Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Nora Foster Stovel. Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings

Academic journal article Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada

Nora Foster Stovel. Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings

Article excerpt

Nora Foster Stovel. Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2008.406 pp.; $29.95 ISBN 9780773534377

In Divining Margaret Laurence: A Study of Her Complete Writings (2008), Nora Foster Stovel offers an intricate overview and in-depth analysis of Margaret Laurence's oeuvre. Stovel covers the span of Laurence's writings, from her earliest fabricated stories as young Peggy from Neepawa, Manitoba, to her celebrated Manawaka cycle as one of Canada's most acclaimed and accomplished authors. However, she attributes as much importance to Laurence's African texts, travel essays, and children's literature, ultimately weaving an elaborate yet accessible interpretive tapestry of Laurence's complete writings. Within this comprehensive study, Stovel includes insightful and logically organized commentaries, specifically arguing that all of Laurence's texts inform one another and contribute to her unique voice and writing style. She also emphasizes the extent to which these texts conflate fiction (or myth) and reality. In other words, the author presents Laurence's fiction as "semi-autobiographical" (226), maintaining that many of the recurring themes in her novels stem from her own personal experiences.

Stovel divides her book into four main parts: early writings, African texts, Canadian texts, and endings. Thus she presents the reader with a comprehensive record and analysis of all phases of Laurence's writing, while demonstrating the way in which each facet of her career helped shape her Canadian fiction. Opening with her earliest writing endeavours, Stovel stresses the importance of Laurence's childhood experiences and juvenilia in the examination of her later fiction, arguing that young Peggy's work "prefigures her Manawaka fiction in ... the rich vein of metaphor, myth, and musicality that renders her a poet in prose" (36-37). For Stovel, the relevance of Laurence's early writing is evident by the fact that many of her childhood stories and experiences appear within her Manawaka cycle (37), demonstrating the "meta-autobiographical" (58) quality of her mature fiction. The author validates this section with various quotations from Laurence herself, as well as records of short stories and childhood games, while offering various critical points of view from a range of other scholars.

After Laurence's early writings, Stovel chronicles her travel essays and African texts, once again drawing parallels between these writing experiences, her later novels, and her own personal journey as a woman and author. She writes, "an exploration of the sequence of [travel] articles can illuminate not only Laurence's travels, but also her circular life journey and the inspiration for her subsequent fiction" (62). Indeed, travel can be read as a trope in Laurence's writing, representing the wider themes of process, self-empowerment, and homecoming. Stovel credits the distinct way in which Laurence conveys these themes in her Canadian fiction not only to her first-hand experiences travelling, but also to her time spent translating Somali folk literature and critiquing Nigerian texts. For Stovel, Laurence's African literature shapes the postcolonial point of view that later permeates her Canadian fiction. In this sense, the author establishes Laurence's Manawaka cycle as intrinsically linked with her study of African literary traditions and with her growing understanding of Canada as a postcolonial nation. …

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