Divining Margaret Laurence

Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Divining Margaret Laurence
    Book Description:

    Whereas previous studies focus on certain aspects of her work, Divining Margaret Laurence addresses all her important writings, including a final, unfinished manuscript - "Dance on the Earth: A Memoir." This comprehensive study of her writings, including archival material, allows Nora Stovel to trace the development of Laurence's Canadian identity, feminist sympathies, moral vision, and creative artistry.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7503-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Chronology of Margaret Laurence’s Life and Works
    (pp. xv-xvii)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Abbreviations
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  8. PART ONE Beginnings:: “A Place to Stand On”
    • CHAPTER 1 Introduction: “The Promised Land of One’s Own Inner Freedom”
      (pp. 3-35)

      Laurence (1926–87) has been called “Canada’s most successful novelist” by Joan Coldwell inThe Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature(1983), “the most significant creative writer in Canadian literature” (vii) by J.A. Wainwright inA Very Large Soul: Selected Letters from Margaret Laurence to Canadian Writers(1995), “the best-known and most successful Canadian novelist of her generation” (4) by John Lennox inMargaret Laurence: A Friendship in Letters(1997), and “the most renowned writer in Canadian literary history” (xix) by James King inThe Life of Margaret Laurence(1997). In fact, Laurence was not just respected, but revered: she was...

    • CHAPTER 2 “Embryo Words”: Laurence’s Early Writings
      (pp. 36-58)

      Few events are more exciting for the lover of literature than the discovery of new works by a familiar and beloved author. When those texts are early works that reveal the baby steps of a great artist, the discovery is even more valuable. Margaret Laurence began writing when she was just a child. Always canny about destroying drafts, she covered her early tracks as carefully as she could, but she could not destroy all her juvenilia, since several items had been published in her high school newspaper,Annals of the Black and Gold, when she attended Viscount Collegiate in Neepawa,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Heart of a Stranger: Laurence’s Life-Journey
      (pp. 59-84)

      Margaret Laurence had the heart of a traveller, and travel was closely connected to creativity, as she makes clear inDance on the Earth: A Memoir. She records that one of her earliest stories was “a highly uninformed but jubilantly imaginative journal of Captain John Ball and his voyages to exotic lands, complete with maps made by me of strange, mythical places,” and she recalls that she used her toy tool bench to create bread boards decorated with “gaily painted scenes from what I imagined to be life in other countries – a Dutch windmill, a Chinese pagoda – my imagination tearing...

  9. PART TWO The African Texts:: “A Seven Years’ Love Affair with a Continent”
    • CHAPTER 4 “A Labour of Love”: A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose
      (pp. 87-106)

      Laurence’s experience of Africa contributed to making her a great Canadian writer. She learned about Africa not only from observing and interacting with Africans in Somaliland and Ghana during her seven-year sojourn there, 1951–1957, but she also learned significant lessons from reading, or hearing, African literature – notably Somali oral folk literature and Nigerian literature. In fact, she possessed an extensive library of African literature, including 148 books, many underlined and annotated, now collected at McMaster University. The texts that are most valuable for a study of how Laurence’s Canadian fiction was influenced by her knowledge of African literature are...

    • CHAPTER 5 “The Sleeping Giant”: Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists, 1952–1966
      (pp. 107-122)

      In “Margaret Laurence and Africa,” Craig Tapping claims, “Canadian literature is the sleeping giant behind the description of Nigerian literature inLong Drums and Cannons,” for “Laurence’s critical endeavours on behalf of African literature determine what it is she will attempt on returning to Canada” (73).Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists, 1952–1966(1968), Laurence’s fifth and final African text, like her first book,A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose(1954), reveals the connections between her African and Canadian writing. The parallels between the aspects of Nigerian literature that she praises and the aspects of...

    • CHAPTER 6 “The Face of Africa”: The Prophet’s Camel Bell , This Side Jordan , and The Tomorrow-Tamer
      (pp. 123-152)

      Laurence learned about Africa not only from translating Somali oral literature forA Tree for Povertyand critiquing Nigerian literature forLong Drums and Cannons. She also learned about Africa from living in African countries, observing and interacting with the people, and recording her impressions in the Somali diaries that produced her travel memoir,The Prophet’s Camel Bell– “that best of Canadian travel books” (30), as Woodcock labels it in “Speaker for the Tribes.”

      The Prophet’s Camel Bellconveys Laurence’s impressions of the Somalis and her awareness of her own anomalous role in Africa in ways that prophesy her portrayal...

  10. PART THREE The Canadian Texts:: “A Small-Town Prairie Person”
    • CHAPTER 7 “A Town of the Mind”: Laurence’s Mythical Microcosm of Manawaka
      (pp. 155-171)

      Margaret Laurence’s five Canadian fictions are all set in her mythical microcosm of Manawaka:¹ “A strange place it was, that place where the world began. A place of incredible happenings, splendours and revelations, despairs like multitudinous pits of isolated hells. A place of shadow-spookiness, inhabited by the unknowable dead. A place of jubilation and of mourning, horrible and beautiful. … It was, in fact, a small prairie town” (HS 169).² This passage introduces “Where the World Began,” the concluding essay in Laurence’s collection of travel essays,Heart of a Stranger. The “prairie town” described here is Neepawa, Manitoba.³

      Neepawa is...

