“Fragments on my Apple”: Carol Shields’ Unfinished Novel

Carol Shields’ fifty-six short stories—collected in Various Miracles (1985), The Orange Fish (1989), and Dressing Up for the Carnival (2000)—are distinctly quirky, but “Segue,” the first story in her Collected Stories (2004), seems problematic because it does not appear to be a self-sufficient story at all. In fact, it was not intended as an independent text. Rather, it was meant to be the opening chapter of a final novel that Shields’ terminal cancer left her unable to complete—tragically, as “Segue” would have been her crowning achievement in narrative structure.

Shields, despite her reputation for sunniness, was a bit of a rebel—at least in relation to the form of the novel. “I don’t know how I came to be so rebellious, because I’m not at all in my daily life,” she told me in a May 2003 interview shortly before her death.1 Her rebelliousness regarding fiction is revealed primarily in her rejection of plot. She acknowledged that The Box Garden (1977), possibly her only novel containing a conventional plot, is also the only novel that she would like to rewrite. Her publisher persuaded her to insert a mystery—the kidnapping of the narrator/protagonist’s son—with the result that this, her second published novel, is arguably the least successful of the ten.

In place of plot, Shields favours structure: “I use my structure as narrative bones, and partially to replace plot—which I more and more distrust,” she explains in “Framing the Structure of a Novel” (4). In a 1998 interview for The Academy of Achievement, she said, “I develop a novel as I go. I have a structure in mind, though. I always see the structure before I know what’s going to be in the structure, and it’s a very physical image that I can call up. For each novel I’ve had rather a different structure” (qtd. in Giardini, “Square Root” n. pag.).2 Several Shields novels pivot on a central structure. Her first published novel, Small Ceremonies (1976), is composed as a journal covering the nine months of the academic calendar, from September to May.3 Shields explains how she wrote a novel while raising five children: “I could see how it could be done in little units. I thought of it like boxcars. I had nine boxcars, and each chapter had a title starting with September, and then October, November, December, so it was a very easy structure for someone writing a first novel to follow” (Interview with Terry Gross n. pag.).4 Swann (1987), the watershed novel that taught her the novel can accommodate many forms, is composed of four sections focusing on a literary critic, biographer, librarian, and editor, followed by a screenplay. “I had a wonderful sense in this book that I could be more daring, braver. It is my favorite book,” she told me, “my little darling.” She also realized that “the novel is a big commodious bag. It gave me a sense of freedom.”5 Her next novels—A Celibate Season (1991), co-authored with Blanche Howard, and The Republic of Love (1992)—are structured antiphonally: chapters alternate between female and male protagonists in these narratives of courtship and separation. The Stone Diaries (1993), which won the Governor General’s Award in Canada in 1993 and the Pulitzer Prize in the United States in 1995, and Larry’s Party (1997) both follow biographical structure: The Stone Diaries was like “end[ing] up your life with a boxful of snapshots,” she recalled (Interview n. pag.).6 With The Stone Diaries, she also had a structural image of Chinese boxes in mind: “I was making the outside box, Daisy was making the inside box—and inside her box was nothing” (“Foreword” xx), she explained in her foreword to Vintage Canada’s publication of the novel, dated December 2001. “Segue,” however, was to display Shields’ most innovative structure yet.

Shields described to me her plan for her novel-in-process, “Moment’s Moment,” which, she told me, was “in fragments on my Apple.” This was her return to poetry, as her protagonist/narrator, Jane Sexton, was a poet like herself. Admirers of Shields’ fiction may not think of her as a poet, but she published over 150 poems in three collections—Others (1972), Intersect (1974), and Coming to Canada (1992)—the first two before she ever published a novel. “I loved being a poet. I’ve lost my way into writing poems,” she reminisced to me. Since her first unpublished novel, The Vortex, focused on a modernist poetry journal called The Vortex—echoing Ezra Pound’s 1914-1915 magazine Blast, which launched the “Vorticism” movement—“Moment’s Moment” would have brought her fictional oeuvre full circle.7

Structure is the operative principle in this draft novel: Jane Sexton is a sonneteer, “or sonnet-maker as we prefer to be called nowadays” (“Segue” 11), who composes a line each day and a sonnet each fortnight.8 Shields’ planned narrative was to include fourteen chapters, reflecting the sonnet’s structure, with a line composed for each chapter. She said in May 2003 that she was currently attempting to compose a sonnet for her novel. Thus, “Moment’s Moment” would have carried Shields’ innovative fictional structure to new heights and linked her poetry to her prose fiction once again.

