Remember this : transgression in memoirs : The Perfection of the Morning and The Girl in Saskatoon

Author: Butala, Sharon
Source document: Brno studies in English. 2010, vol. 36, iss. 2, pp. [21]-37
  • ISSN
    0524-6881 (print)
    1805-0867 (online)
Type: Article
License: Not specified license
This paper uses the writer's own work to examine the transgressive nature of memoir. It categorizes memoirs as memoirs of family, career, childhood, war, illness, or as spiritual memoirs, to name a few, but concludes that these are not meaningful categories. The paper discusses The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature, which was perceived as transgressive because it revealed personal information about a spiritual journey which some readers felt made the writer "vulnerable", which shocked them, and was a violation of current social mores, but which did not leave the writer open to prosecution or physical danger, nor cause political unrest. But the transgressiveness of the second memoir, The Girl in Saskatoon: A Meditation on Friendship, Memory and Murder, caused her personal difficulty, including paranoia, and put her in physical danger, this to stop her from gathering information about the murder of Alexandra Wiwcharuk in 1962, and about the failed police investigation. The paper suggests that powerful people may be behind the effort to silence her, suggesting a possible scandal. Interviewees lied to her or withheld information, and memories were sometimes faulty, compromising the possibility of telling the factual truth. The (auto)biographer uses the same tools as the novelist, but memoirs are distinguished by the quality of voice. The paper concludes that literary transgressiveness means the breaking of cultural taboos, but that forms of (auto)biography are transgressive in nature and by definition, and thus alter the writer's perception of the world, as well as her life, but to find and tell the truth is the writer's role. (Auto)biography probes the human soul, offering the results to the community, and thus alleviates suffering caused by the belief that one is alone and unique in one's pain.
[1] Butala, Sharon (2008) The Girl in Saskatoon: A Meditation on Friendship, Memory and Murder. Toronto: Harper Collins.

[2] Butala, Sharon (1994) The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature. Toronto: Harper Collins.

[3] Lau, Evelyn (2001) Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid. Toronto: Harper Collins.

[4] Yagoda, Ben (2009) Memoir: A History. New York: Riverhead Books.