Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Margaret Laurence

Margaret Laurence

Overview
Jean Margaret Laurence, CC
Order of Canada
The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order, admission into which is, within the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, the second highest honour for merit...

 (née Wemyss) (18 July 1926 – 5 January 1987) was a Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

ist and short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, one of the major figures in Canadian literature
Canadian literature
Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Collectively it is often called CanLit. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism...

.

Born in Neepawa
Neepawa, Manitoba
Neepawa is a town in Manitoba, Canada located on the Yellowhead Highway at the intersection with Highway 5. its population was 3,298. Neepawa was incorporated as a town in 1883. It is located in the Rural Municipality of Langford and bordered to the north by the Rural Municipality of Rosedale....

, Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

, Laurence was the daughter of solicitor Robert Wemyss and Verna Jean Simpson. Following the death of her mother when Laurence was four, a maternal aunt, Margaret Simpson, came to take care of the family. A year later, Simpson married Robert,Sr., and in 1933 they had a son, Robert.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Margaret Laurence'
Start a new discussion about 'Margaret Laurence'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Jean Margaret Laurence, CC
Order of Canada
The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order, admission into which is, within the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, the second highest honour for merit...

 (née Wemyss) (18 July 1926 – 5 January 1987) was a Canadian
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 novel
Novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

ist and short story
Short story
A short story is a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, often in narrative format. This format tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas and novels. Short story definitions based on length differ somewhat, even among professional writers, in part because...

 writer, one of the major figures in Canadian literature
Canadian literature
Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Collectively it is often called CanLit. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism...

.

Early years


Born in Neepawa
Neepawa, Manitoba
Neepawa is a town in Manitoba, Canada located on the Yellowhead Highway at the intersection with Highway 5. its population was 3,298. Neepawa was incorporated as a town in 1883. It is located in the Rural Municipality of Langford and bordered to the north by the Rural Municipality of Rosedale....

, Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

, Laurence was the daughter of solicitor Robert Wemyss and Verna Jean Simpson. Following the death of her mother when Laurence was four, a maternal aunt, Margaret Simpson, came to take care of the family. A year later, Simpson married Robert,Sr., and in 1933 they had a son, Robert. In 1935, Robert Wemyss Sr. died of pneumonia.

Education


In 1944, Laurence attended Winnipeg's United College
University of Winnipeg
The University of Winnipeg is a public university in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada that offers undergraduate faculties of art, business and economics, education, science and theology as well as graduate programs. The U of W's founding colleges were Manitoba College and Wesley College, which merged...

 (now the University of Winnipeg) on scholarship, pursuing an honours English
English studies
English studies is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language , English linguistics English studies is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language (including literatures from the U.K., U.S.,...

 degree. She wrote for the student newspaper and became involved with the "Old Left" socialist reform group. She graduated in 1947. Soon afterwards, she was hired as a reporter for The Winnipeg Citizen, where she wrote book reviews, covered labour issues, and hosted a daily radio column.

Personal life


Following her graduation from United College, she married Jack Fergus Laurence, an engineer. His job took them to England
England
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...

 (1949), the then-British protectorate
Protectorate
In history, the term protectorate has two different meanings. In its earliest inception, which has been adopted by modern international law, it is an autonomous territory that is protected diplomatically or militarily against third parties by a stronger state or entity...

 of British Somaliland
British Somaliland
British Somaliland was a British protectorate in the northern part of present-day Somalia. For much of its existence, British Somaliland was bordered by French Somaliland, Ethiopia, and Italian Somaliland. From 1940 to 1941, it was occupied by the Italians and was part of Italian East Africa...

 (1950–1952), as well as the British colony
Colony
In politics and history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception....

 of the Gold Coast
Gold Coast (British colony)
The Gold Coast was a British colony on the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa that became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957.-Overview:The first Europeans to arrive at the coast were the Portuguese in 1471. They encountered a variety of African kingdoms, some of which controlled substantial...

 (1952–1957). Laurence developed an admiration for Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

 and of its various populations, which found expression in her writing.

In 1952, Laurence gave birth to daughter Jocelyn during a leave in England. Son David was born in 1955 in the Gold Coast
Gold Coast (British colony)
The Gold Coast was a British colony on the Gulf of Guinea in west Africa that became the independent nation of Ghana in 1957.-Overview:The first Europeans to arrive at the coast were the Portuguese in 1471. They encountered a variety of African kingdoms, some of which controlled substantial...

