Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Author Study: Alice Munro Curated by Jenny Fu '20

Thank you so much for visiting this LibGuide about Alice Munro! Whether you are here for a class, leisure, or pure curiosity, you will definitely find something valuable. I hope you will enjoy and get to know Alice Munro.

Childhood

CHILDHOOD

Family/Town Dynamics 

Family

  • Munro was born on July 10th, 1931 in Wingham, Huron County, Ontario, Canada. 
  • She was the oldest of five children. 
  • Mother: Anne Laidlaw (of Irish descent) 
    • Relatively negative relationship
      • "I had a lot of conflict with her from the time I was a very young child because she had an ideal of good behaviour. She wanted her daughters to be successful, but also she wanted us to be very pure and ladylike; being a lady was very important. She wanted me to shine in a way I was not prepared to..."  -- Alice Munro 

    • Developed Parkinson's disease and gradually lost mobility when Munro was 10 years old. 

      • Munro undertook much of the housework. 

  • Father: Robert Laidlaw (of Scottish descent) 
    • Fox farm business failed due to the Great Depression, leaving the family in poverty. 
    • Not supportive of Munro's intellectual pursuits. 

Town: Wingham

  • Poor conditions in Wingham Ontario. 
  • Most people did not read 
  • Restrained creativity: 
    • "I wasn't brought up in a community that thought that what we call creativity now is normal..."
  • Scot-Irish dominant population 

A Harsh Life 

A combination of poverty, Munro's Mother's illness, and the town perspectives created a pressuring environment for Munro. Gradually, it seemed that such lifestyle was "expected to be" Munro's life. As a result, Munro was desperate to leave the town and seek a life where she could read, write, and have freedom. 
 

The Spark for Literature

  • Fell in love with literature at the age of 11. 
    • Reading served as an escape from the brutal reality. 
  • Inspired by The Little Mermaid by Christian Hans Andersen 
    • Disliked the sad ending and rewrote a happy version
  • Other favourite authors: 
    • Lucy Maud Montgomery 
    • Alfred Tennyson 
  • During the long, hard walk between home and school, Munro made up stories. 
    • It was a precious time for her that she would get frustrated if anyone offered her a ride.
 

         

Munro's hometown in Wingham, Ontario, Canada. 

 

      

Alice Munro's Father                        Alice Munro's Mother

 

 

"We didn't live in the town and we didn't live in the country. We lived in this kind of ghetto where all the bootleggers and prostitutes and hangers-on lived..."  

                                                                                                      -- Alice Munro referencing Wingham, Ontario

 

Adulthood

ADULTHOOD

Education

  • 1949 to 1951: studied journalism and English at the University of Western Ontario with scholarship. 
  • Munro saw education as an "opportunity to be away from home."

Marriage

  • First marriage (1951-1972): James Munro 
    • The couple met at the university and, together, forfeited their studies.
    • They married in 1951 and moved to Vancouver. 
    • Opened bookshop named "Munro's Books" while raising children. 
    • Munro wrote short stories persistently during her free time. 
    • Transformations in the Canadian society lead to their divorce: 
      • "It was that great era of everybody bursting out the great music, the singing, the freedom... we were getting old, but not really old. All of a sudden, we were wearing these clothes and we were dancing, thinking we were much younger than our self-estimate... I needed to go to parties. I needed to question everything.... there was a feeling that you could make life over." -- Alice Munro 
      • Moved to London, Ontario shortly after divorce. 
  • Second Marriage: Gerald Fermlin 
    • Met Fermlin, a war veteran, at university and was attracted to him. However, Fermlin did not notice her in return. 
    • Moved to Clinton, a region near Munro's hometown, after marriage. 
      • Gained numerous inspirations after residing at a region close to hometown. 
  • "He really understood about the writing and this was a marvellous gift to me because in all my life I've only met a very few men who really care about their wife's work... and I've been married to two of them." -- Alice Munro
  • 4 children in total 
    • Shelley 
    • Catherine (passed away on the date of birth due to lack of functioning kidneys)
    • Jenny 
    • Andrea

Writing Career

  • Wrote stories during her time at university. 
  • Despite the heavy chores, Munro wrote stories persistently during her free time at home and the books store. 
    • "I don't think it was the housework that ever prevented me from writing; it was the life of the housewife that prevented me from writing. The fact that when you are a housewife you are constantly interrupted, you have no space in your life." -- Alice Munro 
  • Sold stories to CBC radio program Canadian Short Stories. 
  • Robert Weaver, the producer of Canadian Short Stories, treated Munro seriously as a writer before she officially published short story collections, becoming a great encouraging force, editing and revising her works. 
  • Dance of the Happy Shades (1968) was Munro's first short story collection publication, which soon gained wide acclaim. Other than publishing collections, Munro also published frequently on the magazine The New Yorker. 

Literary Crisis

  • "What I felt very strongly from a boat, sort of increasing from 25 to 35, was that I didn't have it in me. I didn't hit the town. I couldn't do it. At one time when I was 29, I think I was completely blocked -- so blocked that I got sick ... and it was just that I realized what I wanted to do was so hard." -- Alice Munro 
  • "I went through about a year - I think when I was 29 - when I couldn't finish a sentence. It was a time of terrible depression, about what I could do measured against what I wanted to do." -- Alice Munro 
  • After her first short story collection Dance of the Happy Shades was published at the age of 39, there was a great pressure on Munro to produce the next great novel. She fell into "a block" again but recovered after her publisher reassured her of writing short stories. 

 

                  

Night view of Munro's Books              James Munro in Munro's Books

 

"What I wanted was every last thing, every layer of speech and thought, stroke of light on bark or walls, every smell, pothole, pain, crack, delusion, held still and held together – radiant, everlasting." 

                                                                                                                        -- Alice Munro 

Elder Life

Elder Life 

  • Currently resides in Clinton, Southwestern Ontario. 
  • At the age of 70, Munro was willing to publicize more, believing that humiliation vanishes as people age.
  • Published retirement work, Dear Life (2010) 
  • Suffering from health complications: 
    • Cardiac issues: seizures, blocked arteries, etc. 
      • Surgery around 2002
    • Known to be taking cancer treatment 

 

 

Dear Life (2010) -- Munro's retiring masterpiece

 

 "I believe they are the first and last -- and the closest -- things I have to say about my own life." 

                                               -- Alice Munro referencing short story collection Dear Life