Jane Urquhart, novelist, poet, short-story writer (b at Little Long Lac, Ont 21 Jun 1949). Educated at Harvergal College in Toronto and the University of Guelph, Jane Urquhart wrote poetry and short fiction before taking up novel writing. She has written three books of poetry, including The Little Flowers of Madame de Montespan (1983), a sequence of lyrics that portray the court of Louis XIV through the persona of one of his most influential mistresses. These poems were reissued along with those from her 1982 I Am Walking in the Garden of His Imaginary Palace in a 2000 collection titled Some Other Garden. Urquhart has also published Storm Glass (1987), a book of short stories.
Jane Urquhart's skilful evocation of historical setting is also apparent in her novels. Her first, The Whirlpool (1986), set in Niagara Falls in the late 1890s, examines the convergence of art and life. With this work, Jane Urquhart became the first Canadian to win France's Prix du Meilleur Livre Etranger (Best Foreign Book Award). In Changing Heaven (1990), the story of two 20th-century academics is interwoven with that of a turn-of-the-century balloonist, her lover, and the ghost - or memory - of Emily Brontë.
Away (1993) portrays the starving farmers of Ireland during the potato famine of the 1840s and the pioneer Ontario homesteaders in the mid-19th century; complementing these historical details is her exploration of the transplanting of Irish myths to the new land. Away was the co-winner of the Trillium Award, shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and remained on the Globe and Mail's national bestseller list for a record 132 weeks.
Urquhart's fourth novel, The Underpainter, won the Governor General's Award for fiction in 1997. Set partly in Lake Superior's Silver Islet, this book explores the potentially exploitative and destructive relationship between artist and subject. Reviewers praise Jane Urquhart's own painterly prose and layered structure in this work, in which an elderly modernist painter looks back over his life and dysfunctional relationships.
Both a haunting past and artistic creation again figure in The Stone Carvers (2001). Urquhart here relates the devastating impact of World War I on a brother and sister from a small farming community in southern Ontario. Their personal, fictional stories are interwoven with the historic construction of Walter Allward's Vimy Ridge Memorial, as Urquhart explores what she calls "the redemptive nature of making art."
Jane Urquhart's sixth novel, A Map of Glass (2005), returns to 19th-century Ontario to present another dramatic family saga, that of Andrew Woodman's timber baron ancestors. The multilayered novel, also set in present-day Toronto, focuses as well on Jerome, the young artist who first discovers Woodman's dead body on a remote lake, and Sylvie, Woodman's mistress. These two unlikely characters come together to peer into Woodman's and their own troubled pasts.
Jane Urquhart was the recipient of the Marion Engel Award and has been the writer-in-residence at many Canadian universities. She is a Chevalier of France's Order of Arts and Letters and an Officer of the Order of Canada.