Jean Margaret Laurence,
CC (née Wemyss) (18
July 1926 – 5 January 1987) was a Canadian novelist and short story
Neepawa, Manitoba, Laurence
was the daughter of solicitor Robert Wemyss and Verna Jean
Following the death of her mother when Laurence was
four, Margaret Simpson, a maternal aunt, came to take care of the
family. A year later, Simpson married her father and in 1933 they
had a son, Robert. In 1935, Robert Wemyss Sr. died of
Laurence attended Winnipeg's United College (now the University of Winnipeg) on scholarship,
pursuing an honours English
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.
Following her graduation from United College, she married John
Fergus Laurence, an engineer. His job took them to England (1949), the
then-British protectorate of British Somaliland (1950–1952), as well
as the British colony of the Gold Coast (1952–1957).
Laurence developed an admiration for Africa
and of its various populations, which found expression in her
In 1952, Laurence gave birth to daughter Jocelyn during a leave in
England. Son David was born in 1955 in the Gold Coast
. The family left the
Gold Coast just before it gained independence as Ghana in 1957,
moving to Vancouver, British
Columbia, where they
stayed for five years.
she separated from her husband and moved to London, England for
a year. She then moved to Elm Cottage (Penn, Buckinghamshire)
where she lived for more than ten years, although she visited
Her divorce became final in 1969. That year, she became
writer in residence at the University of Toronto. A few years later, she moved to Lakefield, Ontario.
bought a cabin on the Otonabee River
near Peterborough, where she wrote The Diviners (1974)
during the summers of 1971 to 1973. Laurence served as
Chancellor of Trent
University in Peterborough from 1981 to 1983.
In 1986, Laurence was diagnosed with lung
late in the disease's development. According to the
James King biography, The Life of Margaret Laurence
prognosis was grave, and as the cancer had spread to other organs,
there was no treatment offered beyond palliative care
. 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.
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
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 prairie
small town, the novel is narrated retrospectively by Hagar Shipley
, a ninety-four 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.
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 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
Laurence was published by Canadian publishing company McClelland and Stewart
, and she
became one of the key figures in the emerging Canadian literature
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 The
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
In later life, Laurence was troubled when a fundamentalist Christian
succeeded in briefly removing The
as course material from Lakefield High School,
her local secondary school.
The Stone Angel
feature-length film based on Laurence's novel, written and directed
by Kari Skogland and starring Ellen
premiered in Fall 2007.
Awards and recognition
In 1967, Laurence won the Governor General's Award
novel A Jest of God
(1966). In 1972 Laurence was made a
Companion of the Order of
The Stone Angel
was one of
the selected books in the 2002 edition of Canada Reads
, championed by Leon Rooke
Winnipeg named a Women's
Studies Centre, and an annual speaker series, in Laurence's
University in Toronto, one of the undergraduate residence buildings
(Bethune Residence) named a floor after her.
- Margaret Laurence: Canada's Divine Writer | CBC
- Review - The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence -
- King, James. The Life of Margaret Laurence. Toronto:
Vintage Canada, 1998. ISBN 0-676-97129-6.
- Powers, Lyall. Alien Heart: The Life and Work of Margaret
Laurence. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2004.
- New, W. H.,
ed. Margaret Laurence: the Writer and Her Critics
- Thomas, Clara. Margaret Laurence (1969)
- Thomas, Clara. The Manawaka World of Margaret Laurence
- Woodcock, George, ed. A
Place To Stand On: Essays By and About Margaret Laurence