The Stone Carvers
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The Stone Carvers

Written by Jane UrquhartJane Urquhart Author Alert
Category: Fiction - Literary; Fiction - Historical; Fiction
Format: Trade Paperback, 400 pages
Publisher: Emblem Editions
ISBN: 978-0-7710-8685-4 (0-7710-8685-7)

Pub Date: March 5, 2002
Price: $21.00

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The Stone Carvers
Written by Jane Urquhart

Format: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780771086854
Our Price: $21.00
   Quantity: 1 

Also available as an eBook and a trade paperback.
Reader's Guide

1. Klara’s grandfather tells her that “Any work of art…must achieve sainthood before we set it free to roam in the world” [p 165]. The novel frequently relates art to spirituality. Father Gstir’s Corpus Christi procession, for example, unites Catholics and Protestants. Klara’s carved abbess reflects her passions. To what degree is art a spiritual endeavour? To what degree does art resolve tensions and paradoxes of a religious kind? Need art be spiritual?endeavour? To what degree does art resolve tensions and paradoxes of a religious kind? Need art be spiritual?

2. Work spaces are carefully described in the novel: Klara’s sewing room; Tilman’s prosthesis factory; Walter Allward’s atelier; Joseph Becker’s barn. Klara moves into her father’s blacksmith shop [p 22]. Do spaces define individuals and the work that they do within those spaces? Do men’s spaces differ from women’s spaces? What happens when men trespass into women’s spaces, as Eamon does into Klara’s bedroom, or as Klara does into her father’s smithy?

3. The phrase “years later” appears many times in the novel [pp 22, 107, 117, and elsewhere]. Paragraphs often begin with specific markers of time: “each autumn” [p 194], “in June of 1934” [p 1], “on a spring morning before dawn” [p 331]. Why does time alternate between the precise and the mythic? Why has the author chosen a narrative structure that weaves back and forth in time?

4. Canada is often called a “settler country” rather than a “colonial country.” Whereas a colony submits to government and culture imposed from without, a settlement brings government and culture from Europe and modifies them according to local needs. Characters in this novel come from Italy, Ireland, Bavaria, England, France and elsewhere. Although Europeans demonstrate “an insatiable hunger for lumber” [p 74], Europeans also send bells and money to the village of Shoneval. What is the relation of Old World to New World, or Europe to Canada, in the novel? How does The Stone Carvers contribute to a sense of Canadian multicultural coexistence?

5. People disappear and return in this novel, especially Tilman. Others, including Eamon, disappear and never return. Allward’s memorial is inscribed with “disappeared boys’ names” [p 267]. Who comes back and why? Is it possible to return in a transformed way? Why does a return cause enchantment? Does Allward’s monument really summon those who have disappeared?

6. The novel represents different kinds of making. Klara sews, embroiders, and carves. Allward executes his designs in stone. Tilman makes miniature landscapes. Why are some of the things made (scarlet vests, abbesses) of a human scale and some of the things made (Tilman’s carved landscapes and prostheses) miniatures or replacements for the human body? Why is Allward’s monument so big?

7. Albrecht Dürer advises that there are “six attitudes of the human frame” [p 96]. Klara thinks about the “attitude of despair” [p 93] that she herself strikes while playing hide and seek with Tilman. Can six basic attitudes encompass the possibilities of human posture? What is gained by reducing gestures to a limited repertory? Can these gestures account for the range of passions in the novel, including Eamon and Klara’s kiss [p 80], or the Virgin Mary’s protectively raised arms [p 94]? What does gesture mean? Why is a gesture sometimes preferable to words?

8. How many kinds of memory are there? Is personal memory different from public memory? Does remembering all those who died in World War I differ fundamentally from remembering specific individuals? Tilman remembers homes he steps into [p 195], whereas Klara burns all the relics of Eamon that she collects as a conscious deletion of memories. Can memory ever be fixed? Why does the Vimy memorial insist on “prodigious feats of memory from all who come to gaze at it” [p 378]?

9. Klara makes clothes. What is the relation of clothes to bodies? Why do “good tailors cause magical transformations to take place”? Why, by donning men’s clothes, does Klara become a de facto man in France? Do clothes create identity and gender?

10. After losing Eamon, Klara vows “never again to be torn from sleep by love, never again to be awakened by grief” [p 151]. Tilman’s relationship with Recouvrir suggests that love arises out of shared experience. Klara’s love for Giorgio emerges after long years of repression on her part. What kinds of love are workable? Given that the Beckers constrain Tilman in a harness, should parental love be taken as a model for other kinds of love?

