Margaret Laurence was a Canadian novelist and short story writer and is especially remembered for her strongly etched female characters. Born Jean Margaret Wemyss in 1926 in the prairie province of Manitoba, Canada, Laurence has Scottish antecedents on her father's side and Irish on her mother's side. Thus, Margaret Laurence's biography is representative of the early history of Canada and reflective of its multicultural and diverse origins. Educated at Neepawa, Manitoba and University College in Winnipeg, Laurence worked as a reporter for Winnipeg Citizen, a labour daily, after her graduation in 1947. In 1948, she married, for the second time, Jack Laurence, a civil engineer and travelled with him where his job took him, that is England, Somaliland(now Somalia), and Gold Coast(now Ghana) . So, Laurence's perception and literary sensibilities were shaped by her homeland Canada, but her life in Africa contributed to the African influences in her work.
Laurence began writing short stories at the age of seven, and continued throughout high school and college years, but her work wasn't published until the Somaliland years. In 1954, the British Protectorate of Somaliland published her translation of Somali folk tales and Poetry under the title A Tree For Poverty. Her life in Africa transformed her from a young Western Liberal into a mature woman who understood the concerns of the colonised population, and empathised with their cause. On the brink of emerging as a nation in their own right, the history and literature of the African countries, as delved into and witnessed by Laurence shaped her world view and also honed her literary talent. Her first published fiction was a short story called Uncertain Flowering and was published in the Whit Burnett anthology of 1954. This was followed by stories set in Ghana and published in various journals and publications; they were finally collected in an anthology in 1963, called The Tomorrow-Tamer. Laurence's first novel was This Side Jordan and was published in 1960. Set in Ghana again, it reflects her passionate belief in the dignity and potential of every human being.
On returning to Vancouver, Canada, Laurence revised her memoir of the Somaliland years, which was published under the title The Prophet's Camel Bell in 1963. Then she turned her attention to Hagar Shipley of The Stone Angel, a character which emerged from her life in the prairie province of Manitoba. The Stone Angel was the first of her Manawaka novels, a series of five novels set in and around the fictional town of Manawaka, which Laurence based on her hometown of Neepawa, Manitoba. The Stone Angel was published in 1964 and was followed by the rest of the Manawaka novels namely A Jest of God(1966), The Fire-Dwellers(1969), A Bird in the House(1970), and The Diviners(1974).
Margaret Laurence is a highly regarded figure in Canadian Literature and her works are a part of the curriculum of most North American schools. Her works have been translated into a number of languages, and this speaks of her wide appeal. Remembered for her strength, warmth, and humour, Laurence's final literary legacy was the memoir Dance on the Earth.
Coming to Laurence's widely recognised, read and much beloved work, The Stone Angel, one can say it is a reflection of her own strength and warmth in the person of her protagonist. The novel traces the life of Hagar Shipley, born Hagar Currie in the prairie town of Manawaka. Moving back and forth in time, the novel begins with Hagar, a crotchety nonagenarian in the present moment, who is living with her son, Marvin, and daughter-in-law, Doris. Being of a highly proud and independent disposition as an individual, Hagar resents the care being lavished on her because of her age. Her inability to perform the smallest tasks on her own and her inner shame that she requires help for them render her...