Alice Munro reinforces the Canadian stereotype

The celebrated author won the Nobel Prize with predictable modesty

Chris Young/CP

“I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win.” —Alice Munro, on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature

On the list of flaws that afflict our country’s most celebrated exports, modesty ranks near the top. Certainly, the notion that Canadians are a modest people is fraught, because we all know more countrymen than we can count who are exceptions to that supposed truism. But then someone like Alice Munro, who’s obviously one of the most stunning authors of her time, professes to be surprised when the world recognizes her talent and gives her a Nobel Prize for Literature. That kind of modesty helps the Canadian stereotype endure, much as we may not deserve it.

Munro’s modesty is outweighed only by her deference to her country. “I am amazed and very grateful. I am a particularly glad that winning this award will please so many Canadians,” she said in a statement. “I’m happy that this will bring more attention to Canadian writing.” She could have talked about herself. She could have celebrated herself. Instead, Munro is just happy that Canadians are happy, and that other Canadian writers might benefit. Another Canadian stereotype, confirmed.

The whole thing is almost too nice, really, which neatly perpetuates the third in our country’s holy trinity of apparent virtues. To many, Canadians are a pleasant collection of modest, deferential, nice people. Every so often, one of us wins the greatest prize we could ever imagine, a signal to the world that giants are born in the great white north, and then no one publicly shows off (except once, in recent times, in Vancouver). The world goes on assuming we’re not cocky, narcissistic and mean, just like everybody else.

We can only hope Munro, who’s 82 years old and no longer publishing books, allowed herself a fist pump and maybe even a holler of joy. Maybe a slice of celebratory cake and a couple of glasses of wine. Behind closed doors, of course, where no one can see.


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