Jane Sexton is president of the American Sonnet Society, renamed the Sonnet Revival in 1988. The society meets, naturally, once a fortnight on alternate Mondays, and every member writes a sonnet for each meeting. Jane has attempted for thirty years to write one sonnet each fortnight, beginning Monday morning. The first chapter of Shields’ typescript of her unfinished novel, the basis for her published story “Segue,” is headed “The First Day. Monday” (1).9 Jane begins by deciding on the form: Italian, Shakespearean, or contemporary, which she terms essentialist (5). Shields believes that poetry teaches a love of form—subtle half rhymes, language, imagery—“like knitting a pair of socks,” she said to me: “[Y]ou want to get it right.” For Jane, too, form precedes content. The sonnet is a vessel: “We can do what we want with a sonnet. It is a container ever reusable, ever willing to be refurbished, retouched, regilded and reobjectified” (15).10

Jane turns over the presidency of the Sonnet Revival to Victor Glantz, who vows “to bring the sonnet into greater and greater public usage” (15), much to the amusement of Jane and her novelist husband Max Sexton. Jane comments, with a brief flick of Shields’ satirical tongue, “I sometimes wish we had fewer loonies among us, and not quite so much enthusiastic mediocrity” (15).11 Jane presents Victor with a violet, which she sees as “symbolically useful, though I’m not sure the others understood the subtleties [as] African violets must be watered from the bottom, not the top, and this, I believe, is analogous to the writing of sonnets in the twenty-first century” (15).12

Jane describes her method of composition: writing in ink on paper, with her dictionary, thesaurus, and list of subjects at hand, she begins at the beginning, with the first word and first line, and works her way through to the end. She revises, filling her script with arrows and scribbling marginalia, such as “’saccharine’ or ’derivative’” (11). Shields termed the process of revision “etching on glass.” She always asked herself the question, “Is this what I really mean?” (Wachtel 37).13

Shields believed every poem should have an idea, not just soft, unfocused feelings, and Jane Sexton appears to agree: “A sonnet is not really about an object or thing, but about the skeins of feeling that surround the object or thing” (60). She does not believe in muses; instead, “My pen is my muse” (59), she asserts. Jane is strict with her sonnets:

Making too much of things is an illness poets are particularly prone to. Over ascription of meaning is halfway to preciosity, and we need to keep our imprint light on the world. Discarding is best done early in the day in order to keep the junk level down. The thousand fibres that conspire to cushion the day can be combed smooth. A clean quarter of an hour with the newspaper guarantees a clear head. No background radio yammer. (51)

Structure is paramount: Jane reflects, “Sonnets are taken so strenuously, so literally . . . and the definition—fourteen lines of rhymed iambic pentameter—hardens and ends up gesturing toward an artifact, an object one might construct from a kit” (7). Like a carpenter or architect, Jane constructs the “scaffolding” for the sonnet, although several sections remain “unnailed” because “I want space for strangeness to enter—not obscurities or avoidances, but the idiosyncrasies of grammar or lexicon, so that the sound is harsh, even hurtful” (17). This intent reflects not only Shields’ love of language, but also her rebelliousness and her impulse to subvert literary conventions.14

Of her over 150 collected poems, none is a sonnet, formally speaking, although she recalls, “I was the class poet and right through high school I loved to write sonnets. They were an attempt to use the sort of language I now despise in poetry—for example, pretty language. I do hate pretty language. One of these sonnets started out, ’Satin slippered April, you glide through time and lubricate spring days’” (Wachtel 29), a line that she quotes in Unless (2).15 But Shields did write a mature sonnet, a love poem to her husband Don Shields, which was published in Thoughts—the literary magazine of her alma mater Hanover College—in 1957, the year they married:16

I guess it just depends on what you mean
By love. To Milton it was duty first,
But that was dull and dry. But if I lean
Towards Byron’s fiery love my heart would burst.
And then there’s Mrs. Browning. I must say
She overdid it just a bit. I will
Not take her all-consuming loving way.
Such sentiment would surely make me ill.
If none will satisfy to whom then may
I turn? Dare I trust myself? I fear
That when they ask me what love is I’ll say
That feeling that you give me when you’re near.
You are my definition. You alone
Can tell me what the poets have not known. (lines 1-14)

Shields’ literary allusions suggest an intellectual woman’s love poem, and her repeated use of enjambment and caesura gives her poem a conversational, unconventional tone. Titled simply “Sonnet,” it was collected in Early Voices in 2001.

