Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

Margaret Laurence : Critical Reflections

 | 
David Staines

Cavewomen Div(in)ing for Pearls: Margaret Laurence and Marian Engel

Christl Verduyn

Texte intégral

Behold! human beings living in an underground den... they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave.
Plato,
The Republic, Book VII, 514-515

I had known all along in the deepest and often hidden caves of the heart that anything can happen anywhere.
Margaret Laurence,
“Where the World Began,” Heart of a Stranger

Like most writers, I am as superstitious as a caveman or an actor.
Margaret Laurence,
“Living Dangerously,” Heart of a Stranger

1 With correspondence between Margaret Laurence and Marian Engel as its point of departure, this essay considers Laurence’s 1974 novel The Diviners in conjunction with Engel’s 1978 novel The Glassy Sea. These works present striking parallels, and part of my purpose is to show this. Beyond a comparative study, the essay reflects on the conditions for women writing in Canada at mid-twentieth century. These were conditions that Laurence, like Engel, knew first-hand. Autobiographical in inspiration, if not in fact, The Diviners and The Glassy Sea articulate women’s experiences as writers and artists in postwar Canada.

  • 1 Unnamed protagonist of the tide story of Engel’s posthumously published collection The Tattooed Wo (...)
  • 2 Located among Engel’s papers, held in The Marian Engel Archive at McMaster University. The letters (...)

2A particularly arresting figure of this expression is Pearl Cavewoman. Created by Laurence, and close cousin to Engel’s “tattooed woman,”1 Pearl Cavewoman is the memorable embodiment of a contradictory “both/and” condition that was the difficulty and the desire of women writers of the Laurence-Engel generation. Probing the apparent contradiction between “primitive” cave(wo)man and the refined culture of pearls, The Diviners dissolves contradiction through its protagonist’s discovery of “pearls” in the cave. This is Laurence’s affirmation that knowledge can derive from unconventional sources. The following traces this evolution in three parts. The first section presents excerpts from the small but fascinating batch of letters Laurence wrote to Engel in the months leading up to the latter’s death from cancer in February 1985.2 Neither voluminous nor complete, the correspondence is nonetheless compelling for its depiction of Laurence’s views on women writers’ experiences. Three elements are retained: the introduction of Pearl Cavewoman; the heroism of Canadian women writers; and the recognition of their “primitive” cave-dweller ancestry. The second section offers a brief examination of parallels between Laurence’s exploration of the woman writer’s experiences in The Diviners and Engel’s in The Glassy Sea. A final section proceeds from the sketch of those experiences to Laurence’s portrait of the conditions for women writers of her generation—a study in cavewomen div(in)ing for pearls.

– I –

  • 3 This and other letters cited are located in The Marian Engel Archive (Second Accession), Box 31, F (...)

3Writing to Marian Engel on “April Fools Day” (April 1) 1984, Laurence informed her friend that she had a new, electric typewriter and that she had named it Pearl Cavewoman. “I reckon that I have had, in my life, five typewriters, and all but one of them have had names,” Laurence explained. “PEARL CAVEWOMAN is a version of my own name. Margaret means ‘a pearl,’ and my family name, Wemyss, means ‘a cavedweller,’as we were said to have been descended from the Picts, the old old people of Scotland.”3

4Pearl Cavewoman—a name not soon forgotten! Laurence’s custom of identifying her typewriters with such imaginative names as Pearl Cavewoman is a first, intriguing revelation of her letters to Engel. The author’s choice of name is at once curious and compelling. Equally striking is Laurence’s sequitur that she and Engel, and other women writers of their generation in Canada, were nothing short of heroic. In her “April Fools” and other letters to Engel, Laurence extolled the courage and commitment of Canadian women writers—“those of us who have had to earn our living and bring up our kids, virtually by ourselves, with a lot of moral support from friends and colleagues.” “Women writers in this country,” Laurence asserted, “whether with children or not, and whether with mates or not, have been HEROIC” (April 1, 1984).

  • 4 Laurence and Engel were exchanging notes about Jane Austen, who figured in the opening lines of th (...)

