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  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: April 2017

23 - Figures in a Landscape: William Dempsey Valgardson, “A Matter of Balance” (1982)


As a writer who is at home in many genres, William Dempsey Valgardson has published two volumes of poetry (In the Gutting Shed, 1976; The Carpenter of Dreams, 1986), two novels (Gentle Sinners, 1980; The Girl with the Botticelli Face, 1992), several plays for radio and television as well as three highly acclaimed children's books (Thor, 1994; Sarah and the People of Sand River, 1996; The Divorced Kids Club and Other Stories, 1999). He is best known, however, as a writer of short stories. Born in Winnipeg in 1939, Valgardson spent most of his childhood in Gimli, Manitoba, an area that had been settled by Icelandic immigrants in 1873–74 and was therefore once known as “New Iceland.” It is this Interlake region between Lakes Winnipeg and Manitoba whose harsh physical landscape provides the setting of most of Valgardson's short stories and of his first novel. Educated in Winnipeg and at the University of Iowa, Valgardson taught English and creative writing at various high schools and colleges in Manitoba, Iowa, and Missouri, before moving to Vancouver Island in 1974 to teach creative writing at the University of Victoria. Valgardson's life in Victoria is reflected in the urban setting of his second novel and in the West Coast scenery of some of his later stories, including “A Matter of Balance.”

Valgardson's portrayals of Manitoba's Interlake area and its Icelandic community in his early collections of short stories (Bloodflowers, 1973; God Is Not a Fish Inspector, 1975; Red Dust, 1978) draw upon the author's own experience of the land and its people. Valgardson, whose family background is in fact mixed Irish and Icelandic, has been influenced most deeply by his Icelandic heritage. In an interview with fellow Icelandic-Canadian writer Kristjana Gunnars, Valgardson accepted the designation of “Icelandic mystic” (Gunnars 1989, 16). Indeed, the Icelandic farmers, fishermen, and pulp-cutters who people what Margaret Atwood has called “Valgardsonland” (Atwood 1982, 321) are reminiscent of the archetypal figures in Icelandic sagas. By the time Valgardson was born, however, New Iceland had become a multi-ethnic region, with Anglo-Saxon, Cree, Scottish, and Ukrainian settlers joining the Icelandic population, and in some of Valgardson's stories this ethnic diversity forms the background of the conflict.

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The Canadian Short Story
  • Online ISBN: 9781571136886
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