Regarding subject matter, Jane believes that the sonnet, like the novel, can be about anything. No longer confined to courtly love, the sonnet can embrace the whole of life. She keeps a notebook in her drawer with numerous possible subjects, from Picasso to Styrofoam, which she copies with whatever comes to hand, from pencil to lip-liner.

Sound is just as important as sense to Jane. Noting that the word sonnet means “little sound,” Jane reflects: “[I]f you picture the sonnet, instead, as a little sound, a ping in the great wide silent world, you make visible a sudden fluidity to the form, a splash of noise, but a carefully measured splash that’s saved from preciosity by the fact that it comes from within the body’s own borders; one voice, one small note extended, and then bent” (6-7). After the bend, or volta, “the ’little sound’ sparks and then forms itself out of the dramatic contrasts of private light and darkness” (7). When Shields composed this draft novel, she was, although appearing truly luminous, approaching the darkness of death.

Jane’s sonnets contrast with her husband Max’s novels. Max Sexton, “Chicago’s most famous novelist” (54), whose writing is not going well, believes that every novel is about death, whatever its genre or subject (6), but Jane believes that the novel or the sonnet can be about anything. Max’s latest novel Flat Planet, published on 10 September 2001, the day before the attack on the World Trade Centre, naturally sank without a trace. Jane’s artist friend Marianne says Flat Planet “deserved the oblivion it’s earned” (44). Jane wonders how American Thanksgiving can proceed in its traditional form after “the now-world . . . has seen the end of Fortress America and the notion of giving thanks from the ’olden days’” (8). Max loves “the Thanksgiving of the old, weird America that lived in the woods or behind sets of green hills. He wanted so much for the book to sum up all that the word thanksgiving illuminates in America” (7-8). But, Jane wonders, “what does the idea of thanks mean when a spectacularly fortunate country has been smacked in the chin? Has been flattened. Thanks to whom and for what?” (8). As chapter 1 is set on 7 October 2002, “one year and one month after the September 11 tragedy” (2), “Moment’s Moment” was clearly intended as a millennial novel, mourning 9/11 and the end of “Fortress America.”

Chapter 3, titled “The Third Day. Wednesday,” a second fragment collected in the Shields Archives,17 appears to be set in 2003 on the sixth day after the American invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction. Jane sees Saddam Hussein’s photo in The Chicago Tribune and witnesses on television scenes of looting in Iraq. A woman carrying three lamps is interviewed, happy to have “nicked an armload of decorating accessories,” but Jane realizes “the account of Lamp Lady won’t do for Max—wrong genre, wrong gender” (51). Like her daughter Lucy, who lives in Oak Park with her husband Ivan and who loathes George W. Bush, Jane is negative about Bush and the “axis of evil” (45), comparing him to Hitler. She recalls that when she asked her Sunday school teacher if God loved Hitler, since God and Jesus were supposed to love everyone, she replied that God “was probably ’disappointed’ in Hitler” (46), implying He is also disappointed in President Bush. Although the surface of this draft novel concerns the sonnet, it has a personal as well as a political subtext, with several gestures towards autobiography: the action is set in Shields’ own birthplace of Oak Park, Illinois, Jane is Shields’ own age of sixty-seven at the time of composition, Jane and Max Sexton’s wedding date of 1957 is the year that Carol and Don Shields married, and Max Sexton has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize (2), an award that Shields herself won for The Stone Diaries.18 Although Shields does not specify an illness to account for Jane’s sudden sense of aging, her own diagnosis of terminal cancer in 1998 haunts this story like a shadow text. On a sheet of holograph manuscript titled “Sonnet,” Shields has Jane refer to her “diagnosis” at sixty-three, the age Shields was when she received her terminal cancer diagnosis. Jane comments, “Until my diagnosis at 63 I was perfectly happy to chair the fortnightly meetings [of the Sonnet Revival Society] at Monday lunch” (“Sonnet” 1). Disoriented on a recent Monday, however, perhaps distraught by her diagnosis, Jane gets lost on her way home from the meeting, unsettling her deeply. Her health crisis unhinges her sense of self, her sense of her place in the world:

The notion of meaningful roots becomes unacceptable, when I think how one minute of every hour is given over to the unrootedness of the self, or else one hour in the slender thinness of a single night. For these brief instances, it seems to me, we are unplugged from the universe, separated from any icon of suburb or Chicago or home or Max’s yellow briefcase or Lucy’s fixation on the hatefulness of George Bush. Whether through detachment or despair—God knows which—I feel—from nowhere it comes—the rustling, dizzying stale air of disconnection—those unreliable roots—and that’s enough to wither my faith. If my sonnets are to leave any echo of me it will be a testimony to the visionary company of loss. I am lost. We lose our way, just as I did coming from the Sonnet Revival meeting on Monday: we are creatures of doubt and rootlessness. (49)

