'Age Could Be Her Ally': Late Style in Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness

Ailsa Cox

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain, Edward Said discusses the radical and often unsettling work produced by many artists nearing the end of their lives. Despite cultural expectations of wisdom, maturity and reconciliation, direct experience of senescence, illness and bodily decay induces a distinctive idiom, which he describes as ‘late style’. This idiom ‘involves a nonharmonious, nonserene tension, and above all a deliberately nonproductive productiveness going against’. Alice Munro’s stories have always been marked by a striving towards disharmony, and a resistance to illusions of certainty. Her most recent collections have shown an especially acute engagement with encroaching mortality, as her characters follow the author into old age. She records the process of physical and occasionally mental decline; but she also suggests some measure of compensation. A certain existential freedom derives from both the social exile of old age and the lack of investment in the long-term future. This is illustrated to grimly comic effect in ‘Free Radicals’ (Too Much Happiness, 2009). In those stories which deal with a mother’s estrangement from an adult child (‘Silence’, Runaway 2004; ‘Deep-Holes’, Too Much Happiness, 2009), the breaking of the maternal bond seems to stand for a rupture in the continuity of identity through the passage of time. As ‘Deep-Holes’ puts it: ‘Age could be her ally, turning her into somebody she didn’t know yet’. Applying Said’s concept of ‘late style’ I examine the relationship between text, time and old age through an understanding of the author as an embodied subject. This is achieved through the close textual analysis of ‘Free Radicals’ and ‘Deep-Holes’, and a broader discussion of Too Much Happiness in the context of Munro’s career.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCritical Insights: Alice Munro
EditorsC. E. May
Place of PublicationNew Jersey
PublisherSalem Press
Number of pages300
ISBN (Print)9781429837224
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2012

Publication series

NameCritical Insights


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