The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3

By John Clement Ball | Go to book overview

U

Urquhart, Jane
ANNE COMPTON

Jane Urquhart is a poet and fiction writer whose landscape-rich novels feature border crossings. Her early characters–in The Whirlpool (1986), Changing Heaven (1990), and Away (1993)–are situated on the permeable border between natural and supernatural. Her foundational stories are therefore romances. In The Underpainter (1997), which shifts to realism, life and art border one another. The Stone Carvers (2001) similarly occupies this border, but here art’s relation to life is redemptive rather than conflictual. In A Map of Glass (2005), Urquhart explores mapping and language, and how each records the human excursion into nature. Actual borders–fences, perimeters, and concession lines–proliferate. Because European migration to the New World or the reverse–of Canadians to Europe, usually to battlefields–occurs in five of Urquhart’s narratives, the borders are also political.

Preeminently, however, her obsession with border crossings has its origins in landscape. The landscapes that preoccupy her are those of the past; her imagining of those landscapes and their inhabitants is a response to present-day threats to landscape. Apart from Whirlpool, set entirely in the nineteenth century, every Urquhart novel juxtaposes a nineteenth-century landscape with a twentieth- or twenty-first-century one, with parallel stories situated in the two eras. The circumstances of present-day characters–often scholars (Changing Heaven), storytellers (Away) or art makers (Underpainter, Stone Carvers, Map)–are reformulated or resolved only through extensive referral to stories inscribed on a landscape by the character’s forebears. Until characters cross over into the past, self-knowledge is withheld, and the past, for Urquhart, is always landscape-specific.

Born in 1949, Urquhart grew up north of Lake Superior, a landscape featured in Underpainter. Her family later moved to Toronto, but the landscape most germane to her work is the Lake Ontario shoreline, where, since infancy, she has summered at Loughbreeze Beach. Here, she heard the ancestral stories of her Irish maternal line (famine emigrants), which inspired Away, and stories of the Great War, a formative experience for two Canadian characters in Underpainter. Lake Ontario is the setting for Map and parts of Underpainter; sometimes described as a regional writer, Urquhart is, more particularly, a novelist of the Great Lakes. Her much praised visual depiction of landscape is available to her through personal memory and visits to foreign locales Yorkshire, Ireland, Picardie. She currently lives in Stratford, Ontario, with a second home in Ireland.

Urquhart began her career as a poet, and her shift to prose occurred quite by accident: prose poems about nineteenth-century Niagara Falls outgrew their form, becoming Whirlpool. Whereas her poetry is narrative-based and serial, her prose, especially in its metaphorical lyricism, retains the impress of poetry. Urquhart, who has a degree in art history and collaborated with a visual artist on her poetry collection Montespan, frequently features artists as central characters. The prevalent intersection of the literary and visual

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The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction - Vol. 3
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Editors i
  • The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Literature WWW.Literatureencyclopedia.Com ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Entries vii
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Notes on Contributors to Volume III xv
  • Introduction to Volume III 937
  • A 942
  • B 980
  • C 995
  • D 1034
  • E 1052
  • F 1066
  • G 1094
  • H 1121
  • I 1145
  • J 1154
  • K 1167
  • L 1180
  • M 1198
  • N 1252
  • O 1270
  • P 1277
  • Q 1296
  • R 1300
  • S 1325
  • T 1365
  • U 1370
  • V 1373
  • W 1378
  • Z 1398
  • Index 1400
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