Shields’ emphasis on Ground Zero and the threat to America (8) parallels the break-down of “Fortress America” (8) with the threat to Jane’s own body—the aging body on which she plans to focus her next sonnet, because she feels increasingly “like a walking ossuary” (13).19 Her sonnet is “supposed to be about my body, my pathetic, decaying, sallow and sagging body. But for some reason I keep writing about the war instead” (46). The American invasion of Iraq parallels the cancerous invasion of Jane’s body, and her preoccupation with the war parallels her body’s battle with cancer. Since Shields was in the habit of reading the obituary column for narratives for fiction, she must have read many times about a person succumbing after a valiant battle with cancer. She herself battled the insidious enemy for five years before succumbing, far longer than predicted.20

Jane parallels sonnet construction with her own being: “My brain stem is ready, the iambic grasp of knit/purl engaged, and is so close to matching the rhythm of my breath that I don’t even think of it. Its motor hums in the joints of my shoulders and wrists, knit/purl, knit/purl, ten items arranged on each clean glass shelf” (18). Similarly, as noted, she views the “little sound” of the sonnet as a voice emerging “from within the body’s own borders; one voice, one small note extended” (7)—like a cry for help.

Shields employs the sonnet to represent life itself, as the constrictions of its form symbolize the brevity of human life. Leonardo da Vinci’s maxim, “Art breathes from containment and suffocates from freedom” (11), is taped on Jane’s desk. Shields emphasizes the concept of composing within restraints by including an Oulipian Society that meets on alternate Mondays in the same chamber as the Sonnet Revival. “Oulipo” is an acronym formed from the French words “Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle,” meaning “a workshop of potential literature,” founded in France in 1960 by François Le Lionnais and Raymond Queneau, wherein poets create artificial constraints for composing poetry (“Oulipo” n. pag.). Oulipians, Jane explains, “resemble the sonnet revivalists in that they set up constrictive forms for their literary production” (14). Confusing Mondays, Jane arrives accidentally at a meeting of the Oulipian Society. The Chair, Doug Pome,21 invites her to participate in their “combinatorial stratagems” (14).22

Jane also has a framed poster of Rainer Maria Rilke’s sonnet to Orpheus on the wall:

Always we move among flowers, vine-leaves, fruit.
They don’t just speak a language of seasons.
Out of the darkness comes a motley declaration
With maybe a glimmer of jealousy in it
From the earth-nourishing dead. Do we know
What part they play in all this? Consider
Just how long it has been their nature
To fiddle the loam with loose bone-marrow.
The question, then: do they enjoy it?
Is fruit heaved up to us, clenched with the effort
Of clumsy slaves, and we their masters?
Are they the masters, asleep among roots,
And grudging us from their surpluses
This crossbred thing of speechless strength and kisses? (Rilke 34)

Although Shields does not actually quote Rilke’s sonnet, certain elements of the poem—from the mention of the seasons to the allusion to darkness—are reflected in her prose in her references to “the chilly calendar” (16) and to Jane’s “Sunday self-consciousness,” as “the little mid-morning circle around Max and me was bisected by light and dark” (2). Most important, of course, is Rilke’s sonnet’s concern with the afterlife of the poet. Orpheus was the legendary poet and singer of Greek myth. After twice failing to rescue his wife Eurydice from Hades, Orpheus is torn apart by Dionysian Maenads, and his head floats downriver to the isle of Lesbos, where it continues singing. The reference to Rilke’s sonnet reflects Shields’ situation, as she continued to compose while anticipating death.

Jane appears preoccupied with death, and condensing experience into the strict structure of the sonnet seems to serve as an antidote to death, as Shields explains in the typescript, “The Third Day. Wednesday”: “If I could get it down to fourteen lines and turn it into a patterned meditation, then there would be no real cups and saucers to worry me in the world. It would be easy to be the busy dust the little broom went after so industriously. Busy dust was living dust. We were made of dust, and of dust we would remain. Dust to dust” (54). Jane employs the housewifely image of a broom: “I must sweep my head clean with a queer little broom, and that broom . . . is my sonnet, an imperium, as I have already announced, about a woman who is growing old . . . during a time of war. I didn’t want to include the lines on the war, but the broom refused to dislodge it. A brave little brush, it is willing to whap itself against primordial dust, dust from the creation” (52). Shields’ metaphor of the sonnet as a broom combines the housewifely and the cosmic, connecting the image of dust under the carpet with the dust to which all life must return.

