There were two reasons why I came to Canada, apart from the fact that I had always dreamt of visting this country. The first was the 11th International Conference on the Short Story in English; the second was that I needed to do some research in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book library and hundreds of photocopies in the Robarts library. Although this might seem boring, it was actually quite exciting! My research focuses on Margaret Atwood’s short stories, which explains why my Canadian posts are often related to some of Atwood’s stories, and I needed to access her papers. For a good few days, I thus entered a different world, that of Atwood and her writings. It was quite enthralling. I discovered some unpublished novels and stories (did you know that “The Bog Man” and “Two Stories about Emma” were originally part of a novel, Destroying Angels, which she gave up to write The Handmaid’s Tale?), I read some of the correspondence and I even caught myself reading the back of rough papers, some being reading lists from her student years. On top of learning useful information, it also created a certain atmosphere that remained during my stay in Toronto and I definitely saw the city through a different eye.
Here are a few (prettier) photos of the University of Toronto:
Atwood studied at the University of Toronto where she started publishing poems and short stories in the University literary journal, Acta Victoriana, and many of her characters study or have studied in the same University. This is the case of Christine, the protagonist of “The Man from Mars” in the collection Dancing Girls, who is being stalked by a man “from another culture”, as her mother would say, and ultimately considers the episode as “an amusing story”, a story that gives Christine some aura until her stalker is deported.
Here is her first encounter with this foreign student:
“Halfway across the park she stopped to take off her cardigan. As she bent over to pick up her tennis racquet again someone touched her on her freshly bared arm. Christine seldom screamed; she straightened up suddenly, gripping the handle of her racquet. It was not one of the old men, however; it was a dark-haired boy of twelve or so.
‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘I searched for Economics Building. Is it there?’ He motioned towards the west.
Christine looked at him more closely. She had been mistaken: he was not young, just short. He came a little above her shoulder, but then, she was just above the average height; ‘statuesque,’ her mother called it when she was straining. He was also what was referred to in their family as ‘a person from another culture’: oriental without a doubt, though perhaps not Chinese.”