- Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Margaret Laurence, and: The Dominion of Women: The Personal and the Political in Canadian Women's Literature, and: Writing in the Feminine: Feminism and Experimental Writing in Quebec
The three books here reviewed constitute a mixed bag, but taken together they do suggest three overall features of Canadian fiction. First, the fact that two of them were published in the United States and one was compiled for Macmillan Press in England and then copublished in Canada attests to the international recognition that the Canadian novel is increasingly receiving. Second, even by their titles and subject matter they indicate one of the more interesting aspects of Canadian fiction, the paramount degree to which it is the product of women's writing. Finally, like the country itself, Canadian fiction is, from the start, bilingual, almost bicultural (and, increasingly, multicultural), which gives writers much more room in which to operate and makes problematic any large formulations about the Canadian novel. In that spirit I will hazard no more such generalizations but will turn, instead, to the individual studies themselves.
Colin Nicholson's Critical Approaches to the Fiction of Margaret Laurence is a collection of primarily introductory and appreciative essays intended for readers not particularly familiar with either Canadian literature or the accomplishments of one of the country's most respected writers. Such readers will be served well by this volume. For the most part, the essays are cogent, persuasive discussions of some larger aspect of Laurence's writing or readings of particular texts, sometimes assessed individually and sometimes compared to other texts. Thus Clara Thomas solidly surveys (her subtitle) "Margaret Laurence and the Canadian Tradition in Fiction," and Colin Nicholson writes an engaging and wide ranging study of (his subtitle) "Aspects of Scotland in Laurence's Writing." Or Shirley Chew in "Some Truer Image" and Simone Vauthier in "Images in Stones, Images in Words" both read The Stone Angel largely in terms of the blind marble carving after which the novel is named, whereas Michael A. Peterman in "'All that happens, one must try to understand': The Kindredness of Tillie Olsen's Tell Me a Riddle [End Page 769] and Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel" (an essay considerably better than its cumbersome title) partly situates Laurence's protagonist by comparing her to another elderly female character also talking her way toward death.
As even a partial naming of essay titles suggests, the critical approaches encountered in Critical Approaches are not particularly experimental. But then neither was Laurence, although Barbara Godard's "Caliban's Revolt: The Discourse of the (M)Other" conclusively demonstrates that newer critical concerns can be profitably applied to her fiction. Briefly, Godard sees The Diviners as a kind of doubly reversed Tempest that parodically rewrites patriarchal rule and also allows Morag to learn from the Natives by listening to them instead of (Miranda-like) teaching them English and subservience. But if Godard "others" the text she assesses in comparison to most of the other essays in this volume that mostly "same" it, those other essays may be suggesting we still have, in Laurence, the same figure of the Canadian artist she represented five years ago just before her death—a larger than life woman who was concerned with the pioneer past, the current problems of writing in Canada, and the unfolding shape of women's experience. Perhaps the time has not yet come for a radical reappraisal and rereading. In the meantime, this volume—published in both Canada and Great Britain and representing the work of scholars from Canada, the United States, France, England, and Scotland—is an appropriate tribute to the place that Laurence quite properly still occupies.
The Dominion of Women: The Personal and the Political in Canadian Women's Literature also...