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

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

written" ( Place5). For instance, as Dance on the Earth explains, her own father died when she was nine (56), and as a result she and her much younger brother moved into the big brick house of her domineering maternal grandfather, John Simpson (63-70). Again, in the memoir a real life cousin who was a dreamer and misfit did go mad in the army like Chris of "Horses of the Night" (71-72, 257-62); the seventeen-year-old Margaret did have as her first love an Air Force man who was ten years older than her, literary in his tastes, and, unknown to Margaret, married (85-88), just as Vanessa does in "Jericho's Brick Battlements." Hundreds of incidents and details from A Bird in the House have a real life source: for example, the kitchens of both Grandfather Simpson's actual house and Grandfather Connor's fictitious one are dominated by a big wood-stove, with "McClary's Range" in silver handwriting across the warming oven on top ( Dance23; Bird20). And anyone who visits the Simpson house, now preserved in Laurence's native Neepawa, Manitoba, as the Margaret Laurence House, will find upstairs the very same air vent that served Vanessa as a "listening post" (77), allowing someone upstairs to overhear what is said in the kitchen below. Yet Margaret Laurence's own experience is opaque, fragmented, incoherent compared to that of Vanessa: Grandfather Simpson in the memoir, for instance, is a shadowy and inexplicable figure, unlike Grandfather Connor; the real-life model for Chris whom Laurence describes in the memoir (71-72) and makes the subject of an appended poem, "For Lorne (1976)," remains enigmatic, as Chris does not. Laurence says in "Time and the Narrative Voice":

the character is one of the writer's voices and selves, and fiction writers tend to have a mental trunk full of these--in writers, this quality is known as richness of imagination; in certain inmates of mental hospitals it has other names, the only significant difference being that writers are creating their private worlds with the ultimate hope of throwing open the doors to other humans. (156)

Unlike the private world of Vanessa's cousin Chris, the imaginary world in Laurence's book is one that many people can walk into and inhabit. My point has been that it is largely its coherence that makes A Bird in the House such a welcoming edifice.


NOTE
1.
Patricia Morley discusses the motif of travel in A Bird in the House and relates it to "the dominant metaphor of Laurence's work, of journeying in search of freedom and joy" ( Margaret Laurence113). See Margaret Laurence ( Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981); reprint, with an Afterword, Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home ( Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1991), and her earlier essay, "The Long Trek Home: Margaret Laurence's Stories," Journal of Canadian Studies 11. 4 (Fall 1976): 19-26.

WORKS CITED

Baum Rosalie Murphy. "Artist and Woman: Young Lives in Laurence and Munro." NorthDakota Quarterly 52

-95-

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