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Home » Discovering the Life and Legacy of Margaret Laurence: A Biography

Discovering the Life and Legacy of Margaret Laurence: A Biography

Margaret Laurence was a Canadian author who wrote extensively about the struggles of women and marginalized communities. Her works, including “The Stone Angel” and “A Jest of God,” have become classics of Canadian literature. Despite her literary success, Laurence’s personal life was marked by tragedy and struggle. In this biography, we will explore Laurence’s life and legacy, from her childhood in Manitoba to her literary achievements and activism.

The Early Years

Margaret Laurence was born on July 18, 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada. She was the daughter of Robert Wemyss and Verna Jean Simpson, who were both schoolteachers. Laurence grew up in a small town and spent much of her childhood exploring the prairies and reading books. She was an avid reader and writer from a young age, and her parents encouraged her love of literature.

Laurence attended high school in Neepawa and then went on to study at United College in Winnipeg. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Philosophy in 1947. After graduation, Laurence worked as a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen newspaper. She also wrote short stories and articles for various publications.

In 1949, Laurence married Jack Laurence, a civil engineer. The couple moved to England, where Jack was working on a project. While in England, Laurence continued to write and published her first novel, “This Side Jordan,” in 1960. The novel was well-received and established Laurence as a talented writer.

Laurence and her family returned to Canada in 1950 and settled in Vancouver. Over the next few years, Laurence gave birth to two children and continued to write. She published several more novels, including “The Stone Angel” and “A Jest of God,” which were both critically acclaimed.

Laurence’s early years were marked by a love of literature and a passion for writing. She was a talented storyteller from a young age and went on to become one of Canada’s most celebrated writers. Her early experiences in small-town Manitoba and her love of the prairies would later influence her writing and shape her legacy.

Education and Career Beginnings

Margaret Laurence’s education and career beginnings were shaped by her early life experiences. Born in Neepawa, Manitoba in 1926, Laurence grew up in a small town where she was exposed to the struggles of rural life. Her father was a lawyer and her mother was a teacher, and both encouraged her love of reading and writing from a young age.

Laurence attended the University of Manitoba, where she studied English and journalism. After graduation, she worked as a reporter for the Winnipeg Citizen and later as a copywriter for Eaton’s department store. However, Laurence’s true passion was for writing fiction, and she began to pursue this more seriously in the 1950s.

In 1954, Laurence’s first novel, This Side Jordan, was published. The book was well-received and marked the beginning of a successful career as a writer. Over the next few years, Laurence published several more novels, including The Stone Angel and A Jest of God, which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction in 1966.

Laurence’s early career was marked by a commitment to exploring the lives of women and the challenges they faced in Canadian society. Her writing was deeply influenced by her own experiences as a woman and a mother, and she often drew on her own life for inspiration. Despite facing criticism from some quarters for her frank portrayal of women’s lives, Laurence continued to write with honesty and compassion throughout her career.

Overall, Margaret Laurence’s education and career beginnings laid the foundation for a remarkable life as a writer and advocate for social justice. Her early experiences in rural Manitoba and her commitment to exploring the lives of women helped shape her unique voice and perspective, which continue to resonate with readers today.

Marriage and Family

Margaret Laurence’s personal life was marked by her marriage and family. She married Jack Laurence, a civil engineer, in 1944 and they had two children together, Jocelyn and David. However, their marriage was not without its challenges. Jack struggled with alcoholism and the couple eventually separated in 1962. Despite this, Margaret remained committed to her family and continued to support her children throughout her life. Her experiences as a wife and mother undoubtedly influenced her writing, as many of her novels explore themes of family relationships and the struggles of women in domestic roles.

Writing Career

Margaret Laurence’s writing career spanned over three decades, during which she produced some of the most influential works of Canadian literature. Her first novel, “This Side Jordan,” was published in 1960, and was followed by several other critically acclaimed works, including “The Stone Angel,” “A Jest of God,” and “The Diviners.” Laurence’s writing was known for its vivid descriptions of the Canadian landscape and its exploration of themes such as identity, family, and social justice. Despite facing criticism and controversy for her frank portrayal of taboo subjects, Laurence remained committed to her craft and continued to write until her death in 1987. Today, her legacy lives on through her writing, which continues to inspire and challenge readers around the world.

