Some writers might take a book to do it. Carol Shields did, in Swann. Timothy Findley did, in The Wars. But, first, the verse.
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Munro begins this story with an objective tone. She adopts the voice of a researcher and tells us about a book of poems from , written by a woman named Almeda Joynt Roth. Inside the book there is a photograph of Almeda taken in This book of poetry which seems to relate to the life of the poetess as described in the introduction is the primary source for anyone seeking to learn about Almeda.
Among the couples strolling home from church on a recent, sunny Sabbath morning we noted a certain salty gentleman and literary lady, not perhaps in their first youth but by no means blighted by the frosts of age. May we surmise? There is not much else about this woman who lived from until Jarvis Poulter died the next year.
They never married. Even her book of poems is a curiosity that shows some genuine but mostly untapped talent. And so, the woman exploring this female figure and telling us this story goes on to fill in the blanks. When Almeda goes to her doctor for some help, this is what the narrator has him say:. He believes that her troubles would clear up if she got married. He believes this in spite of the fact that most of his nerve medicine is prescribed for married women.
The name of the poem is the name of the river. No, in fact it is the river, the Meneseteung, that is the poem — with its deep holes and rapids and blissful pools under the summer trees and its grinding blocks of ice thrown up at the end of winter and its desolating spring floods.
Almeda looks deep, deep into the river of her mind and into the tablecloth, and she sees the crocheted roses floating. And I would be the last person to do so. People are curious.
A few people are. They will be driven to find things out, even trivial things. They will put things together. You see them going around with notebooks, scraping the dirt off gravestones, reading microfilm, just in the hope of seeing this trickle in time, making a connection, rescuing one thing from the rubbish. The entire story is, importantly, an attempt to reconstruct a real living creature from the dust of time. Almeda has been dead for over years. No one remembers her. Probably no one has remembered her in over a century.
But there is a full life there, and there are some tantalizing clues in the record that allow the narrator to imagine doing something noble: an act of rescue. And they may get it wrong, after all. I may have got it wrong. Many ladies did.
With this subversion, the story reopens just in time for the final full stop. We continue to see the depths of this woman. We see the act of investigation, imagination, empathy, and wisdom in the act of reconstruction. Munro was in her late fifties when the story was written. It is a strange, gothic tale set in the nineteenth century: women are taunted and treated with contempt; women go mad; women are nearly murdered or actually murdered, and all within plain sight.
Her answer to him is shaped by a chance encounter with a woman who has been beaten almost to death in her back alley. Poulter pokes the body with the toe of his boot and pronounces the woman dead-drunk, not dead, and in no need of a doctor.
Almeda is repulsed by the situation and by his callousness, goes home, writes a refusal, posts it outside, and locks the door to Jarvis Poulter and to marriage.
In the day that follows, she has an extraordinary vision which will shape the rest of her life. What follows below is a draft that explores some of the elements that appear important in this story. In Munro, change and insight often occur as the result of a fateful, accidental, or even violent encounter or confluence of events.
The habits that society instills in us are so strong that only the experience of an upheaval is likely to dislodge them and allow us to think for ourselves. In the topsy-turvy day that follows, Almeda has a pain and drug induced vision of what writing should really be. She experiences what could only be called a vision. If she had written her ars poetica the day before, and then rewritten it the day after, the two documents would have been very different.
The second ars poetica would have been very different. It would be like the river. It is important that Almeda gathers her insight at home as Jarvis Poulter goes off to church without her. In Munro, insight is most likely obtained outside the walls of church or school or village or any other institution that society has set up to preserve itself. Experience leads us to situations and choices that can be unconventional to point of appearing to be madness or amorality, but that are, in Munro, the only path to insight.
The river itself ebbs and floods as women do. To concentrate merely on beauty or loss will be a thing of the past. But their effort, their floating independence, their pleasure in their silly selves do seem so admirable. A hopeful sign, Meneseteung. There it is: what might be considered silly is also admirable, like the old aunts in Munro who are filled with acceptance and love and jokes and gentle truth.
The narrator has no name, no occupation, and she is quite self-deprecating. Any academic would reject such an essay out of hand. Herself now the subject of graduate students, it is as if Munro is suggesting that intuition is as powerful a tool as cold hard fact or the reliance on French philosophy. She is an ideal reader, perhaps. Munro mentions the idea that Samuel de Champlain had gone up the Meneseteung in his travels. Exploration is therefore a concern of the story, although the kind of exploration Munro and Almeda have in mind very different than the masculine push to sail up unknown rivers and drill down into the earth.