Shields employs the sonnet to symbolize the self: “Plain Jane” (2), Jane says, “c’est moi” (3). Jane is preoccupied with her self: “Me, always me. My inescapable self with its slightly off-balanced packaging, benignly decentred by an altered view” (12). Unlike Max, Jane believes that “the mystery of being is as deeply manifest in women as in men” (3). But recently, her perspective has changed: “Lately everything to do with my essence has become transparent, neutral” (3). She draws the parallel between the sonnet and the self by describing the sense of completing a sonnet as “that feeling every poet knows of arrival home, the self returned to its self” (5). “Here I am,” she repeats to herself (16), trying to reinforce her sense of being. She wonders of her marriage to Max, “Are we to share the future or no?” (19). Jane has reached the volta, or critical turning point, in her life: “The physical substance of my resolute will has taken a rather sudden turn” (58). She feels “[m]ore and more a bit player in my own life” (58). Jane fears the approaching moment “when my faith in my miniature art collapses” (17), paralleling her poetry with her body.

The sonnet form parallels “the shape of a human life” (12): the division of the sonnet at the volta represents the “dramatic argument” (11) of “[s]pring and counter-spring” (16) that symbolizes both the before-and-after 9/11 terrorist attack of the political perspective and the before-and-after terminal cancer diagnosis of the personal perspective. Jane says, “[T]he bending is everything, the volta, the turn, and also important is where it occurs within the sonnet’s ’scanty plot of ground,’ to quote old Wordsworth” (7). Although Jane says, “I am not thinking, at this early stage, of octave-sestet divisions” (16), Shields clearly was.

The original title, “Moment’s Moment,” is crossed out on the typescript of chapter 1, with “Segue” written by hand and circled underneath it (1). That moment of being is featured in “Segue,” as the narrator observes herself and her husband performing their Sunday morning ritual of buying bread and flowers at the market to take to their daughter’s home in Oak Park, where they will enjoy brunch together—a small ceremony: “I felt a longing to register the contained, isolated instant we had manufactured and entered . . . this was what I wanted to preserve” (1). Many of Shields’ poems, stories, and novels strive to recreate a transcendent moment, a “moment of grace,” as she puts it in Unless (44), that realizes the extraordinary in the ordinary—“numinous moments,” “moments of transcendence,” or “random illuminations,” as she explains it to Eleanor Wachtel (17).

Shields’ habit of portraying her protagonist viewing herself from both within and without, as she does in her early poem “I/Myself,” is employed in “Segue,” as Jane self-consciously analyzes the moment: “[A]n intrusive overview camera (completely imaginary, needless to say) bumped against me, so that . . . I found myself watching the two of us . . . making a performance of paying for their rounded and finite loaf of bread and then the burst of chrysanthemums” (1-2)—a flower frequently associated with death and funerals. Here, the author of stage and screen plays imagines the “performance” of her characters caught on camera—like the woman in Shields’ play Departures and Arrivals who, meeting her husband at the airport, imagines a retake of that meeting, complete with a film director and cameraman (117): the stage directions explain, “This is not a ’real’ filming, but an extension of the characters’ self-consciousness as they indulge in the self-conscious drama of an airport reunion” (117) in a dramatic extroversion of a character’s thoughts.

After Shields’ death, her youngest daughter, poet Sara Cassidy, revised her mother’s first “fragment” for publishing as the story “Segue” that introduces her Collected Stories.24 The title “Segue” is an appropriate, if ironic, title for her last story, because Shields was convinced before her death that she had more novels to write. “I’d love to write the sonnet novel but I don’t seem to have the energy,” Shields lamented to Wachtel (13). “Segue”—which The Oxford English Dictionary identifies as a term derived from music, signifying “an uninterrupted transition from one song or melody to another” (“Segue, n.” n. pag.)—suggests continuation, something denied to Shields herself, but not to her publications, which continue to be read and enjoyed. While composing “Segue,” Shields was absorbed by the war in Iraq and the idea that life goes on, despite the war. Therefore, “Segue” is about “goingonness,” she said to me.

