Homework is not tough, being a housewife is, says acclaimed novelist Alice Munro
“When I thought of being a writer when I was a girl in my teens, I thought I would be a success by the time I was 25 and for some reason I thought I would come to England and meet Lawrence Olivier on whom I had a tremendous crush… I would have a wonderful blue velvet gown… I would have written one novel which was the ‘Wuthering Heights’ of the 20th Century…,” says a charming Alice Munro well into her eighties at the time of the interview. Her success as a novelist is well known and she, it is said, is a perennial nominee for the Nobel Prize (having won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009).
Alice attributes this romantic vision to all that she has read… “I read and read till it was not enough anymore just to have these stories. I would be making up my own stories…stories that I love. I had quite a brutal walk home from school and I made stories all the way back home… I was not brought up in a community that considered, what we call creativity now, as normal…they thought it was normal for few people who lived in other countries and even fewer who lived in Toronto…but not for us.”
“I was the oldest and it fell to me to take over quite a bit of housework….I never minded that. What bothered me later was that it was expected to be my life. Housework never prevented me from writing. It was the life of a housewife that prevented me from writing…you are constantly interrupted, you have no space... the definition of a housewife was very constant….”
Alice describes her times candidly. “My generation was the drinking generation… we were also silly. I say silly because we were to think you could make your life over…so marriages broke up. Mine did too. It was a trend. People whose marriage did not break up were almost apologetic…it was a regrettable period…in terms of the way we had related to our children. I did not get alarmed about drugs, sex or bad language. Children, I realise, do not want enlightened parents, they want definite and firm parents so that boundaries are raised…I don’t think I could have ever done that.”
Talking of family, Alice mentions a child she lost for she believes the child too should be known. It took her years to be able to say that without the fear of being accused as “sentimental”. Alice says she could not avoid the guilt that she wanted to something else other than mothering. In her days it was not given much importance.
“I don’t think I ever felt my daughters and the rest of my life that was getting in my way. I felt I did not have it in me…I could not do it. Around 29 I had anxiety because I had realised what I had wanted to do was so hard…my family would always say recognise your limitations…I refused to. Every time you write something you are breaking something…If you accept your limitations, you can never write.”
Of her age she says, “People see you differently…you feel the same. I don’t think it happens so much to men…people except me to be ‘sentimental’ because I am an older woman…Older women have a nice negligible quality. What they are supposed to think is set out…Limitations of age, clichés about age have to go. Otherwise there is freedom because...the world’s opinion matters less.”
Alice ends by saying, “Writing is not worth doing if you do not do it with candour…I write of what I know of life and that is in myself…. Writing seems to be the best thing you can do with life…telling the truth as near as you can get to it…tackling the experience of being alive as best as you can…to get far into human experience seems to be a marvellous use of human life on earth.”