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HUMANITIES 563·what she correctly saw as the conflicting categories of'woman' and 'writer.' (SANDRA D}WA) Christian Riegel, editor. ChalleHging Territory: The Writing ofMargaret Laurence University of Alberta Press. xxiii, 260. $ 24·95 This book is long overdue, and a necessary antidote to obsessions with Margaret Laurence's private life that have played themselves out across the pages of Canadian newspapers and magazines in the past few years. The essays in this collection are also a counter to the portrait of Laurence as a writer of fiction that has had its day, even if- or perhaps because- the Manawaka books are indisputably part of the English-Canadian canon in all its 'controversial' glory. There has been too much of a sense, on the part ofcritics and general readers alike, that Hagar, Rachel, Stacey, Vanessa, and Morag are 'safe' figures in books that may have told us something about ourselves back in the 196os and 1970s, but in the postcolonial and gen-x-y nineties are just a little dated and even passe. Challenging Territory takes Laurence very seriously as a writer of fiction and non-fiction whose complex creative legacy contributes to Western-world cultural concerns at the tum of the millennium. Vital attention to Laurence's non-Manawaka work at the beginning and end of the collection emphasizes that her remarkable strengths as a writer did not spring in independent fashion from the fount of her Canadian experience and dry up in the twelve-year period between the publication of The Diviners and her death. It is clear from Gabrielle Coleu's discussion of her African stories that 'Laurence's vision of colonized peoples resists appropriation and offers a refreshing challenge to typical colonialist representations,' and that her resultant portraits of the African Other anticipate her presentations of class and race issues in her later books. Barbara Pell asserts that Laurence's African female figures in 'theirbondage to a patriarchal society, their quest for dignity and freedom, and their compromise for survival,' are the precursors of her Manwaka protagonists. Her Canadian heroines, Pell claims convincingly, 'were born in Africa.' Donna Xiques and Thomas M.F. Gerry discuss, respectively, Laurence the young Winnipeg reporter and Laurence the literary matriarch in her post-divining (and supposedly declining) days. Xiques points to the nndeniable contribution of her relatively brief newspaper career to her development as a writer of fiction. That she already had a strong sense of how to write prairie life is found in her 1947 review of W.O. Mitchell's Who Has Seen the Wind. 'Those of us who have lived all our lives on the prairies and among its people, may perhaps doubt the validity of presenting so many characters as merely "quaint,"' Laurence writes, but adds that Mitchell 'has achieved, at some points, a real poignancy and a rare 564 LETTERS IN CANADA 1997 descriptive quality.' As a radio drama colunmist for the Winnipeg Citizen, she was critical of what she saw as Canada's 'inferiority complex' when it came to comparing Canadian radio to American programs, and called for a drama to be produced on the life of Louis Riel. Gerry'sdiscussionofLaurence's political writingbetween 1975 and 1986 provides a crucial reassessment of her life and writing 'after fiction' when, according to many, she was involved with apple pie and motherhood issues and tossed off 'easy' pieces for popular magazines that left readers lamenting the loss of her artistic skills. For Gerry, critics have wrongly separated Laurence's caring about violence against women, poverty, nuclear disarmament, and war from the moral imagination that had made her a great writer. Whatever the attributes ofher fiction, he insists, it should not be valorized over other forms of her creative expression, and Laurence's 'political writing ought to be included as an integral part of her literary achievement.' Other essays in Challenging Territory are concerned with the strongly feminist aspects of Laurence's writing, and with such specific topics as the complexities of Laurence's Scots Presbyterian heritage and mourning in A Bird in the House. Meira Cook, with her Kristevian analysis of the maternal in The Diviners, provides an important reconsideration of Morag's (and Laurence's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 563-564
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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