5The heroism of Canadian women writers is a recurring theme in Laurence’s letters to Engel. The correspondence records Laurence’s conviction that the generation of Canadian women writers to which she and Engel belonged was courageous, strong, and unquestionably deserving of a place in history. On September 17, 1984, Laurence reflected: “I think Jane Austen would have loved us, but I suspect she might have been a bit in awe of us, as well she might, we who have coped with having and rearing our children, writing our books, earning our livings, and not hiding the manuscripts under the desk blotter when the vicar came to tea.”4 Pursuing these thoughts a few months later, Laurence wrote:

Jane Austen, the more I read her and think about her, was such a subtle and strong feminist! In them days! But those days, apparently so far back, are not so very different from our own. Is this not always the way? I think so. Strong women did always have the difficulties that Austen presents, and people like you and I have lived through that, too. With, I may say, success. We pass on a whole lot of things to the children, both female and male, or so I hope and pray and know. Our generation, however, and I say this knowing I am older than you are, did have our kids and reared them without any colonial servant-type help (although I lived in Africa). Shoot, honey, we’re heroic! (January 12, 1985)

  • 5 cave... O I[ndian]... savas-, “strength,” heroism, savirah, surah, “strong.” A Comprehensive Etymo (...)

6Laurence’s presentation of strong women is a well-known feature of her work. So, too, is her interest in history, particularly in ancestral stories. Less well known, but stated in no uncertain terms in her letters to Engel, is Laurence’s later-life determination and desire to trace female ancestry, back through time, past Virginia Woolf in a room of her own, past the Scots and the Picts who appear in The Diviners, back to prehistoric times and peoples, to the cave dwellers. “What stuns me,” Laurence confided to Engel on May 18, 1984, “looking at my own family, is how pitifully little I know about the women, even my grandmothers... and how much about the men. Lost histories... perhaps we must invent them in order to rediscover them.” In the mid-1980s, Laurence was writing “odd things, not a novel, more like things about my ancestral families, especially the women. History has been written, and lines of descent traced, through the male lines. More and more I want to speak about women (always have, of course, in my fiction, but now I want to get closer to my own experience... not necessarily directly autobio[graphy], but close, I guess).” Culminating in Laurence’s posthumously published memoir Dance on the Earth (1989), this was the author’s focus when writing in the mid-1980s or, at least, in writing to Engel. In letters to her friend, and in Engel’s own literary oeuvre, Laurence found the vehicle for her conviction that Canada’s women writers were like courageous heroes or cavewomen, strong and brave.5

7The Canadian dimension of this vision was no small matter. There was no fooling in Laurence’s April 1, 1984, comment on an article about the “Bloomsbury folks,” which had appeared in the New York Review of Books. It is worth quoting at some length Laurence’s thoughts:

I’m a Canadian who felt, years ago, somewhat like a naive colonial girl in literary London, and came to resent and then be amused by their attitudes... much later than Bloomsbury but some of the same contempt for anything not Brit was there in my time, although the upper-class Brit by that time had all but vanished from the literary scene. It’s interesting... I’ve read Nigel Nicolson’s book on his parents, and a certain amount of the multitudinous material on the scene of those days, and of course Virginia’s books, although none of Vita’s, and I feel, as I always have felt, a profound sense of repulsion towards that group, not for their sexual inclinations, heaven knows... I couldn’t care less... but for their amazing snobbism and hypocrisy, their malice and sheer nastiness towards everyone in the world except their own little clique. Their lack of generosity, their terror at standing up for any principle, is mind-boggling. Poor Leonard Woolf must have been heroic, although I guess his reasons were mixed also. I’ve always... well, for years, anyhow...wondered what Virginia would have done if there had been no one to look after her and keep helping her in her periodic bouts of “madness.” Maybe she would have written better...?... you know, Virginia’s writing, much of which I read long ago, never did strike a chord in my heart... it always seemed so cerebral, so bloodless. Which is not to say that she didn’t have magnificent gifts in terms of writing... she did. But she never chose to write about things closest to her own heart and spirit, and obviously I am not talking here about writing in any direct autobiographical way. I think a lot of Canadian women writers... quite frankly... have been braver. The incredible snobbishness... the almost unbelievable ignorance in that way...of the Bloomsbury group... seems now to have been a very limiting thing in terms of their writing. I suppose it is an inability to know, really know, the reality of others. I read with suitable reverence, as was expected then, when I was young, Virginia Woolf’s books, and wondered why I didn’t connect very much with them. Later, I saw why. They were written out of an exclusive spirit, not an inclusive one, and in some sense they were self-obsessed and unkind. We are not always kind, kid, nor should [w]e be, but damn, we aren’t exclusive... [and] “one thing we have NOT been is bloodless.” (April 1, 1984)