These readers take time and effort to understand what they are reading, and they are doing something important, even if their conclusions may be wrong or even ridiculous.
A certain kind of writer and certain kind of reader, Munro allows the narrator to claim, are driven to try to understand life, even at the risk of foolishness. Maybe the narrator is actually ridiculous or even unreliable. Maybe a lot of graduate students cooking up theses on Munro are also ridiculous or unreliable.
But Munro leaves it to the reader to judge for herself. There is a terrible judgment, disdain, entitlement, and callousness wrapped up in this one short item. Five items from the paper are quoted, all in written in the same self-assured, entitled and confiding tone. All in all, the paper is an institution which publishes gossip intended to keep the residents of the town in line. Physical abuse, tyrannical beatings, taunting, and bullying are directed at two women in the story, so when Almeda dies after having been chased into the cold swamp by a gang of boys, we are not surprised.
Murder is both explained away and staring right at you. Some of the abuse in the story is performed by boys and observed by witnesses who report it to the newspaper. The newspaper accepts it that Almeda has somehow called her own murder on herself. Gossip and rumor are other means of shutting up troublesome women. The newspaper performs this role for the town. Drugs and alcohol are another route.
Almeda herself has been prescribed laudanum, an opiate concoction freely distributed in the nineteenth century mostly to married women for women troubles. Clearly, this is a drug that can shut you up. There is a sense here that women seek out and willingly accept these soporifics, which can, in the end result in being confined to bed. They collude in being shut up.
The fact that Almeda is a published author of a book of poems does not protect her. She could only really be protected, as Jarvis Poulter notes, if she had a husband. Almeda observes that some married women toy with the idea that they can control their husbands by slavishly serving their likes and dislikes. So from the git-go, we are aware of the fact that Munro is talking about the contempt people have for women who find their tongue, which hypothetically could be not just women writers but also any and all women.
The writer and her character spring from the same land of Ontario, and from the same river, the Maitland, although in this story, Munro calls the river the Meneseteung. Almeda is clumsy with a needle and so turns to poetry. In addition, the story suggests that Almeda is a born writer as much as she is a born female: that the conditions are conjoined. As for Almeda and Alice being alter egos, they both have a brother and a sister, and more important, they both have an incapacitated mother who is confined to her bed.
In addition, they both have a beloved father who is admired for his literary interests and knowledge. Thus the things Almeda thinks about writing can easily be construed to represent, at least in part, motives and desires that Munro herself has. Midway through the story, realizing that her period is causing her great discomfort, or realizing that Poulter himself is causing her great discomfort, Almeda locks the door against him.
She takes copious amounts of the nerve tonic the doctor had prescribed to alleviate her discomfort, and she has a kind of visionary experience. Like Almeda, Emily refuses to marry and withdraws from conventional society, and like Almeda, Emily has a predilection for actively seeking out visionary states of mind.
When you compare Emily to Alice, there is the additional commonality of their mutual rejection of conventional religion. There is also the mutual devotion to task, the steady, regular application of time to writing. There is, however, with the conjoint awareness of Almeda, Emily, and Alice, an implicit suggestion that contempt for women is not dead. The woman who finds her tongue still faces danger. Just look at the man at Google, Inc.
Alice Munro Alice Munro 's short story "Meneseteung" was published in the author's collection Friend of My Youth The meaning of the title "Meneseteung" is not certain: it is the name of the river that Champlain is credited with exploring, and it is also associated with the onset of the menses menstrual flow mentioned in section V. The story, like many of Munro's works, was based on her love of the history of rural Ontario, Canada, where she grew up. When one first reads the story, it might appear confusing. Munro employs an outside narrator, who jumps back and forth in time from the s to the s. This narrator includes external sources of information—such as newspaper clippings and excerpts from books—that interrupt the flow of the story and disorient the reader, and, at the end of the story, the authenticity of the narrator is called into question, which can make some readers question the point of the story.
Names are, in fact, sites of negotiation for identity, and historical and cultural issues. They are never accepted as definite products, but questioned as performative and open textual units. This process of substitution is far more complex than a neutral and univocal exchange. Considering psychic dynamics, Lacan inscribes naming within the symbolic order, according to which the linguistic act shapes subjectivity — to be distinguished from the ego and the self — and allows access to the social world. As a matter of fact, the symbolic creates reality, that order which is named by language. According to psychoanalytic theory, not only is naming implied in maturity and in the separation from the maternal, but it also involves access to and acquisition of power.
Stories We Love: "Meneseteung"