Margaret Laurence: Could you start the year off, please?
Margaret Laurence by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2016
I wonder if people remember Margaret Laurence. She was a powerhouse of Canlit when I was a young writer–certainly an influence on us all. Canlit was headed, in those days, by “the Margarets” as much as by any of the men. I was friends with the writer Jane Rule, who was Margaret Laurence’s close colleague. She used to say, “Oh, she knows she’s a terrible writer, she doesn’t fool herself. She used to say, Imagine if I was a good writer!“
This, from Wiki:
One of Canada’s most esteemed and beloved authors by the end of her literary career, Laurence began writing short stories shortly after her marriage, as did her husband. Each published fiction in literary periodicals while living in Africa, but Margaret continued to write and expand her range. Her early novels were influenced by her experience as a minority in Africa. They show a strong sense of Christian symbolism and ethical concern for being a white person in a colonial state.
It was after her return to Canada that she wrote The Stone Angel, the book for which she is best known. Set in a fictional Manitoba small town called Manawaka, the novel is narrated retrospectively by Hagar Shipley, a ninety-year-old woman living in her eldest son’s home in Vancouver. Published in 1964, the novel is of the literary form that looks at the entire life of a person, and Laurence produced a novel from a Canadian experience. After finishing school, the narrator moves from Toronto to Manitoba, and marries a rough-mannered homesteader, Bram Shipley, against the wishes of her father, who then disinherits her — disinheritance is a recurring theme in much of Laurence’s fiction. The couple struggles through the economic hardship and climatic challenges of Canadian frontier existence, and Hagar, unhappy in the relationship, leaves Bram, moving with her son John to Vancouver where she works as a domestic for many years, betraying her social class and upbringing. The novel was for a time required reading in many North American school systems and colleges.
Laurence was published by Canadian publishing company McClelland and Stewart, and she became one of the key figures in the emerging Canadian literature tradition. Her published works after The Stone Angel explore the changing role of women’s lives in the 1970s. Although on the surface her later works like The Diviners depict very different roles for women than her earlier novels do, Laurence’s career remained dedicated to presenting a female perspective on contemporary life, depicting the choices — and consequences of those choices — women must make to find meaning and purpose.
In later life, Laurence was troubled when a fundamentalist Christian group succeeded in briefly removing The Diviners as course material from Lakefield District Secondary School, her local secondary school.
The Stone Angel, a feature-length film based on Laurence’s novel, written and directed by Kari Skogland and starring Ellen Burstyn premiered in Fall 2007.
- This Side Jordan (1960)
- The Stone Angel (1964)
- A Jest of God (1966)
- The Fire-Dwellers (1969)
- The Diviners (1974)
- The Rain Child (1962)
Short story collections
- Jason’s Quest (1970)
- Six Darn Cows (1979)
- The Olden Days Coat (1980)
- The Christmas Birthday Story (1982)
- A Tree for Poverty (1954) — anthology of Somali poetry and folk stories
- The Prophet’s Camel Bell (1963) — non-fiction account of Laurence’s life in British Somaliland
- Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists 1952-1966 (1968)
- Heart of a Stranger (1976) — essays
- Dance on the Earth: A Memoir (1989)