Shields concludes “Segue” much as Margaret Laurence ends The Fire-Dwellers—with the protagonist drifting off to sleep, asking the existential questions, “What am I now? What is my position in the universe, in the fen and bog of my arrangements?” (20).25 In The Staircase Letters, a collection of electronic messages between Shields and her friend Elma Gerwin, who was also dying of cancer, editor Arthur Motyer explains how Shields would put herself to sleep: “She would continue down the staircase of her years, the journey of her life, until she found herself regressing into young adulthood by stair thirty-one, then childhood by stair twelve, but losing track of whatever number it was in infancy, where sleep never failed to arrive” (34)—hence the book’s title, The Staircase Letters. Shields’ vision of layered structures, stairs in this case, reflects her metaphor of glass shelves for the lines of a sonnet or boxcars for the chapters of a novel. Shields wrote to Motyer, “I love the state of being nearly at the end, when I have the sense of darning a sock. It’s almost like flying.” Ever the self-conscious artist, she added, “I believe that metaphor needs some work” (qtd. in Motyer 149). Shields viewed her life as a series of chapters: “Most of us end up seeing our lives not as an ascending line of achievement but as a series of highly interesting chapters,” she said in her convocation address at the University of British Columbia in 1996.26 “Segue” concludes with a sentence reflecting the final chapter of Shields’ life: “[I]f it weren’t for my particular situation, I would be happy” (20), echoing the opening sentence of her last published novel, Unless: “It happens that I am going through a period of great unhappiness and loss just now” (1). Chapter 3 of “Moment’s Moment” ends with a haunting line of poetry, presumably line three of Jane Sexton’s sonnet: “Some perilous intersection between faith and dread” (61).

Shields’ editor Anne Collins quoted the following passage from The Stone Diaries as epigraph to Shields’ Collected Stories, published posthumously in 2004:

Something has occurred to her—something transparently simple, something she’s always known, it seems, but never articulated. Which is that the moment of death occurs while we are still alive. Life marches right up to the wall of that final darkness, one extreme state of being butting against the other. Not even a breath separates them. Not even a blink of the eye. A person can go on and on tuned in to the daily music of food and work and weather and speech right up to the last minute, so that not a single thing gets lost. (The Stone Diaries 342)

Nothing is lost in “Segue”—not even a moment’s moment.


