Jane Urquhart is a Canadian novelist and poet whose reputation grows with every book she publishes. Her novels include Away, The Underpainter, and The Stone Carvers, all of which I have read. Each is characterized by lyrically beautiful prose woven around a skeleton constructed from keen historical research - of Irish immigrants fleeing to Canada to escape the potato famine, say, or life in the trenches of World War I - and populated by sensitive, yet emotionally stunted, artistic and creative protagonists. I find the novels almost painful to read at times, so filled are they with the sorrow and anger that their characters feel, yet the transcendent beauty of Urquhart's language always redeems her for me.
Jane Urquhart was born in the small town of Little Long Lac in rural Ontario in 1949. Her father was a mining engineer and gold prospector. Urquhart's family moved to Toronto when she was a young girl. Jane called her father "Nugget Nick", and he was apparently a gregarious raconteur who regaled the children - Jane and two older brothers - with stories of Coffee Annie, Pipe-Fitter Slim, or Broken-Leg Bill, bringing the rustic life of the country into the staid environment of the city.
In the city Urquhart discovered the theatre. She began to study acting at age 10 in the New Play Society run by Canadian theatre pioneer Dora Mavor Moore. She sang in a choir, studied piano, and spent a summer at the Banff School of Fine Arts. However, in her later teens she stopped performing and turned her burgeoning intellect to reading and writing. She enrolled in the University of Guelph in 1968, majoring in English literature, and in the same year fell in love with an art student Paul Keele. The couple were soon married, and after graduation went to Halifax where Paul studied at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design and she worked in public relations. It was apparently a very passionate relationship, and Urquhart's poetry took a back seat to her involvement in the marriage. Tragically, Paul was killed in a car crash in 1973. Perhaps the theme of a lost early love which wends through Urquhart's novels springs from this early experience.
The 24-year-old widow went back to Guelph to study art history, where she met painter and sculptor Tony Urquhart, 15 years her senior, a divorced father of four with full time custody of two daughters. The couple married in 1976 and their daughter Emily was born in 1977. They live in a tiny village in rural Ontario in the heart of Mennonite country.
Urquhart's published works to date:
Many of the biographical details of Urquhart's life are from an article by Beverley Slopen at
There is a site about Urquhart at