. The family left the Gold Coast just before it gained independence as Ghana in 1957, moving to Vancouver
Vancouver
Vancouver is a coastal seaport city on the mainland of British Columbia, Canada. It is the hub of Greater Vancouver, which, with over 2.3 million residents, is the third most populous metropolitan area in the country,...

, British Columbia
British Columbia
British Columbia is the westernmost of Canada's provinces and is known for its natural beauty, as reflected in its Latin motto, Splendor sine occasu . Its name was chosen by Queen Victoria in 1858...

, where they stayed for five years.

In 1962, she separated from her husband and moved to London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, England for a year. She then moved to Elm Cottage (Penn
Penn, Buckinghamshire
Penn is a village and civil parish in Chiltern district in Buckinghamshire, England, about north-west of Beaconsfield and east of High Wycombe...

, Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan home county in South East England. The county town is Aylesbury, the largest town in the ceremonial county is Milton Keynes and largest town in the non-metropolitan county is High Wycombe....

) where she lived for more than ten years, although she visited Canada often. Her divorce became final in 1969. That year, she became writer in residence at the University of Toronto
University of Toronto
The University of Toronto is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, situated on the grounds that surround Queen's Park. It was founded by royal charter in 1827 as King's College, the first institution of higher learning in Upper Canada...

. A few years later, she moved to Lakefield, Ontario
Ontario
Ontario is a province of Canada, located in east-central Canada. It is Canada's most populous province and second largest in total area. It is home to the nation's most populous city, Toronto, and the nation's capital, Ottawa....

. She also bought a cabin on the Otonabee River
Otonabee River
The Otonabee River is a river that runs from Katchewanooka Lake near Lakefield, into the east side of Peterborough, Ontario , through Little Lake and down 30 km into the northwestern side of Rice Lake...

 near Peterborough
Peterborough, Ontario
Peterborough is a city on the Otonabee River in southern Ontario, Canada, 125 kilometres northeast of Toronto. The population of the City of Peterborough was 74,898 as of the 2006 census, while the census metropolitan area has a population of 121,428 as of a 2009 estimate. It presently ranks...

, where she wrote The Diviners (1974) during the summers of 1971 to 1973. Laurence served as Chancellor of Trent University
Trent University
Trent University is a liberal arts and science-oriented institution located along the Otonabee River in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada.The enabling legislation is the Trent University Act, 1962-63. The University was founded through the efforts of a citizens' committee interested in creating a...

 in Peterborough from 1981 to 1983.

In 1986, Laurence was diagnosed with lung cancer
Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a disease characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. If left untreated, this growth can spread beyond the lung in a process called metastasis into nearby tissue and, eventually, into other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in lung, known as primary...

 late in the disease's development. According to the James King biography, The Life of Margaret Laurence, the prognosis was grave, and as the cancer had spread to other organs, there was no treatment offered beyond palliative care
Palliative care
Palliative care is a specialized area of healthcare that focuses on relieving and preventing the suffering of patients...

. Laurence decided the best course of action was to spare herself and her family further suffering. She committed suicide at her home at 8 Regent St., Lakefield, on January 5, 1987. She was buried in her hometown in the Neepawa Cemetery, Neepawa, Manitoba. Laurence's house in Neepawa has been turned into a museum. Her literary papers are housed in the Clara Thomas Archives at York University
York University
York University is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is Canada's third-largest university, Ontario's second-largest graduate school, and Canada's leading interdisciplinary university....

.

Literary career


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
Christian symbolism
Christian symbolism invests objects or actions with an inner meaning expressing Christian ideas. Christianity has borrowed from the common stock of significant symbols known to most periods and to all regions of the world. Religious symbolism is effective when it appeals to both the intellect and...

 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 Stone Angel
The Stone Angel, first published in 1964 by McClelland and Stewart, is perhaps the best-known of Margaret Laurence's series of novels set in the fictitious town of Manawaka, Manitoba. In parallel narratives set in the past and the present-day , The Stone Angel tells the story of Hagar Currie Shipley...

