Both writers and readers, when delving into a novel, tend to picture surroundings familiar to their own experiences and lives. Because of a person’s own memories and imagination, each person is reading a book of their own.
Award-winning author Jane Urquhart will examine houses and their interiors in fiction, and the process of visualizing them, when she delivers Memorial University’s annual Pratt Lecture on Saturday, entitled “Inner Lives: Fiction and the Visual Imagination.”
“It’s the process of visualization that really, really interests me and makes me wonder how we do it. This talk is going to be an exploration of that, with examples of various books.”
Urquhart is the author of seven novels, the most recent “Sanctuary Line,” as well as a collection of short fiction and four books of poetry. She has received the prestigious Governor General’s Award and the Trillium, and has been shortlisted for the Giller Prize and Orange Award.
Books Urquhart plans to reference include Elizabeth Bowen’s “The Last September,” Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando,” as well as poetry by Brendan Kinelly.
Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” will also be referenced, since Urquhart feels it’s a particularly great example of what she’s discussing.
“In that case, there was very little description of either landscape or the house itself, and that is one of the great mysteries — how Emily Bronte was able to evoke such a stunning world or a profoundly strong world without using all that much in terms of description,” Urquhart said.
“There are instances when the dialogue itself or the actions in a book will call up visual imagery in a way that maybe 16 paragraphs of detailed information about the sky or what the views out the window are might not.”
The English moorland setting of “Wuthering Heights” is the only novel setting in which Urquhart wasn’t shocked upon seeing in real life, she said.
‘Amazed’ at suroundings
“When I first went there, in 1985 or something, I was amazed at how much the physical surroundings of that part of the world resembled what I had built in my imagination,” she said.
“Coming from North America, where things don’t survive very long, and we are constantly reconstructing our townscapes and our architecture, I expected that place would have changed beyond all recognition, or that maybe I hadn’t visualized it properly anyhow, but, in fact, no. I knew exactly where I was.”
Urquhart said she’ll also be making reference to some of the many books that have the word “house” in the title such as, “House of Sand and Fog” by Andre Dubus III, “House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende, “The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton.
Urquhart, who was writer in residence at MUN in 1992 and has family in the province, said she decided on her lecture topic as a way of combining two of her passions together: houses, particularly historic ones, and writing.
“When I’m writing, it’s almost cinematic in a way, because I see everything that’s going on and I also see the surroundings,” she explained.
“I’m very fascinated by the notion of visualization. It means that the reader is participating in a creative way when they’re reading the book. They are building images of the book — in the same way, or perhaps a slightly different way — for the same reasons the author does.
Urquhart’s lecture begins Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Reid Theatre of MUN’s Arts and Administration building in St. John’s. Admission is free and parking will be available in lot 15B.