Swann

Swann

by Carol Diggory Shields
     
 

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The lives of four amazingly different individuals become intertwined with that of Mary Swann, a rural Canadian poet of delicate verse whose genuine talent is only discovered after she is brutally murdered.  See more details below

Overview

The lives of four amazingly different individuals become intertwined with that of Mary Swann, a rural Canadian poet of delicate verse whose genuine talent is only discovered after she is brutally murdered.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Viking has wisely decided not to publish this fascinating novel as a mystery, as it was designated in Canada, where it earned excellent reviews. While two (rather bland) mysteries animate the plot, the book's considerable impact is as a combination of psychological novel and satirical comedy of manners that wittily dissects the pretensions of academia. The titular Mary Swann was murdered on the very day she had shown her poems to a publisher who recognized her talent. Fifteen years after her death, a symposium is to take place; the story focuses on four people who will attend: a ferociously engagee feminist scholar who ``rediscovered'' Swann's poetry, a misanthropic biographer committed to writing about Swann, a silly spinster librarian in the tiny town near Swann's home and the gruff but kindly publisher who issued her works in a limited edition. Each commands a section of the narrative and, in cool, witty prose, Shields artfully conveys their personalities, as well as the distortions each has made, for their own reasons, in Swann's life and work. (Meanwhile, however, a thief is systematically stealing every extant copy of her book.) In the end, Swann's life remains unknowable, though by now completely altered by her devotees' speculation and obfuscation. Adroitly illuminating the chasm between appearance and reality, this intelligent, provocative novel is sure to pique readers' interest in Shields's earlier work, Various Miracles , just reissued by Penguin. (July)
Library Journal
Mary Swann, a fictitious poet, was brutally murdered by her husband; her poems were published posthumously. Some years later, as this novel opens, a group of scholars meets for a Swann Symposium. We follow four of the participants as they prepare for the meeting: Sarah Maloney, brilliant young feminist scholar; Morton Jimroy, literary biographer; Rose Hindmarch, librarian; and Frederic Cruzzi, small-town journalist and publisher. Each distorts a different aspect of the life and work of Mary Swann. This novel delightfully satirizes academia and the literary world, wryly exploring the notion of textual criticism. Shields is well known in Canada; Swann should make her better known in her native United States.-- Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, Ore.
From the Publisher
“One of the best novels I have read. . . . Deft, funny, poignant, surprising and beautifully shaped—in total command of itself and its language.” —Margaret Atwood

“A compelling work . . . exquisitely crafted.” —The Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“Gently satirical . . . [Carol Shields] has a compassion for her characters that can make you ache for them.” —The New York Times
“Well-drawn characters, expert writing, and silky malice are combined in an exceptionally satisfying work of fiction.” —The Atlantic Monthly  

The New York Times
"Gently satirical… [Carol Shields] has a compassion for her characters that can make you ache for them."
The Atlantic Monthly
"Well-drawn characters, expert writing, and silky malice are combined in an exceptionally satisfying work of fiction"
Daily Mail
"A teasing literary mystery and a sly parable of human egotism."
Margaret Atwood
"One of the best novels I have read… deft, funny, poignant, surprising and beautifully shaped—in total command of itself and its language."
Kirkus Reviews
"A brilliant literary mystery...a delightful send-up of the scholarly sideshow that surrounds a work of art."

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780140134292
Publisher:
Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
08/28/1990
Series:
King Penguin Series
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.76(h) x 0.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

1

As recently as two years ago, when I was twenty-six, I dressed in ratty jeans and a sweatshirt with lettering across the chest. That’s where I was. Now I own six pairs of beautiful shoes, which I keep, when I’m not wearing them, swathed in tissue paper in their original boxes. Not one of these pairs of shoes costs less than a hundred dollars.

Hanging in my closet are three dresses (dry clean only), two expensive suits and eight silk blouses in such colours as hyacinth and brandy. Not a large wardrobe, perhaps, but richly satisfying. I’ve read my Thoreau, I know real wealth lies in the realm of the spirit, but still I’m a person who can, in the midst of depression, be roused by the rub of a cashmere scarf in my fingers.

