Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries

Autobiography in the Anthropocene. A Geological Reading of Alice Munro


  • Marlene Goldman University of Totonto



Alice Munro, autobiography, Anthropocene, sublime, geology, deep time


In the autobiographical stories of Nobel Prize award-winning author Alice Munro, questions of ontology and mortality are inextricably connected to matters of space and place. Fundamental existential dilemmas expressed in Munro’s corpus – signaled by the title of her second short story collection Who Do You Think You Are? – are linked to basic questions concerning orientation. Although autobiographical fiction frequently interweaves concerns about identity and deceased parents with recollections of ancestral spaces, as the literary critic Northrop Frye famously stated, the question ‘Where is here?’ is characteristic of the Canadian imagination. It is now also fundamental to the epoch of the Anthropocene. Although critics frequently praise Munro for her skill in presenting haunting, epiphanic moments, she is less often credited for her far less conventional tendency to tell stories covering years, even decades. My paper explores Munro’s preoccupation with these vast temporal arcs and their impact on her recursive autobiographical fiction. I argue that Munro’s penchant for ‘return and revision’ in her non-fictional works affords an opportunity for her protagonists and, by extension, her readers to revisit and ponder ancestral connections and the non-human dimensions of existence, which include sublime geological features and deep time.

Author Biography

Marlene Goldman, University of Totonto

Marlene Goldman is a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Toronto. Her research interests and publications include the intersection between narrative and modes of forgetting associated with trauma, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease (Forgotten: Age-Related Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, Montreal 2017) and apocalytic discourse in Canadian fiction (Paths of Desire, Toronto 1997; Rewriting Apocalypse, Montreal 2005). E-mail:





Beyond Endings: Past Tenses and Future Imaginaries