8For Laurence, Canadian women writers—uncultured colonials that their European counterparts may have considered them to be—were full-blooded and forthright, courageous and considerate. That they may have seemed less cerebral in no way diminished their ability “to know, really know, the reality of others,” as Laurence affirmed. This idea is borne out by her “spiritual autobiography,” The Diviners, and by Engel’s The Glassy Sea. If parallels between the works were not necessarily deliberate, they do not seem merely coincidental. Rather, they emerge out of Laurence’s and Engel’s shared sense and experiences of what it meant, and what it took, to be a woman writing in postwar Canada.

– II –

  • 6 Margaret fr. L Margarita “pearl”; Marguerite OF [Old French] margarite “pearl.” A Comprehensive Et (...)
  • 7 Engel’s novel demonstrates that Rita takes after her namesake Pelagia as well.

9A veritable lexicon evolves as one considers the similarities between The Diviners and The Glassy Sea. The name Margaret means pearl.6 It is not only Laurence’s name, as well as that of her typewriter, but also the name of Engel’s protagonist in The Glassy Sea. Marguerite Heber sports more than one name during her lifetime. As a young girl, she is called Rita, derivative short form of Marguerite, French equivalent of Margaret. During her decade as an Eglantine nun, Rita is called Sister Mary Pelagia, not “... for the Pelagia who was once called Marguerite for her pearls and Marina because she was an inevitable cognate of Aphrodite, but for Pelagius, theologian and heretic” (77-78).7 Later, Rita’s husband, Asher Bowen, calls her Peggy, another short form for Margaret.

10Morag Gunn’s name is steeped in history, which Morag’s stepfather, Christie Logan, teaches her. Christie recounts the story of Piper Gunn, whose wife, Morag, is “a strapping strong woman... with the courage of a falcon and the beauty of a deer and the warmth of a home and the faith of saints” (41). But the ancestral stories passed On to Morag do not supply her enough information about the women who preceded her. Indeed, she begins to write, and thus to proceed toward the wordsmith she will become, partly to flesh out that story. In her version of the Tale of Piper Gunn’s Woman, Morag elaborates:

Once long ago there was a beautiful woman name of Morag, and she was Piper Gunn’s wife, and they went to the new land together and Morag was never afraid of anything in this whole wide world. Never. If they came to a forest, would this Morag there be scared? Not on your christly life. She would only laugh and say, Forests cannot hurt me because I have the power and the second sight and the good eye and the strength of conviction. (42)

  • 8 The Pearls, a childless couple, later billet Jules Tonnerre when he attends school. This is one of (...)
  • 9 Greek for grandmother, old woman.
  • 10 The bear is said to resemble “a fat dignified old woman with his nose to the wind” (138).
  • 11 From nonna—an old woman, a nun; fem. Of nonnus—an old man, a monk.

11If Morag’s writing arises in part from her need to tell the story of her female ancestors, it also imaginatively provides the ancestry she desires. Morag’s parents die when she is five. This is her first “memorybank movie,” and it features Mrs. Pearl “from the next farm... an old woman, really old old, short and with puckered-up skin on her face” (11).8 Significantly and symbolically present at Morag’s first encounter with death, Mrs. Pearl incorporates the archetype of the old woman, she who, in the person of The Stone Angel’s Hagar, inaugurates Laurence’s Manawaka cycle. The figure of the old woman is equally central in Engel’s work, where she appears in a number of guises—from Monodromos’s yaya,9 through Bear’s bear,10 to The Glassy Sea’s nuns.11 Most strikingly, she is the tattooed woman situated at the heart of Engel’s writing:

I am an artist, now, she thought, a true artist. My body is my canvas. I am very old, and very beautiful. I am carved like an old shaman. I am an artifact of an old culture, my body is a pictograph from prehistory, it has been used and bent and violated and broken, but I have resisted. I am Somebody... an old, wise woman, and at the same time beautiful and new. (The Tattooed Woman 9)

  • 12 Title of the feminist work, written collaboratively by Hélène Cixous, Madeleine Gagnon, and Annie (...)

