New Perspectives on Margaret Laurence: Poetic Narrative, Multiculturalism, and Feminism

By Greta M. K. McCormick Coger | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
Margaret Laurence: Novelist-as-Poet

Walter E. Swayze

To approach the subject of novelist-as-poet 1 we might look at the verse that the young Morag Gunn in The Diviners tries to write for a Christmas poem, "The Wise Men" (89-90NCL, 89UC), verse which fills her with shame when Mrs. McKee reads her Hilaire Belloc "When Jesus Christ was four years old" (91NCL, 66UC). But this venture leads into the question of intention in context. In The Fire-Dwellers, Stacey MacAindra 's embarrassing telling of the joke about the great god Thor and the lovely country girl, when Stacey is desperately drunk at Mac's boss's Richalife party in the hotel banqueting room (103NCL, 109UC), has significance quite unrelated to the quality of the joke itself. Regardless of how good it or any other joke may be in itself, the joke is superb here 'in its contribution to our understanding of three characters-- Stacey, Mac, and Thor--and the situation in which their characters are being revealed to us and to them. So, young Morag's Christmas poem could not profitably be considered simply as Laurence's attempt to write a poem, but as an expression of the vulnerability of the beginning writer. Similarly, in creating Christie Logan's tales of Piper Gunn, Laurence has quite remarkably reproduced many of the cadences and rhetorical patterns of James Macpherson's prose "translations" of Romantic pseudo- Ossianic tales in the volume that Christie showed Morag (73-75NCL, 51-53UC), except, of course, that Christie's diction is laced with deliberately unromantic, or at least "improper," words--silly bugger, shit-houses of hell, christly (63NCL, 61UC) and deliberately Canadian terms such as muskeg and half-breeds (96NCL, 69UC) that one will not find in Macpherson, regardless of edition. The question is not whether Christie's stories are great prose poetry (or whether or not Macpherson was a genuine poet), but whether or not this uneducated old garbage collector, when really drunk, can create effectively for Morag a myth of identity sufficiently exciting and compelling to inspire and nourish her own search for her roots, values, and ultimate sense of significance. 2

Let us start, however, with a poem that Margaret Laurence wrote and published over or under her own name, in which she may be considered, for the moment, to be

-3-

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