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Molson Prize to Alumna

A U of A alumna has joined the ranks of such noted scholars and authors as Margaret Atwood, Northrop Frye, Gabrielle Roy, and Charles Taylor.

On 23 March 1994, Juliet McMaster, '63 MA, '65 PhD, University professor of English, accepted a $50,000 Molson Prize at ceremonies at Alumni House. The prize, which has honored some of Canada's most celebrated writers and thinkers, recognizes outstanding lifetime contributions to the cultural and intellectual life of Canada. Only two Molson Prizes are given by the Canada Council each year, one in the arts and one, as in McMaster's case, in the humanities and social sciences.

McMaster, born in Kenya in 1937, completed a BA (Honors) in English at St. Anne's College, Oxford University. She earned her MA and PhD in Alberta, becoming the Arts faculty's first PhD graduate. The field of 19th century literature has become her main speciality, and she has written and co-authored several important books on major 19th century English authors including Thackeray, Austen, and Dickens.

Besides being a celebrated scholar — the U of A honored her with the distinction of University professor in 1986 — McMaster is also a dedicated teacher. "Teaching is a very intense experience totally absorbing," she says.

"For the time one is in front of a classroom or seminar, exploring a piece of literature, it is for the moment your whole world. I count myself lucky to have that chance."

Her former students, some of who wrote to support her nomination, also consider themselves lucky, fortunate to have been able to study under McMaster, who also enjoys sharing her interest and knowledge with the greater community — for example, she spoke at the annual conference of the Jane Austen Society of North America at Lake Louise this year, a 600-person conference she had organized along with her English Department colleague Bruce Stovel.

McMaster is committed to organizations which foster humanities research and scholarship. She has been a strong supporter of the SSHRC, the Canadian Federation for the Humanities, and the university presses, and has served on the editorial boards of the most significant journals in her field.

Besides all this, she is currently at work on a book on body and character in the 18th century novel, tentatively titled The Body Legible. "My interest is in the ways writers of this period use physical signs of the body as a code by which readers can interpret the motions of the mind," McMaster explains. "Eighteenth-century novels are full of encoded information. There is a whole range of signs you can recover if you know what you're looking for."

On receiving the Molson Prize, McMaster expresses appreciation for the recognition. "I'm enormously honored, for my University, the humanities, for women and myself. This kind of recognition is something you can't anticipate, but when it comes it's wonderful."

Published Summer 1994.

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