, the book for which she is best known. Set in a fictional Manitoba
Manitoba
Manitoba is a Canadian prairie province with an area of . The province has over 110,000 lakes and has a largely continental climate because of its flat topography. Agriculture, mostly concentrated in the fertile southern and western parts of the province, is vital to the province's economy; other...

 small town called Manawaka
Manawaka
Manawaka is a fictional town in the Canadian province of Manitoba, frequently used as a setting in novels and short stories by Margaret Laurence...

, 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
Finishing school
A finishing school is "a private school for girls that emphasises training in cultural and social activities." The name reflects that it follows on from ordinary school and is intended to complete the educational experience, with classes primarily on etiquette...

, the narrator moves from Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

 to Manitoba, and marries a rough-mannered homesteader, Bram Shipley, against the wishes of her father, who then disinherits her — disinheritance 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 is required reading in many North American school systems and colleges.

Laurence was published by Canadian publishing company McClelland and Stewart
McClelland and Stewart
McClelland & Stewart Limited is a Canadian publishing company. It is partially owned by Random House of Canada, now a subsidiary of Bertelsmann....

, and she became one of the key figures in the emerging Canadian literature
Canadian literature
Canadian literature is literature originating from Canada. Collectively it is often called CanLit. Some criticism of Canadian literature has focused on nationalistic and regional themes, although this is only a small portion of Canadian Literary criticism...

 tradition. Her published works after The Stone Angel express the changing role of women's lives in the 1970s. Although on the surface, her later works like The Diviners
The Diviners
The Diviners is a novel by Margaret Laurence. Published by McClelland & Stewart in 1974, it was Laurence's final novel, and is considered one of the classics of Canadian literature....

depict very different roles for women than her earlier novels do, it is safe to say that Laurence throughout her career was faithfully 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 life.

In later life, Laurence was troubled when a fundamentalist Christian group succeeded in briefly removing The Diviners
The Diviners
The Diviners is a novel by Margaret Laurence. Published by McClelland & Stewart in 1974, it was Laurence's final novel, and is considered one of the classics of Canadian literature....

as course material from Lakefield High School, her local secondary school.

The Stone Angel
The Stone Angel (film)
The Stone Angel is a 2007 Canadian drama film written and directed by Kari Skogland. The screenplay is based on the 1964 novel of the same title by Margaret Laurence.-Plot:...

, a feature-length film based on Laurence's novel, written and directed by Kari Skogland and starring Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn
Ellen Burstyn is a leading American actress of film, stage, and television. Burstyn's career began in theatre during the late 1950s, and over the next ten years she appeared in several films and television series before joining the Actors Studio in 1967...

 premiered in Fall 2007.

Awards and recognition


Laurence won two Governor General's Awards for her novels A Jest of God (1966) and The Diviners (1974). In 1972 she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada
Order of Canada
The Order of Canada is a Canadian national order, admission into which is, within the system of orders, decorations, and medals of Canada, the second highest honour for merit...

.

The Stone Angel
The Stone Angel
The Stone Angel, first published in 1964 by McClelland and Stewart, is perhaps the best-known of Margaret Laurence's series of novels set in the fictitious town of Manawaka, Manitoba. In parallel narratives set in the past and the present-day , The Stone Angel tells the story of Hagar Currie Shipley...

was one of the selected books in the 2002 edition of Canada Reads
Canada Reads
Canada Reads is an annual "battle of the books" competition organized and broadcast by Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC.-Overview:During Canada Reads, five personalities champion five different books, each champion extolling the merits of one of the titles. The debate is broadcast over a series...

, championed by Leon Rooke
Leon Rooke
Leon Rooke, CM is a Canadian novelist. He was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina in the United States. Educated at the University of North Carolina, he moved to Canada in 1969. He now lives in Toronto, Ontario....

.

The University of Winnipeg
University of Winnipeg
The University of Winnipeg is a public university in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada that offers undergraduate faculties of art, business and economics, education, science and theology as well as graduate programs. The U of W's founding colleges were Manitoba College and Wesley College, which merged...

 named a Women's Studies
Women's studies
Women's studies, also known as feminist studies, is an interdisciplinary academic field which explores politics, society and history from an intersectional, multicultural women's perspective...

 Centre, and an annual speaker series, in Laurence's honour.

At York University
York University
York University is a public research university in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. It is Canada's third-largest university, Ontario's second-largest graduate school, and Canada's leading interdisciplinary university....

 in Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, one of the undergraduate residence buildings (Bethune Residence) named a floor after her.

External links