The Stone Angel

Margaret Laurence’s novel “The Stone Angel” is a powerful exploration of the life of Hagar Shipley, an elderly woman reflecting on her past and coming to terms with her mortality. Set in the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba, the novel delves into themes of family, identity, and the struggle for independence. Hagar is a complex and flawed character, and Laurence’s vivid prose brings her to life on the page. “The Stone Angel” is a masterpiece of Canadian literature, and a testament to Laurence’s skill as a writer.

Other Major Works

In addition to her acclaimed novels, Margaret Laurence also wrote several other major works throughout her career. One of these works was a collection of short stories titled “A Bird in the House,” which was published in 1970. The collection explores the lives of several generations of women in a small Canadian town and is considered a masterpiece of Canadian literature. Another notable work by Laurence is her memoir, “Dance on the Earth,” which was published posthumously in 1989. The memoir chronicles Laurence’s life from her childhood in Manitoba to her experiences as a writer and activist. These works, along with her novels, continue to be celebrated for their powerful storytelling and insightful commentary on Canadian society.

Awards and Recognition

Margaret Laurence’s contributions to Canadian literature have been widely recognized and celebrated. She was awarded numerous prestigious awards throughout her career, including the Governor General’s Award for Fiction twice, in 1966 for “The Stone Angel” and in 1974 for “The Diviners.” In 1976, she was made a Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest civilian honor in the country. Laurence was also awarded the Molson Prize in 1986, which recognizes outstanding contributions to Canadian culture and intellectual life. Her legacy continues to be celebrated through various literary awards, such as the Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction, which is presented annually by the Writers’ Trust of Canada.

Activism and Social Justice

Margaret Laurence was not only a celebrated Canadian author, but also a passionate activist for social justice. Throughout her life, she used her writing as a tool to shed light on issues such as racism, sexism, and environmental degradation. In her novel “The Diviners,” Laurence explores the experiences of marginalized communities in Canada, including Indigenous peoples and women. She also spoke out against the Vietnam War and was a vocal advocate for nuclear disarmament. Laurence’s commitment to activism and social justice serves as an inspiration for future generations to use their voices and talents to create positive change in the world.

Illness and Death

Margaret Laurence’s life was not without its share of struggles, including illness and death. In 1957, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy. This experience deeply affected her and influenced her writing, as seen in her novel “The Diviners,” which explores themes of illness and healing.

Tragically, Laurence’s own life was cut short by a battle with lung cancer. She passed away in 1987 at the age of 60. Her death was a great loss to the literary world, but her legacy lives on through her powerful and poignant writing. Laurence’s ability to capture the complexities of human experience, including illness and death, continues to resonate with readers today.

Legacy and Impact

Margaret Laurence’s legacy and impact on Canadian literature cannot be overstated. Her works, including “The Stone Angel” and “A Jest of God,” have become staples in Canadian literature and are studied in schools across the country. Laurence’s writing often explored themes of identity, social justice, and the human condition, and her characters were often strong, independent women who challenged societal norms.

In addition to her literary contributions, Laurence was also a vocal advocate for social justice and environmentalism. She was a member of the Canadian chapter of PEN International, an organization that promotes freedom of expression and literature, and was involved in various environmental causes.

Laurence’s impact on Canadian literature and society has been recognized through numerous awards and honors, including the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Order of Canada. Her legacy continues to inspire and influence writers and readers alike, and her contributions to Canadian literature and society will not be forgotten.

Personal Life and Relationships

Margaret Laurence’s personal life was marked by both joy and tragedy. She married Jack Laurence in 1944 and they had two children together, Jocelyn and David. However, their marriage was not a happy one and they eventually divorced in 1962.

Laurence’s relationship with her children was a source of great happiness for her. She was a devoted mother and her children were a constant source of inspiration for her writing. In fact, her novel “The Diviners” was dedicated to her daughter Jocelyn.

Laurence also had a close relationship with her mother, Verna Simpson. They were very similar in temperament and shared a love of literature. However, Verna’s death in 1957 was a devastating blow to Laurence and she struggled with grief for many years.

In terms of romantic relationships, Laurence had a few significant ones throughout her life. She had a brief affair with a married man in the 1950s, which inspired her novel “A Jest of God”. Later in life, she had a long-term relationship with a man named John J. H. Macdonald. They never married, but were devoted to each other until Macdonald’s death in 1996.

