Margaret Laurence's Narratives
LHE DIVINERS, Margaret Laurence's most recent novel, is
overflowing with ideas about life, about life in Canada, and about life in Canada as experienced by a woman. Laurence has been quoted as saying, "Now the wheel seems to have come full circle — these five books [the Manawaka fiction] all interweave and fit together."
The extent to which The Diviners is made to
interweave with the earlier books is, in fact, almost irritating. The Tonnerre family, members of which have appeared in The Stone Angel, The Fire Dwellers, and A Bird in the House, play a major, and thematically defensible, role in the present book. But why include Julie Kaslik (sister of Nick, Rachel's lover in A Jest of God) and her husband Buckle Fennick (Mac's tormented friend in The Fire-Dwellers), when our interest in them is derived from the earlier books, and not from anything they do in The Diviners? And it is a jolt to read that Stacey Cameron and Vanessa MacLeod, Morag's contemporaries, play together, since they have not previously seemed to exist on the same imaginative plane: Stacey of The Fire-Dwellers is a fully realized fictional creation, while Vanessa, of the short story collection, A Bird in the House, is more an effective narrative device than a memorable character.
Not only characters, but obsessive images familiar to Laurence's readers recur in The Diviners: the disemboweled gopher, which Stacey of The Fire-Dwellers, like Morag, saw as a child; the grotesquely fat woman imprisoned by her bulk (Hagar, of course, Buckle's mother in The Fire-Dwellers, and now Prin) ; the burning shack that trapped Piquette Tonnerre and her children, which Laurence has described twice before; and the greatest catastrophe Manawaka ever experi enced, the departure of the Cameron Highlanders for Dieppe, mentioned in all Laurence's Canadian fiction.
Laurence has been quoted as saying that she will probably never write another novel, and one can almost feel, while reading The Diviners, the pressure on its author to make a final important statement about Life and Art. It seems to have 40LAURENCE S NARRATIVES
been Laurence's ambition in this novel, dense with themes and symbols, complex in structure, but meandering in plot, not only to clarify the ideas expressed in her earlier books, but to express all those ideas for which she never previously found a suitable fictional embodiment.
In the earlier Manawaka books, Laurence explored such themes as the difficulty of achieving genuine communication between individuals, and the limits placed on personal freedom by family and ethnic background, in ways that critics have come to identify as distinctively "Canadian". Her female protagonists merely survive rather than triumphing, and they grow up in a community which displays the "garrison mentality" in its need for rigid conformity and its fear of spontaneity and sensuality. But in The Diviners, Laurence has overturned the negativism of these Canadian literary themes. Morag is no Philip Bentley: she has published five novels. She is in touch with the needs of her body as well as her mind, and has striven to satisfy both. She has freely chosen a loving relationship with the Métis, Jules Tonnerre, and borne a child by him who seems to symbolize the healing of the division between culture and nature in the Canadian psyche.
At times The Diviners seems almost too self-conscious in its reworking of Canadian literary clichés. As just one example, Margaret Atwood has defined the "Rapunzel Syndrome" in Canadian literature: imprisoned by the repressive attitudes of the society around her, the woman passively awaits rescue by the prince.
Atwood points to Rachel in A Jest of God as a typical victim of this malaise. In The Diviners, Morag, caught in a stifling marriage, sees herself as Rapunzel: "Maybe tower would be a better word for the apartment. . . . T he lonely tower. Rapunzel, Rapunzel,...