    • CHAPTER 8 “A Holy Terror”: Hagar, Hero(ine) of The Stone Angel
      (pp. 172-202)

      The Stone Angel, Laurence’s first Manawaka book, has been lauded as the great Canadian novel. In 1982 critics namedThe Stone Angelthe best of the top hundred Canadian novels.¹ Since then, it has been praised by many critics as one of the greatest novels of the century. In 2002 the CBCCanada Readssurvey ratedThe Stone Angelamong the top five Canadian novels. Hagar may be the most famous figure in Canadian fiction. Constance Rooke claims, “In Canadian literature, Hagar is reigning still as Queen of all the characters” (25).

      Certainly Hagar inspires powerful responses: Laurence reports that...

    • CHAPTER 9 “Sisters under Their Skins”: A Jest of God and The Fire-Dwellers
      (pp. 203-224)

      A Jest of God(1966) andThe Fire-Dwellers(1969) are sister novels, literally and figuratively. Laurence writes, “InThe Fire-Dwellers, Stacey is Rachel’s sister (don’t ask me why; I don’t know; she just is)” (TYS 21). Opposing personae of the author perhaps, Rachel Cameron, the narrator ofA Jest of God, and Stacey Cameron MacAindra, the heroine ofThe Fire-Dwellers, could not be more different in personality or situation, even though they share a common Cameron heritage. Rachel seems a gawky, introverted spinster schoolteacher who has returned home to Manawaka from university in Winnipeg upon the death of her alcoholic...

    • CHAPTER 10 “Death and Love”: Romance and Reality in A Bird in the House
      (pp. 225-244)

      A Bird in the House, Laurence’s 1970 collection of eight short stories set in Manawaka, is a Canadian femaleBildungsromanchronicling the maturation of protagonist Vanessa MacLeod.A Bird in the Houseis also a metafictionalKünstlerroman, likeThe Diviners, a fiction about fiction chronicling the development of an artist, because Vanessa becomes a novelist, like Morag Gunn and Margaret Laurence. As Isabel Huggan says in her afterword to the book, “A Bird in the Houseis a portrait of the artist as a young girl, a child in the process of becoming a writer” (BH 192). Narrated by Vanessa,...

    • CHAPTER 11 “(W) Rites of Passage”: A Portrait of the Writer in The Diviners
      (pp. 245-264)

      Writes of Passageis the original title Laurence gave to the penultimate section ofThe Divinersin her typescript of the novel. Ultimately, however, she eliminated the initial letter, at the request of her editors, transformingWritestoRites. But writing casts a long shadow over the rituals of passage in this novel, for Morag Gunn is a novelist, like Laurence. Like Laurence, she is writing her fifth and final novel. And, like Laurence, the novel she is writing isThe Diviners.

      In “Margaret Laurence: The Shape of the Writer’s Shadow,” Aritha van Herk says, “ThroughoutThe Diviners, Laurence uses...

    • CHAPTER 12 “Dance on the Earth”: Laurence’s Unfinished Novel
      (pp. 265-282)

      Laurence predicted thatThe Diviners, the final of her five Manawaka novels, would be her last. And it was, just as the novel that Morag Gunn is writing inThe Divinersis predicted to be her last. ButThe Divinerswas not the last novel Laurence tried to write; it was merely the final novel she succeeded in finishing. As she writes in the Forewords to her memoir, “I have tried over the past years to write another novel. In fact, I have tried many times. I have not succeeded. It has finally become clear to me that the novel...

  11. PART FOUR Endings:: “Full Circle”
    • CHAPTER 13 Snow Angels and Monarch Butterflies: Laurence’s Children’s Fiction
      (pp. 285-302)

      Margaret Laurence is so famous for her Manawaka cycle of adult fiction that most people are not aware that she also published four books for children:Jason’s Questin 1970 ,Six Darn CowsandThe Olden Days Coatin 1979 , andThe Christmas Birthday Storyin 1980 . In fact, Laurence frequently expressed interest in children’s literature. In her 1981 essay, “Books That Mattered to Me,” she recalls that, as a child, she received books – by Stevenson, Conan Doyle, Twain, Kipling, and L.M. Montgomery – for Christmas (239–41). In “Upon a Midnight Clear,” fromHeart of a Stranger,...

    • CHAPTER 14 Lady of the Dance: Choreographing a Life in Dance on the Earth: A Memoir
      (pp. 303-319)

      Dance on the Earth: A Memoir, Laurence’s final text, published posthumously in 1989, reflects her Manawaka fiction in significant ways. First, it reflects the growing interest in women, especially mothers, observed inThe Stone Angel, The Fire-Dwellers, andThe Divinersin particular. Second, it reflects the artistry of her fiction in her deliberate structuring of the narrative and in her use of the dance trope to connect the sections of the text. Third, although it purports to be autobiographical,Dance on the Earthreveals the art of the novelist in Laurence’s tendency to fictionalize memory.

      Laurence titled her memoirDance...

    • CHAPTER 15 “The Mystery at the Core of Life”: Closure in the Texts, Career, and Life of Margaret Laurence
      (pp. 320-332)

      It seems appropriate to conclude this study of Laurence’s oeuvre with a consideration of her use of closure, for closure clarifies the pattern of a text and, hence, the author’s statement, as Frank Kermode argues inThe Sense of an Ending(1966). As Marianna Torgovnick declares, in herClosure in the Novel(1984), “Endings, closures reveal the essences of novels with particular clarity” (7). Barbara Herrnstein Smith explains inPoetic Closure(1968), closure provides “a point from which all the preceding elements may be viewed comprehensively and their relations grasped as part of a significant design” (34). Aristotle insisted in...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 333-368)
  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 369-388)
  14. Index
    (pp. 389-406)