Overall, Laurence’s personal life was complex and filled with both love and loss. However, her relationships with her children, mother, and romantic partners were a constant source of inspiration for her writing and helped shape her legacy as one of Canada’s greatest authors.

Writing Style and Themes

Margaret Laurence’s writing style is characterized by its vivid imagery, emotional depth, and social commentary. Her themes often explore the complexities of human relationships, the struggle for identity, and the impact of colonialism on Indigenous communities. Laurence’s use of language is both poetic and accessible, allowing readers to connect with her characters and their experiences on a personal level. Her work has been praised for its honesty and authenticity, as well as its ability to capture the essence of Canadian life and culture. Through her writing, Laurence has left a lasting legacy as one of Canada’s most celebrated authors.

Adaptations and Translations

Margaret Laurence’s works have been translated into numerous languages, including French, German, Spanish, and Japanese. Her novels and short stories have also been adapted for stage and screen. One of her most famous works, The Stone Angel, was adapted into a film in 2007, starring Ellen Burstyn. The film received critical acclaim and was praised for its faithful adaptation of Laurence’s novel. Laurence’s works continue to be adapted and translated, introducing her legacy to new audiences around the world.

Controversies and Criticisms

One of the main controversies surrounding Margaret Laurence’s life and work is her portrayal of Indigenous characters in her novels. While some critics praise her for giving voice to Indigenous perspectives and experiences, others argue that her depictions are stereotypical and perpetuate harmful myths about Indigenous people. Laurence herself acknowledged the limitations of her own understanding and experience, and expressed regret for any harm her writing may have caused. However, the debate over her legacy continues to this day, with some calling for a reevaluation of her work in light of contemporary understandings of cultural appropriation and representation.

Interviews and Speeches

Margaret Laurence was a prolific writer and speaker, and her interviews and speeches offer valuable insights into her life and work. In an interview with CBC Radio in 1974, Laurence discussed her approach to writing and the themes that permeate her work. She spoke about the importance of empathy and understanding in her writing, and how she sought to capture the complexities of human experience in her characters. In a speech given at the University of British Columbia in 1982, Laurence reflected on her own journey as a writer and the challenges she faced along the way. She spoke about the need for writers to be true to themselves and their vision, even in the face of criticism and rejection. These interviews and speeches offer a glimpse into the mind of one of Canada’s most celebrated writers, and provide valuable context for understanding her life and legacy.

Influence on Canadian Literature

Margaret Laurence’s impact on Canadian literature cannot be overstated. Her works, which often explored themes of identity, social justice, and the human condition, have resonated with readers for decades. Laurence’s writing style was characterized by its vivid imagery, emotional depth, and powerful storytelling. Her novels, including “The Stone Angel” and “A Jest of God,” have become classics of Canadian literature and are studied in schools across the country. Laurence’s influence on Canadian literature extends beyond her own writing, as she was also a mentor to many aspiring writers and a champion of Canadian literature as a whole. Her legacy continues to inspire and shape the literary landscape of Canada.

Archives and Collections

Margaret Laurence’s life and legacy are preserved in various archives and collections across Canada. The University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections holds a significant collection of Laurence’s personal papers, including manuscripts, correspondence, and photographs. The collection also includes materials related to Laurence’s activism and involvement in social justice issues. The Margaret Laurence Endowment Fund was established in 1987 to support the acquisition and preservation of Laurence’s works and related materials. The fund has enabled the University of Manitoba to acquire additional Laurence materials, including rare editions of her books and audio recordings of her readings. Other institutions, such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Canadian Museum of History, also hold Laurence-related materials in their collections. These archives and collections provide valuable resources for scholars and researchers interested in Laurence’s life and work, as well as for those interested in Canadian literature and culture more broadly.

Memorials and Commemorations

Margaret Laurence’s impact on Canadian literature and culture is undeniable. As a tribute to her life and work, several memorials and commemorations have been established in her honor. One of the most notable is the Margaret Laurence Memorial Garden in Neepawa, Manitoba, her hometown. The garden features a statue of Laurence and a plaque with a quote from her novel, “The Stone Angel.” Additionally, the Margaret Laurence Endowment Fund was established at Trent University to support Canadian literature and writers. Laurence’s legacy continues to inspire and influence generations of writers and readers alike.