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Timothy Findley, 71; Prolific Author


Timothy Findley, a prolific novelist whose stylistically diverse writing won him numerous honors in his native Canada, has died. He was 71.

Findley, who had battled congestive heart failure in recent years, died Thursday at a hospital in southern France of complications from a pelvic fracture sustained in a fall at his home.

A diverse writer comfortable in a variety of mediums, Findley was best known as a novelist. Although he received good critical marks in the United States, he failed to find the audience here that he did in his homeland and in Europe. He also was a playwright, memoirist and short-story author.

His work evaded easy classification but revealed common themes based on human fears.

"I must admit that I cannot imagine why I have written what I have," he said some years ago. "It does occur to me, however, that a thread runs through all my work that has to do with unlikely people being confronted with uncommon events."

In a biographical portrait, the reference work "Contemporary Novelists" offered a broader assessment of his literary concerns:

"Although reevaluating history is a preoccupation in his writing, and although some of his writing has been labeled 'historical megafiction,' Findley's style changes with each novel. He is a literary experimenter--with form, with setting, and with voice--experimenting in the service of social, historical and political exposition."

Findley was uncomfortable with labels attached to his work, once telling an interviewer: "I don't think any of my work is within any given genre.... I just write whatever I write."

Born in Toronto, the son of a well-to-do stockbroker, Findley's childhood was less than idyllic, growing up with an alcoholic father. Self-described as "a solitary and dream child," Findley spent much of his time playing with pets, reading and listening to music. He began writing as a child, he said, because he was often confined to bed with a number of illnesses.

But writing wasn't his first choice of vocation--acting was. Findley abandoned traditional schooling after 10th grade to study drama in Toronto and London. He made his professional stage debut in the late 1940s, joined a Shakespeare festival in Stratford, Ontario, in the early 1950s and worked steadily in productions throughout Canada and the U.S. for more than a decade.

As he neared 30, his life took a sharp turn while working in a touring production of "The Matchmaker" with actress Ruth Gordon.

Findley and Gordon went out to view an exhibition of paintings, he recalled later in an interview with the journal Books, and Gordon viewed the work--all done by artists in their 20s--as a very bleak commentary on life.

Gordon's criticism led Findley, who was still in that age group, to write a short story that had a more optimistic view of life.

He gave the work to Gordon to read, and although she saw the subject matter as being just as negative as the work in the exhibition, she loved the writing.

She, in turn, showed the piece to the author of "The Matchmaker," Thornton Wilder, and the two of them convinced Findley that his future was in writing, not the stage.

Over the next several decades, Findley became a prolific and honored writer. He turned out 12 novels, two short-story collections, two volumes of memoirs and several plays. He also worked in radio and television, including a stint in Hollywood in the 1960s at CBS television.

Each of his novels was stylistically diverse. For example, "Not Wanted on the Voyage" is the retelling of the Noah's Ark story from Genesis with a view of Noah as a sinister individual. "Famous Last Words" deals with the life of the poet and fascist Ezra Pound; "Pilgrim" looks at the insane through a central character who is determined to commit suicide but isn't quite able to complete the process.

His novel "The Wars," which won Canada's top literary prize--the Governor General's Award for fiction--in 1977, contrasts social struggles in Toronto with the brutality of trench warfare in World War I. He received a second Governor General's award in 2000 for his play "Elizabeth Rex."

Findley viewed acting as perhaps the finest training a writer can have.

"Scene structure, dialogue, rhythm, cadence, language, the interplay between action and words are notions which I think a lot of writers lack," Findley told the Toronto Star.

He is survived by his longtime companion William Whitehead.

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