represent the upmost pinnacle of recognition within the nwo way of looking at the world, founded as they were on the profits accrued from the discovery of how to stabilize nitro glycerin.

Truly an example of order out of chaos. Real literary achievement would be recognition of whoever wrote "Filth" which I watched last Wednesday night. Few films have the power to summon an enduring state of incandescent rage in my wife whilst at the same time containing so much hidden and not so hidden truth.

The people involved should watch out that they don't get Kubricked. James McAvoy is amazing in the lead role but he won't even get an Oscar nomination. I would be interested to hear what you, Henry, make of this film.

Jeff P said (October 15, 2013):

Ayn Rand, “Art and Sense of Life”
The Romantic Manifesto, p. 38

"Since man lives by reshaping his physical background to serve his purpose, since he must first define and then create his values—a rational man needs a concretized projection of these values, an image in whose likeness he will re-shape the world and himself. Art gives him that image; it gives him the experience of seeing the full, immediate, concrete reality of his distant goals.

Since a rational man’s ambition is unlimited, since his pursuit and achievement of values is a lifelong process—and the higher the values, the harder the struggle—he needs a moment, an hour or some period of time in which he can experience the sense of his completed task, the sense of living in a universe where his values have been successfully achieved. It is like a moment of rest, a moment to gain fuel to move farther. Art gives him that fuel; the pleasure of contemplating the objectified reality of one’s own sense of life is the pleasure of feeling what it would be like to live in one’s ideal world."

Ray said (October 14, 2013):

I got to know the Munro family when I was living in Powell River.

They are a remarkable family. Alice's ex-husband Jim Munro runs Munro Books in Victoria and has been named "Canadian Bookseller of the Year" a number of times, and deservedly so.

Yes, like all creative writers Alice is a purveyor of her own values through her writing. I don't always agree with those values. In fact, I disagree with most of them.

But the "review" you ran overlooks virtually all of her literary qualities, her simple ability to write fiction to great effect. She grew up on a fox farm in southeastern Ontario and wound up being the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. She is truly a self-made woman.

(I asked her once if she considers herself a feminist. She laughed and said, "Oh no, I certainly don't.")

Her journey from the fox farm to Stockholm is an achievement, regardless of one's cynical views of literature's highest prize. By the way, she has also won virtually every other literary prize for writers in English. She is the only person ever to win the Governor General's award three times, for example. She has also won countless prizes around the world based on her works appearing in 30 languages.

Alice also deserves the prize because she has done more for the genre of the short story than anyone since Chekhov, by virtue of having spent her entire 50-year career in that one genre -- no novels, no non-fiction.


Ray- This entry was not intended as a criticism of Alice Munro. She can write what she wants. I'm sure she was more surprised than anyone on learning of this award. The criticism is of the Nobel Prize which everyone knows by now is a sop the NWO hands out to its faithful servants, witting and unwitting.


Henry Makow received his Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Toronto in 1982. He welcomes your comments at