Margaret Laurence Biography
(1926–87), The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, The Diviners
Canadian novelist of Scots ancestry, best known for her ‘Manawaka’ novels, a sequence set in a fictional version of Neepawa, the small Manitoba town where she was born and grew up. Mainly written in England, where Laurence lived between 1962 and 1972, the Manawaka novels are about the problems encountered by women in provincial Canada. They began with The Stone Angel (1964), a classic study of old age in which a 90-year-old Scots Presbyterian woman attempts to come to terms with both her past and her present. A Jest of God (1966) deals with the conflicts experienced by a 34-year-old spinster schoolteacher; The Fire-Dwellers (1969) is centred on this heroine's married sister. The final novel of the sequence, The Diviners (1974), is a longer and technically more complex work that departs from the social realism of Laurence's earlier work. It is both an investigation of aspects of Western Canadian history, which dramatizes the neglect of Scots and Métis culture, and an account of the writer-protagonist's quest for identity, as she journeys from Manawaka to Winnipeg, Toronto, Vancouver, London, and Scotland, before finally settling in Ontario, where Laurence spent the latter part of her life living in another small town, Lakewood. The novel is also notable for its complex interweaving of past and present and its rendition of the problem of writing about the past, whether personal or public. Laurence also published a volume of short stories about Manawaka, A Bird in the House (1970), and both fiction and non-fiction about Africa, where she lived, in Somalia and Nigeria, between 1950 and 1957.