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ED KLEIMAN 'If One Green Bottle ...': Audrey Thomas Looks Back on the Cauldron of History Audrey Thomas's first published short story, 'IfOne GreenBottle ...' -later to be included in her first book, Ten Green Bottles (1967) - initially appeared intheAtlanticMonthly (June1965),whereitimmediatelyserved to announce the arrival of a strikingly original talent. In fact the story, some thirty-five years later, has proven to be seminal to the now considerable body of work by this major Canadian writer. For it is here, in-this early work, that one initiallyglimpsesthe startlingresults ofherexperimentswiththeshort-story genre - experiments that were later to be carried forward into her novels. The story is written as a collage, a technique which helps to clarify the way in which her imagmationfunctions. Indeed, this key feature, in stories and novels alike, involves focusing over and over againfrom a multiplicity of perspectives, or within different contexts, on a central event that occurs within the narrative. The event itself is usually of a shatteringly painful nature, often involving a lost child or lover. And the overall result is an enlargement of consciousness occasioned, as this early story indicates, by persistently shifting patterns of'organization' and a continually changing 'tone' (14).1 Here, the optical instrument of choice is not a set of bifocal lenses, not a microscope, a telescope, oraspectroscope,butprirnarilyakaleidoscope- an image which embodies the collage technique. Within a revolving field of vision, the central event serves as the focal point about which alternating contexts can be viewed: objective descriptions, stream-of-consciousness passages, intertextual allusions to a wide variety of genres, etymologies of pivotal words, different historical and geographical settings, and shifting time sequences. Grouped together in this field of vision, these contexts revolve about a centralpoint to form avibrantverbal'cosmos.' !tisfrom this incredibly rich and varied cosmos that Thomas drew when she created her later works. Consequent]y, there are always some elements of this early experiment in fiction that continue to find their way into her subsequent stories and novels. Examples come easily to mind, among them: Mrs. Blood, Latakia, Two in the Bush, Intertidal Life, Graven Images, and Coming Downfrom 1 All references to 'If One Green Bottle ... ' - as well as references to 'Xanadu,' 'Elephants to Ride Upon/ and 'Omo' - are, unless otherwise noted, from the Oberon edition of Ten Green Bottles and will be made parenthetically in the text.' UNIVERSID' OF TORONTO QUARTERLY, VOLUME 69, NUMBER), SUMMER 2000 AUDREY THOMAS AND THE CAULDRON OF HISTORY 661 Wa. Not only do they all focus on either a lost child or a lost lover (or occasionally on both), but they aJso have clear stylistic links to 'One Green Bottle,' a story which has served as the embryonic source for so much that has followed. InThomas'slatestnovel, IsobelGunn, wesensethesamepulse-beatwhose origins we have just been examining. For in this work with its constantly shifting field ofvision, we are again presented with changing geographical and historical settings in which the female protagonist, struggling to cope with all that is fragile and uncertain in her life, nevertheless loses her child. Her situation - juxtaposed as it is against the forces ofbirth, death, and the infinite possibilitiesinbetween -leads first to glimpses oflife in the Orkney Islands in the early nineteenth century, then onto a portrait of the fur trade around Hudson Bay, and finally, after a brief glimpse of Edinburgh, to the death of a distant descendant on a battleship in Scapa Flow, amidst the Orkney Islands, at the beginning of the Second World War. Incommentingonthisessentialelementofhertechnique, Thomasherself hasstated,'IquiteliterallyClltthings up andpastethemintoplace' (Wachtel, 43). And she goes on to express her fascination with the notion that'artists are ... vivisectors' (Wachtel, 57). Indeed, 'One Green Bottle' begins with a particularly striking pair ofreferences that Thomas has cut away from their usual contexts and pasted intoplace. I Whenfleeingy,shewrites, 'oneshould never look behind. Orpheus, Lot's wife ... penalties grotesque and terrible awaitus all' (5). Immediatelythereader'sattentionis arrestedbytheimplied question - and answer: why should one never look back? Lot's wife turns into a pillar of salt as fire and brimstone rain down upon Sodom and Gomorrah; Eurydiceis snatched backinto the darkness whenOrpheus, just as he is about to enter the upper world, turns his head a moment too...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 660-669
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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