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

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

Chapter 16
Morag Gunn in Fictional Context: The Career Woman Theme in The Diviners

Susan Ward

The Diviners is, as much as anything else, the story of a woman and her career. As such, it takes its place in a long line of American and British novels about career women, a line which continues into the present day. With the middle of the nineteenth century marking the point at which it began to be acceptable for middle-class women to work outside the home and with the professions beginning to open for women about the same date, novelists, many of them women, began to experiment with the new career woman as a fictional heroine. Although, for reasons having to do with conservative audience values and the difficulties that the choice of a working heroine posed, the career woman heroine was not a constant subject for any one writer, a number of nineteenth-century novelists wrote about her. Sara Parton (or "Fanny Fern") in Ruth Hall ( 1855); Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre ( 1847) and Vilette ( 1853); Louisa May Alcott in Work ( 1873); Elizabeth Stuart Phelps in A Silent Partner ( 1871), The Story of Avis ( 1877), Doctor Zay ( 1882), and a number of short stories; Sara Orne Jewett in A Country Doctor ( 1884); George Gissing in The Odd Woman ( 1893); and Kate Chopin in The Awakening ( 1899) all experimented with this figure. In the first decades of the twentieth century, Mary Hunter Austin in A Woman of Genius ( 1912); Willa Cather in O Pioneers! ( 1913, The Song of the Lark ( 1914), and a number of short stories; Dorothy Canfield in The Home-Maker ( 1924); Ellen Glasgow in Barren Ground ( 1925); Sheila Kaye-Smith in Joanna Godden ( 1921) and Susan Spray ( 1931) continued the experimentation. Virginia Woolf wrote about the career woman in essays and made her a subject in her fiction throughout the twenties, thirties, and forties. Recently, career women have appeared regularly as heroines in the works of Lisa Alther, Margaret Atwood, Margaret Drabble, Marilyn French, Gail Godwin, Mary Gordon, Erica Jong, Doris Lessing, Alison Lurie, Joyce Carol Oates, Marge Piercy, Sylvia Plath, Judith Rossner, and countless others. Morag Gunn, then, has plenty of fictional company.

Although a few studies have been written on the female Kunstlerroman, the

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