12In Laurence’s and Engel’s work, old(er), wise(r) women appear time and again to oversee or incorporate la venue à l’écriture12 the coming to writing. For Morag, this is pursuant to her parents’ death, which Mrs. Pearl reports, and to which Morag responds by “making a cave, a small shelter into which no one can see” (14). From within the confines of the cave, speech, language, and, in time, writing emerge: “Morag is talking in her head. To God. Telling Him it was all His fault and this is why she is so mad at Him. Because He is no good, is why” (14). Morag’s arguments with God are echoed in young Rita Heber’s challenge to the “divine.” “Aside from the fact that He was the Messiah and I wasn’t, I didn’t see that there was much difference between me and Jesus,” Rita recalls:

I failed so early to distinguish God’s masculinity from my feminity [sic], ill-defined as it was by red cardigans and Kitty Higgins bows, that I became, in spite of my instincts which are on the whole as passive as any man could wish, a woman of my generation... the women I grew up with were not frail: they had their bunions, their miscarriages, their preferences... Old snapshots often show them as rather muscular brides... but, as the qualities the boys were taught to look for in a woman were those shared by ploughhorses (solidity, calm, lack of temperament), the externalized femininity of the fashionable world was... far from our world. (30-31)

  • 13 “Finally (could she have been losing her figure? Were her pursuers drawing too near?) she sat hers (...)

13Women’s strength, in Laurence’s and in Engel’s artistic vision, entails a challenge both to divine hierarchy and to revered images of femininity. Against these, the authors’ protagonists brandish their pens or their typewriters—their pearl(s)! Like Rita’s Eglantine namesake, Pelagia, an “actress who every night processed in splendour past Bishop Nonnus’s fledgling church, causing scandal among the Christians” (78),13 they process their pearls against the grain of stereotyped femininity and the social mores and values of their time and place.

  • 14 See George Woodcock: “In her Manawaka cycle, Margaret Laurence uses the ancient doctrine of the fo (...)
  • 15 Morag’s husband, Brooke Skelton, on the other hand, prefers the status quo, especially in response (...)
  • 16 From the evocative title of Alice Munro’s 1971 book. Munro’s work also probes the small-town socia (...)

14Although Morag Gunn grows up on the Prairies, and Rita Heber in Ontario, they share a small-town upbringing and similar family traits and values. Ancestral background is an important element of both novels, with Laurence tracing Scottish heritage and Engel offering information about the Irish Macraes and McCrorys and the French Line Hebers. The Gunns and Hebers are plain, simple, good, hardworking, country people. It is partially in reaction to the “purl and plain” approach to life that Rita is attracted to pearls and roses, and Morag to the wonder of words. When Rita leaves the cloistered life and culture of roses, however, she plunges into muddy waters lying just below the calm, smooth surface of the glassy sea. Laurence’s work also features divers and diviners, from The Fire-Dwellers “antediluvian” “mermaid,” merwoman Stacey MacAindra (9) to The Diviners’s “fluid Morag.”14 Morag, too, “stirs things up,”15 making waves—“mucking up”—being the social consequence of women’s efforts toward artistic self-expression and representation in Laurence’s and Engel’s generation. Both The Diviners and The Glassy Sea confront the impact of society on “the lives of girls and women.”16 Rita Heber discovers the extent to which women’s experience is shaped by the values underlying social structures and organizations such as the church and family: “Woman’s role was to take care of men and children. If one became a teacher and instructed them instead of a mother baking for them, that was acceptable” (72). Becoming an artist or a writer is not.

  • 17 As Rita’s brother Stuart aptly renames Asher (107).