  1. I interviewed Shields in her Victoria home, 7-9 May 2003. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Shields’ interviews will be from this unpublished interview. Shields comments in an interview with Eleanor Wachtel, “I love the idea of—I don’t know why, because I think, in everyday life, I’ve been quite conventional—of novels that take an unconventional turn, that in fact invert the process of the novel or introduce some huge digression or have a sense of living tissue to them” (167-68).
  2. I interviewed Shields in her Victoria home, 7-9 May 2003. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Shields’ interviews will be from this unpublished interview. Shields comments in an interview with Eleanor Wachtel, “I love the idea of—I don’t know why, because I think, in everyday life, I’ve been quite conventional—of novels that take an unconventional turn, that in fact invert the process of the novel or introduce some huge digression or have a sense of living tissue to them” (167-68).
  3. Robert Lecker titled his review of Small Ceremonies “All Plot, Little Thought,” but I contend that structure, not plot, is emphasized in this novel.
  4. In her essay “Thoughts on Writing, Advice, Freight Cars and Clotheslines,” Carol Shields’ daughter, novelist Anne Giardini, recalls, “[M]y mother always had a structure in her mind before she began to write a book. She referred to this structure as ‘a very physical image that I can call up, just the way you would call up an image on your screen’” (n. pag.). Giardini describes Shields’ boxcar image for Small Ceremonies: “[I]n my mind, those chapters looked like the cars of a freight train, and I just lined them up, nine of them, and I knew I would have to fill those freight cars, and that was the image, and it helped me keep things together a little bit” (n. pag.).
  5. Shields may have been echoing Jane Austen, whom she admired and wrote about, who called Pride and Prejudice “my own darling Child” in a 29 January 1813 letter to her sister Cassandra (qtd. in Le Faye 201). Shields told Wachtel that “[n]ovels are enormously expansive, capacious. They’ll hold everything. I had this sense years ago, when I was writing Swann, that the novel would hold everything I could put into it” (qtd. in Wachtel 167-68).
  6. Shields continues, “They may not be the best ones, but they’re the ones you have. All the other pictures are in an album somewhere” (Interview n. pag.). This conversation with an anonymous interviewer can be found in the Penguin Reading Group Guide accompanying the Penguin publication of The Stone Diaries. The interview can also be found online at www.us.penguingroup.com/static/rguides/us/stone_diaries.html.
  7. The Vortex (1973) is in the First Accession of the Carol Shields Archives at the National Library of Canada in Ottawa, in Box 23, Files 1-14. Shields started writing poetry, often in rhyming couplets, in her youth and published poems in school and college literary magazines that can be viewed in the Carol Shields Archives. At thirty, Shields started writing poetry again for a 1965 CBC competition that had a maximum age of thirty; she won the competition.
  8. “Segue” offers, as Alex Ramon observes, “a tantalizing glimpse of a work-in-progress” (178). He adds, “As Shields poignantly states of Austen’s unfinished Sanditon: ‘the fragment does not read like the work of a dying woman’” (178). He notes, “An edited extract of Segue was published in the ‘Review’ section of The Guardian on 27th December 2003” (179).
  9. “Segue” offers, as Alex Ramon observes, “a tantalizing glimpse of a work-in-progress” (178). He adds, “As Shields poignantly states of Austen’s unfinished Sanditon: ‘the fragment does not read like the work of a dying woman’” (178). He notes, “An edited extract of Segue was published in the ‘Review’ section of The Guardian on 27th December 2003” (179).
  10. Jane also notes, “A sonnet . . . comes with its coat of varnish. As Flaubert says, the words are like hair; they shine with combing” (15). On a holograph manuscript sheet in the Shields Archives, Shields writes, “A sonnet comes with its coat of varnish. We can do what we want with it, but it is a form ever reusable, ever willing to be refurbished, retouched, regilded and revealed” (2).
    Anne Collins believes Shields’ distinctive voice was fully formed from the start. Shields’ tongue could be “wicked, too,” she said, with a propensity for “zingers” (Personal interview n. pag.).
  11. When I visited Carol Shields in May 2003, I purchased a luxuriant African violet—I thought she might enjoy its literary associations—in a floral shop on the way to her house. She had her daughter Sara place it on a table in her bedroom, where we conversed. Later, her daughter Anne wrote me a thank-you note, explaining that her mother was becoming too weak to write. The way Shields weaves the violet into her story illustrates the creative writer’s ability to interweave external with internal realities. It also demonstrates that Shields was still working on “Moment’s Moment” at that time.
  12. Novelist Anne Giardini also relays her mother’s writing process in “Thoughts on Writing, Advice, Freight Cars and Clotheslines,” recalling that Shields would ask herself at the end of each poem, “Is this what I really mean?” (n. pag.).
  13. For example, Shields takes delight in “undermining the novel form a little bit,” as she confessed to Wachtel (165-66).
  14. In an interview with Wachtel, Shields referred to “precocious sonnet writing” (10).
  15. Eighty-nine of Shields’ poems are collected in Coming to Canada. Six of her early poems, not in Coming to Canada, are collected in Early Voices.
  16. The Carol Shields Archives at the National Library includes “Moment’s Moment: Chapter 3 The Third Day. Wednesday,” Shields’ typescript draft. I wish to thank Archivist Catherine Hobbs for bringing this second fragment to my attention.
  17. Although Shields made Reta Winters, the narrator/protagonist of her last published novel Unless (2002), middle-aged (succumbing to the prejudice that older women cannot be interesting and judging that forty-three was the oldest point at which a woman could still exude sexual allure, as she told me), she bravely decided to make the protagonist of “Moment’s Moment,” or “Segue,” her own age of sixty-seven because she wanted to write about the aging process.
  18. By 2003, Shields’ stage-four breast cancer had metastasized and spread to her bones.
  19. Anne Giardini reports in a 23 June 2013 email message that her mother hated the references to battling cancer in obituaries: “She didn’t like the martial tone, or the implication that those who died did not fight valiantly enough. She told me several times not to include embattled language in the obituary we wrote for her” (Personal interview n. pag.).
  20. In The Vortex, one character refers disparagingly to “the pome people.”
  21. One of the two pages of Shields’ holograph manuscript also refers to Victor Glantz and the Oulipian Society.
  22. In the unpublished chapter 3, she refers to the creation of the “last two lines [as] the sense of arrival at home, like being given back to yourself” (58).
  23. Sara Cassidy wrote to me, “With Don as consultant, I prepared Segue for submission as a short story. Extremely little was done beyond copy-editing. It was very much ‘of a piece’ as much of Carol’s work-in-progress would be; since she would, as you know, every day edit the writing from the previous day. As for its ability to stand as a short story, I don’t think it can—it lacks a roundness of plot—but it certainly holds as ‘a chapter published as a short story’” (n. pag.).
  24. Laurence concludes The Fire-Dwellers with this passage, as her protagonist Stacey Cameron MacAindra drifts into sleep: “She feels the city receding as she slides into sleep. Will it return tomorrow?” (281).
  25. This unpublished address is collected in the University of Manitoba Archives.

