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

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

Chapter 9
War in the Manawaka Novels as Macrocosm, Fictionalized Biography, and Imaginative History

Greta M. K. McCormick Coger

The Manawaka novels fictionalize Scottish and Canadian history in an imaginative way. A major part is the fictionalizing of the history of Laurence's own Scottish ancestry and its context in the Scottish heritage. Particularly, the major theme of surviving wars gives meaning to time and place, provides a macrocosm of background and context to enrich characterization, and suffuses the microcosm of characters' experiences.

The meaning of war to Margaret Laurence involves her Scottish ancestry in the context of the Scottish heritage. The origins of Scottish identity and Laurence's ancestry can be seen from a summary of Scottish history ( Muirheadxxviii-xxxiv). Before the Roman invasions of Scotland in A.D. 83, prehistoric Picts (Celts with pre-Celtic stock) occupied the territory north of the Firths of Forth and Clyde. Laurence's roots go back this far for her maiden name "Wemyss" means "cave-dweller" ( Thomas6-7 and Milne25). Picts were united with Scots (Christian Goidelic Celts from Ireland) from 843 to 1371 when Stewarts of Scotland came to "the throne and remained until 1714. From 1214 until the early eighteenth century was the 'golden age' of Scottish distinctness of clans. Her teacher Wes McAmmond pointed out, "[ Laurence] knew her Scottish heritage" ( McAmmond11). Her cousin Catherine Simpson Milne noted: The Wemyss, a sept of the Clan MacDuff ( Thomas6; cf. Muirhead265, 297), "were a very superior clan . . . [with] titled people in them. . . . Two or three counts and things like that. Mrs. Wemyss was very conscious of it. More so than Mr. Wemyss because it was on Mr. Wemyss' side" ( Milne25-26). Similarly, like Laurence and other Neepawa residents, schoolmate and neighbor Gerald Murray knew his family's long Scottish history; in Scotland he visited Earl Murray County near Blair Castle ( Murray38). Laurence imaginatively worked her Scottish ancestry into her fiction. A major factor in the history of Scottish clans was survival of warring factions.

The theme of surviving wars--Culloden in 1746, Batoche in 1885, and Germany from 1914-1918 and 1939-1945--gives meaning to time and place in the

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