15So think Morag’s and Rita’s husbands, the remarkably similar Brooke Skelton and Ash Bone.17 As their names suggest, these men are life-denying presences in the protagonists’ lives. Problems surface when their wives express a desire to have children. Neither man is at ease with the prospect of parenthood or their wives’ power to reproduce, and, in Morag’s case, simultaneously produce books. In both novels, marriage ends with the protagonist’s pregnancy. Engel’s Rita gives birth to a hydrocephalic son whom Asher rejects, while Morag’s daughter by Jules Tonnerre becomes Brooke Skelton’s “alibi” for divorce. Both women are marginalized by a society still uncomfortable with the reality of single mothers and women who write. Morag winds up in a cabin by a river, while Rita becomes a self-described “crazy lady by the sea” (153). It is here she writes the long letter, which is Engel’s novel, accepting an invitation to reopen Eglantine House. The new House will be “a kind of hospice,” a hostel or commune for women. “I want a core of women helping other women to put their lives... in order,” she decides. “It is women I am committed to working with and I shall do that” (163). Offering community and commitment, Eglantine House is a modern-day convent, a twentieth-century “cave,” or coven, a gathering of women. This is hardly the vision of exclusivity and snobbishness that Laurence glimpsed in the Bloomsbury group.

16The parallels between Laurence’s The Diviners and Engel’s The Glassy Sea are striking and significant for their authors’ representation of woman as writer and artist in postwar Canada. The portrait of the artist as an older woman seems as at odds with social “norms” as Laurence’s image of a cavewoman in pearls. The picture is not all rosy, however. There are shadows in the cave.

-III-

  • 18 A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language 1, p. 254.

cave, interj., beware!—L[atin], imper.[ative] of cavere, “to be on one’s guard, take care, beware,” which stand for *covere and is cogn. with G[ree]k. Xoew (for *xofew), “I mark, perceive.”
caveat... a warning.18

  • 19 This is a reference to Laurence Ricou’s 1973 study Vertical Man, Horizontal World.
  • 20 “She took the blade out of her razor and washed it. She went and sat at her dressing table and tur (...)

17At a time when Canadian literati were proclaiming the advent of vertical man in a horizontal world,19 Laurence was projecting cavewomen, curved over pearls, carving angels out of stone, writing on the walls. Far from Homo erectus striding toward the light on the horizon, Laurence’s was a more “primitive,” wary, and perhaps weary vision of women struggling to make their mark, often getting marked in the process, or (in the case of Engel’s “tattooed woman”) marking themselves in the effort.20 Morag, “tired... exhausted [from] working every minute on the new novel... days speaking to no one” finds herself

alone in this house with Pique and this lunatic [Chas]... What if he breaks her arm? What if he strangles her?... Seldom has Morag been as frightened as she is this minute... She is fairly strong, physically, but not nearly as strong as Chas. She is thinking very quickly and she knows... something she did not know before. She is capable of killing, at least under this one circumstance... They struggle without noise or words for another second or two. Then their eyes meet. Chas’ pale hazel eyes are alight with a hatred as pure as undiluted hydrochloric acid... He brings up one hand, and before she can move away, he hits her with full force across the breasts. He walks out while she is still paralyzed with pain. (268)

18This disturbing scene in Laurence’s portrait of Morag the writer evokes how difficult, lonely, and even dangerous life could be for women. Certainly, it was unconventional in that the writer’s life still was viewed as counter to the norms for women of the time and place. “Accessories,” Millie Christopherson, senior clerk at Simlow’s Ladies Wear where Morag works part-time, remarks. “Good Taste is learnt” (91). This is what women were expected to learn, what Millie offers to teach Morag: lessons in “basic black with pearls,” and rules that the emerging writer eventually breaks in her growing awareness of other ways of understanding the world and knowing.

19Herein lies the most powerful feature of Laurence’s depiction of a woman writer of her generation: the interrogation of conventional knowledge and received wisdom. Central to this project is Morag’s exploration of language and The Diviners’s valorization of contradiction. Opening under the sign of contradiction, with “the river [that] flowed both ways... this apparently impossible contradiction, made apparent and possible” (3), the novel valorizes contradiction as a means of escaping the dictates and conventions that shape human understanding and experience:

Over and above its reflection on language, The Diviners probes the assumptions underlying language and the ideas and concepts that become formalized as knowledge and truth by it. The exploration of questions of difference leads Laurence to consider not only the privilege of language but also the privilege of the centre and the visual in the apprehension and representation of reality. Other means to these ends are proposed and examined. Particularly intriguing is the suggested potential of a form of faith represented by the intuitive guess. (Verduyn, “Contra/dictions/s” 67)

  • 21 As practised by Dan McRaith, Jules Tonnerre, Royland, and Morag, respectively. “Morag’s exploratio (...)
  • 22 See Robert Kroestch’s essay in this volume, and Helen M. Buss (1985) for more about the importance (...)
  • 23 Verduyn, “Contra/dictions/s,” 67.
  • 24 Engel mooted the possibility of a commune of women helping other women in The Glassy Sea, and Laur (...)