Works Cited

  • Cassidy, Sara. “Re: Segue” Message to the author. 13 Dec. 2012. E-mail.
  • Collins, Anne. Personal interview. 20 May 2012.
  • Giardini, Anne. Personal interview. 23 June 2013.
  • —. “The Square Root of a Clock Tick: Time and Timing in Carol Shields’ Poetry and Prose.” 2013. TS.
  • —. “Thoughts on Writing, Advice, Freight Cars and Clotheslines.” Advice for Italian Boys. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2010. Google Book Search. Web. 24 Jun. 2013.
  • Laurence, Margaret. The Fire-Dwellers. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1969. Print.
  • Lecker, Robert. “All Plot, Little Thought.” Rev. of Small Ceremonies, by Carol Shields. Essays on Canadian Writing 5 (1976): 80. Print.
  • Le Faye, Deirdre, ed. Jane Austen’s Letters. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997. Print.
  • Motyer, Arthur. The Staircase Letters: An Extraordinary Friendship at the End of Life. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2007. Print.
  • “Oulipo.” Wikipedia. 25 May 2013. Web. 16 June 2013.
  • Ramon, Alex. Liminal Spaces: The Double Art of Carol Shields. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2009. Print.
  • Rilke, Rainer Maria. Sonnets to Orpheus. Trans. David Young. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1987. Print.
  • “Segue, n.” OED Online. Oxford UP, 1986. Web. 18 June 2013.
  • Shields, Carol. Collected Stories. Toronto: Random House, 2004. Print.
  • —. Coming to Canada. Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1992. Print.
  • —. Convocation. U of British Columbia, Vancouver. 1996. Address.
  • —. Departures and Arrivals. 1990. Thirteen Hands and Other Plays. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2002. 1-124. Print.
  • —. Dressing Up for the Carnival. New York: Viking, 2000. Print.
  • —. “Foreword.” The Stone Diaries. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2008. ix-xxi. Print.
  • —. “Framing the Structure of a Novel.” Writer 111.7 (1998): 3-4. Print.
  • —. “I/Myself.” Coming to Canada: Poems. Ed. Christopher Levinson. Ottawa: Carleton UP, 1992. 6. Print.
  • —. Interview by Terry Gross. Fresh Air. Natl. Public Radio. WBUR, Boston, 1 May 2002. Radio.
  • —. Interview. “Reading Group Guide.” The Stone Diaries. Penguin.com (USA), 2008. Web. 24 June 2013.
  • —. Larry’s Party. New York: Viking, 1997. Print.
  • —. “Moment’s Moment: Chapter 1 The First Day. Monday.” 2003. TS. Random House Canada, Toronto.
  • —. “Moment’s Moment: Chapter 3 The Third Day. Wednesday.” Carol Shields Archives. National Library, Ottawa. RG 11805, Accession 2003-09, Vol. 117, File 27, pp. 43-61. TS.
  • —. The Orange Fish. Toronto: Random House, 1989. Print.
  • —. Others. Ottawa: Borealis, 1972. Print.
  • —. Personal interview. 7-10 May 2003.
  • —. The Republic of Love. Toronto: Random House, 1992. Print.
  • —. “Segue.” The Collected Stories. Toronto: Random House, 2004. 1-20. Print.
  • —. Small Ceremonies. New York: Penguin, 1976. Print.
  • —. “Sonnet.” Early Voices. Ed. T. L. Walters and James King. Edmonton: Juvenilia, 2001. 33. Print.
  • —. “Sonnet.” Carol Shields Archives. National Library, Ottawa. RG 11805, Accession 2003-09, Vol. 136, File 13, 2 pp. MS.
  • —. The Stone Diaries. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 1993. Print.
  • —. Swann. Toronto: Stoddart. 1987. Print.
  • —. Unless. Toronto: Random House, 2002. Print.
  • —. Various Miracles. Toronto: Stoddart, 1985. Print.
  • —. The Vortex. Carol Shields Archives. National Library, Ottawa. First Accession, Box 23, Files 1-14. TS.
  • Shields, Carol, and Blanche Howard. A Celibate Season. Regina: Coteau, 1991. Print.
  • Wachtel, Eleanor. Random Illuminations: Conversations with Carol Shields. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 2007. Print.

Please note that works on the Canadian Literature website may not be the final versions as they appear in the journal, as additional editing may take place between the web and print versions. If you are quoting reviews, articles, and/or poems from the Canadian Literature website, please indicate the date of access.