11. Is carving purely ornamental or does it serve a social purpose? Is Allward’s monument to the dead socially useful? Is Klara’s abbess or Tilman’s carved souvenir scenes and funerary stones useful? Does art enhance life?

12. Touch provokes crises. Crazy Phoebe fears sexualized, abusive touching. Tilman, sleeping, “scrambled nervously to his feet at [Phoebe’s] touch” [p 184]. Klara initially shrinks from Eamon’s touch, whereas Tilman eventually discovers the “miraculous pleasure” [p 330] of human touch. What does touch signify? How does touch compensate for other kinds of communication? What does it mean to touch someone, in all senses of the term?

13. What is a ghost? Klara is “geist-ridden” [p 29]. She refuses to let Tilman sleep in his old bed when he comes back because “his childhood room would hold too many ghosts for him” [p 237]. Klara fades until she feels like “a ghost” who leaves scarcely a “trace of herself in the minds of those she encountered” [p 169]. Is a ghost the vestige of a desire? Do ghosts materialize at scenes of crisis?

14. Walter Allward was a real person. Klara and Tilman are fictional characters. Why does Urquhart weave together history and fiction?

15. Is The Stone Carvers a fable? A fable often involves animals, and there are many animals in this novel. Tilman resembles a bird. Klara owns Charolais cattle that express her need for affection. Horses enter the Corpus Christi procession. Animals greet Tilman with pleasure [p 195], and he prefers their company to human companionship [p 202]. What is the relation of the animal and human world? Do animals simplify human complexities? Do they suggest alternatives to human foolishness?

16. The story of Klara and her family seems to be told by nuns and spinsters, “as if by telling the tale they became witnesses, perhaps even participants in the awkward fabrication of matter, the difficult architecture of a new world” [p 6]. Why do women pass this story from hand to hand, or mouth to mouth? Why are celibate women integral to story-telling? Why does celibate Father Gstir invent fantastic stories about Canada to gratify King Ludwig’s imagination?

17. Refuto, as his name suggests, is the spirit of negation. Why are he and Tilman friends? Are they both defined by negation? Do his negative paradoxes point to hidden truths?

18. The Stone Carvers devotes long descripions to male bodies, whether Eamon’s while he dives and swims, or the bodies of soldiers “‘blown to bits’” during fighting [p 243]. Shrapnel enters and exits Recouvrir’s torso and arms [p 329]. Tilman loses a leg. Why are so many male bodies incomplete or damaged? Is maleness strictly located in the body?

19. In the last paragraph of the novel, the narrator says that “the impossible happens as a result of whims that turn into obsessions” [p 390]. The Stone Carvers is about impossibilities that come true. Are such impossibilities the function of artworks? Does art enchant the world? Does art express obsessions and fulfil human needs? Is the novel a disguised fairy tale?

20. What is a monument? Why does Allward want to make the Vimy Ridge monument allegorical, and why, by contrast, does Klara carve Eamon’s face into the monument? Must a monument be allegorical, personal, or both? Why is Allward so obsessed by the materials and the design of his monument? Does a monument exist in order to therapeutize feelings of grief? Why does the monument begin to disintegrate in fact and in memory [pp 378-379]?

21. Urquhart pays careful attention to weather in The Stone Carvers. Father Gstir comments on the howling winter winds: “He had never seen such weather” [p 50]. Does weather create a common ground for Canadians, either as an experience or as a focus of discussion? Why does Klara seem unable to talk about the weather with her neighbours [p 169]? Why does the novel begin on a sunless day that ends with gusts of rain [p 2]?

22. Why does The Stone Carvers begin with a vignette concerning two unidentified men [pp 1-2]? What structural purpose does this vignette serve? Why not begin, instead, with the sentence, “There was a story, a true if slightly embellished story…” [p 5], that appears at the beginning of Part One?

23. The Stone Carvers is a visual novel, one concerned particularly with statuary and images. In contrast, Urquhart’s novel The Underpainter is more concerned with painting. Why is the three-dimensional medium of sculpture more apt for her purposes in The Stone Carvers? Klara thinks that “certain visual occurrences that become tethered to memory” will later “appear in the mind when one is sitting in waiting rooms or staring out train windows” [p 304]. Is memory strictly based on images? What is the relation of images to narrative, which is a verbal and temporal, not a visual and spatial, medium?

24. Most of Urquhart’s characters are defined by grief and loss. In the dénouement of the novel, is grief dispersed, cured, eliminated? If character is defined by grief and grief disappears, can character still exist?

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