20 The Diviners considers the possibilities offered by painting, music, divining, and the “intuitive guess”21 as ways toward understanding—hardly conventional approaches to knowledge. But as Laurence’s novel suggests, contravention and contradiction are the conditions of the woman writer in Canada in the years following the Second World War, when aspiring to be an artist still challenged social expectations concerning women. The Diviners affirms the “contradictory” blind sight of the diviner, able to locate water no one can see. It suggests knowing an “other” way, not dazzled by the sun (son)22 like Plato’s cave dwellers, led out of the dark and into the world of men to learn how to see, how to know: to know, like Plato, objective reality and not its “mere” shadow representation; to know with certainty. Laurence’s woman writer “would never know” (369) in this way. “That wasn’t given to her to know. In a sense, it did not matter. The necessary doing of the thing—that mattered” (369). In The Diviners, Laurence confirms the importance of the act of writing, despite the shortcomings of language. “Words may convey or betray, and meaning may be contradictory, but writing remains a necessary possibility”23 for Morag, wordsmith: “She had known it all along, but not really known” (369). Writing is another way of knowing—Morag’s way—as she realizes when her marriage crumbles around the completion of her first novel. “I know you know a lot about novels,” she tells Brooke. “But I know something, as well. Different from reading or teaching” (213). Morag’s is a different knowledge, like that of the diviner, inexplicable, “unreasonable.” “I could understand it better,” Brooke replies to Morag’s admission that she knows only that she must leave him, “if you could just give me one reason” (227). But, as Royland remarks about A-Okay’s effort to divine, it is not in reason that one learns: A-Okay could learn if “he can just get over wanting to explain it” (369). Where Plato’s cavemen seek knowledge in an upward movement toward enlightened reason, Laurence’s cavewoman finds knowledge among the shadows, in the downward motion of the diver/diviner. This is no easy feat, Morag discovers, as she experiences “the terrors of the cave” (211), her “own darkness” (211), the “deep and terrifying night” (225). These, too, are part of Laurence’s portrait of the woman writer in The Diviners, and Engel’s in The Glassy Sea. Their vision of shared community notwithstanding,24 loneliness and insecurity were common conditions for women writers of their generation. Their protagonists face the shadows, dive into darkness, swim in deep waters. Therein lies their heroism, and in time their pearls—their writing and their knowing.

21Pearl Cavewoman participates in Laurence’s valorization of the unconventional and contradictory in life, her authorization of woman as artist. She incorporates the “both/and” condition women writers of Laurence’s and Engel’s generation experienced, as both mothers and writers, women and artists. Both “primitive” (cavewoman) and “refined” (pearls), Pearl Cavewoman is knowledgeable and cultured—in her own, unconventional way. Above all, she is heroic, braving the conditions of loneliness and insecurity, which are those of the shadowy cave, to be, against all odds, a woman who writes.

Bibliographie

WORKS CITED

Buss, Helen M. Mother and Daughter Relationships in the Manawaka Works of Margaret Laurence. Victoria: Victoria UP, 1985.

Engel, Marian. Monodromos. Toronto: Anansi, 1973.

—. Bear. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1976.

—. The Glassy Sea. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1978.

—. The Tattooed Woman. Toronto: Penguin, 1985.

Klein, Ernest. A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Amsterdam and London: Elsevier, 1966.

Ricou, Laurence. Vertical Man, Horizontal World. Vancouver: U of British Columbia P, 1973.

Verduyn, Christl. “Contra/dictions/s: Language in Laurence’s The Diviners, The Journal of Canadian Studies/La Revue d’études canadiennes 26, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 52-67.

—. Lifelines: Marian Engel’s Writings. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 1995.

Woodcock, George. George Woodcock’s Introduction to Canadian Fiction. Toronto: ECW, 1993.