My name is Sarah Maloney and I live alone. Professionally — this is something people like to know these days — I’m a feminist writer and teacher who’s having second thoughts about the direction of feminist writing in America. For twenty-five years we’ve been crying: My life is my own. A moving cry, a resounding cry, but what does it mean? (Once I knew exactly what freedom meant and now I have no idea. Naturally I resent this loss of knowledge.)

Last night Brownie, who was sharing my bed as he does most Tuesday nights, accused me of having a classic case of burn-out, an accusation I resist. Oh, I can be restless and difficult! Some days Virginia Woolf is the only person in the universe I want to talk to; but she’s dead, of course, and wouldn’t like me anyway. Too flip. And Mary Swann. Also dead. Exceedingly dead.

These moods come and go. Mostly Ms. Maloneyis a cheerful woman, ah indeed, indeed! And very busy. Up at seven, a three-kilometre run in Washington Park — see her yupping along in even metric strides — then home to wheat toast and pure orange juice. Next a shower, and then she gets dressed in her beautiful, shameful clothes.

I check myself in the mirror: Hello there, waving long, clean, unpolished nails. I’ll never require make-up. At least not for another ten years. Then I pick up my purse-cum-briefcase, Italian, $300, and sally forth. Sally forth, the phrase fills up my mouth like a bubble of foam. I’m attentive to such phrases. Needful of them, I should say.

I don’t have a car. Off I go on foot, out into a slice of thick, golden October haze, down Sixty-second to Cottage Grove, along Cottage Grove, swinging my bag from my shoulder to give myself courage. Daylight muggings are common in my neighborhood, and I make it a point to carry only five dollars, a fake watch, and a dummy set of keys. As I walk along, I keep my Walkman turned up high. No Mozart now, just a little cushion of soft rock to help launch the day with hope and maybe protect me from evil. I wear a miraculous broad-brimmed hat. The silky hem of my excellent English raincoat hisses just at knee length. I have wonderful stockings and have learned to match them with whatever I’m wearing.

“Good morning, Dr. Maloney,” cries the department secretary when I arrive at the university. “Good morning, Ms. Lundigan,” I sing back. This formal greeting is a ritual only. The rest of the time I call her Lois, or Lo, and she calls me Sarah or Sare. She’s the age of my mother and has blood-red nails and hair so twirled and compact it looks straight from the wig factory. Her typing is nothing less than magnificent. Clean, sharp, uniform, with margins that zing. She hands me the mail and a copy of my revised lecture notes.

Today, in ten minutes, Lord help me, I’ll be addressing one hundred students, ninety of them women, on the subject of “Amy Lowell: An American Enigma.” At two o’clock, after a quick cheese on pita, I’ll conduct my weekly seminar on “Women in Midwestern Fiction.” Around me at the table will be seven bright postgraduate faces, each of them throwing off kilowatts of womanly brilliance, so that the whole room becomes charged and expectant and nippy with intelligence.

Usually, afterwards, the whole bunch of us goes off for a beer. In the taproom on Sixty-second we create a painterly scene, an oil portrait — women sitting in a circle, dark coats thrown over the backs of chairs, earrings swinging, elbows and shoulders keeping the composition lively, glasses held thoughtfully to thoughtful lips, rolling eyes, bawdiness, erudition.

They forget what time it is. They forget where they are — that they’re sitting in a taproom on Sixty-second in the city of Chicago in the fall of the year in the twentieth century. They’re too busy talking, thinking, defining terms, revising history, plotting their term papers, their theses, and their lives so that no matter what happens they’ll keep barrelling along that lucent dotted line they’ve decided must lead to the future.


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Meet the Author

Carol Shields (1935–2003) was born in Oak Park, Illinois. She studied at Hanover College, the University of Exeter in England, and the University of Ottawa. In 1957, she married Donald Shields and moved to Canada permanently. She taught at the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Manitoba, and served as chancellor of the University of Winnipeg. She wrote ten novels and three short story collections, in addition to poetry, plays, criticism, and a biography of Jane Austen. Her novel The Stone Diaries won the Pulitzer Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award; it was also shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Shields was further recognized with a Canada Council Major Award, two Canadian National Magazine Awards, the Canadian Authors Association Award, and countless other prizes and honors. 

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