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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Obituary: Carol Shields
Carol Shields
Carol Shields was compared to Jane Austen

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Carol Shields was admired for her gentle, humorous but forgiving analysis of the human condition.

In such books as The Stone Diaries, Larry's Party and Small Ceremonies, Shields' delicate prose, wit and compassion invited comparisons with the work of Jane Austen and John Updike.

One critic described reading her books as like "watching busy human ants through a magnifying glass", in which Shields brought us humanity, "revealed in all its mundane, wonderful glory".

Writing about real women

Born in Chicago in 1935, Carol Shields enjoyed a relaxing childhood, feasting on the novels of Austen, Virginia Woolf and Graham Greene.

She married early, to Don, an engineering student she met in Scotland, and settled in her husband's native Canada with their growing family.

At premiere of Larry's Party in 2002
At the première of Larry's Party in 2002
As her children grew up, so Shields woke up, to politics, to feminism, and to writing. She once described picking up her pen, after realising that women in fiction were limited to "bimbos and bitches".

She resolved to write about the real women she knew and, after the publication of some poetry, her debut novel, Small Ceremonies, appeared in 1976.

Shields took several academic posts in Canada. She was a professor in Ottawa, a chancellor at the University of Winnipeg and, until recently, a teacher of literature in Manitoba.

Pulitzer Prize

In addition, she enjoyed increasing success with the publication of The Box Garden, Happenstance and the Republic of Love.

Shields reached an international audience in 1995 with The Stone Diaries, the story of one Daisy Gooldwill Flett.

Endings are never really endings. They're just there for the shape of the book
Carol Shields was philosophical about her work
Despite its containing a list of all the things the heroine feels she's missed out on during her long life, Shields' novel proved a tour de force and brought her a huge fan base, as well as the Pulitzer prize.

She followed this success with the novel Larry's Party, which won the Orange Prize in 1998, and was later adapted for the stage. The same year, Shields was diagnosed with breast cancer, but resolved to continue her work prodigiously.

No regrets

As well as a collection of short stories and a biography of her beloved Austen, she went on to produce Unless. A darker novel than her previous work, Unless was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2002.

Close-up of Carol Shields
Her books dwelt gently on the human condition
Critics worried about the narrowness of Shields' vision, that she trod too gently in her dissection of human motivation, that she was too measured and calm, but she coolly rejected these claims.

She said: "When men write about ordinary people, they are thought to be sensitive. When women do it, they're called domestic."

Nevertheless, in contrast with Daisy, her mournful heroine, Carol Shields claimed to have no regrets.

A champion of normality who wrote with wit and wonder about daily life, she explained: "I suppose I should have my own list by now, but I think I've done pretty well."

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