Notes

1 Unnamed protagonist of the tide story of Engel’s posthumously published collection The Tattooed Woman. As I argue in Lifelines: Marian Engel’s Writings, the tattooed woman embodies several key concerns of Engel’s work, including female identity and women’s artistic re-presentation.

2 Located among Engel’s papers, held in The Marian Engel Archive at McMaster University. The letters cited are part of the Second Accession, which I consulted in July–August 1993. The accession has since been catalogued by Dr. Kathy Garay, Division of Archives and Research Collections, Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University, who also catalogued the first instalment of papers belonging to Marian Engel. The first accession, acquired by McMaster University in 1982, is fully described in the Library Research News 8, no. 2 (Autumn 1984).

3 This and other letters cited are located in The Marian Engel Archive (Second Accession), Box 31, File 55, Mills Memorial Library, McMaster University.

4 Laurence and Engel were exchanging notes about Jane Austen, who figured in the opening lines of the novel Engel was working on at the time of her death, “Elizabeth and the Golden City.”

5 cave... O I[ndian]... savas-, “strength,” heroism, savirah, surah, “strong.” A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language 1, p. 253.

6 Margaret fr. L Margarita “pearl”; Marguerite OF [Old French] margarite “pearl.” A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language 2, p. 938.

7 Engel’s novel demonstrates that Rita takes after her namesake Pelagia as well.

8 The Pearls, a childless couple, later billet Jules Tonnerre when he attends school. This is one of several links between Morag and Jules.

9 Greek for grandmother, old woman.

10 The bear is said to resemble “a fat dignified old woman with his nose to the wind” (138).

11 From nonna—an old woman, a nun; fem. Of nonnus—an old man, a monk.

12 Title of the feminist work, written collaboratively by Hélène Cixous, Madeleine Gagnon, and Annie Leclerc, published by UGE, 10/18, Paris, 1977.

13 “Finally (could she have been losing her figure? Were her pursuers drawing too near?) she sat herself and her splendid pearls at the feet of the Bishop and asked to be converted... She became a holy person, and many years later, when an ancient eremite was being laid to rest, a Desert Father of large piety, much visited by troubled young hermits whose control over their starving visions was incomplete, the body was discovered to be female, that of Pelagia, not Pelagius” (78).

14 See George Woodcock: “In her Manawaka cycle, Margaret Laurence uses the ancient doctrine of the four elements and their corresponding humours to illuminate in mythical terms the life journeys towards self-knowledge of four women of widely various types. Hagar the earth-bound in The Stone Angel, Stacey the fire-threatened in The Fire-Dwellers, the airily insubstantial Rachel in A Jest of God, and fluid Morag in The Diviners” (142).

15 Morag’s husband, Brooke Skelton, on the other hand, prefers the status quo, especially in response to his wife’s desire for children. “Personally,” Brooke says mildly, “I like it here with just the two of us” (181).

16 From the evocative title of Alice Munro’s 1971 book. Munro’s work also probes the small-town socialization process of young women and the struggle toward life as an artist/writer.

17 As Rita’s brother Stuart aptly renames Asher (107).

18 A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English Language 1, p. 254.

19 This is a reference to Laurence Ricou’s 1973 study Vertical Man, Horizontal World.

20 “She took the blade out of her razor and washed it. She went and sat at her dressing table and turned the mirrored lights on. I am forty-two and she is twenty-one, she thought. Neatly and very lightly, she carved a little star on her forehead. Experience must show, she thought” (The Tattooed Woman, 5-6).

21 As practised by Dan McRaith, Jules Tonnerre, Royland, and Morag, respectively. “Morag’s exploration of language, unfolding under the sign of contradiction, leads beyond scientific fact to a form of faith and perhaps ultimately to a sort of intuitive ‘guess.’ In The Diviners, where language is a central concern, and the French language a deliberate presence, the shift from the English diviner to the French deviner is potential if not intentional. This possible conceptual shift might be considered in relation to the privileged place guessing appears to enjoy in the novel... An intuitive approach is contemplated as perhaps more appropriate than conventions of knowledge and certainty” (Verduyn, “Contra/dictions/s,” 66).

22 See Robert Kroestch’s essay in this volume, and Helen M. Buss (1985) for more about the importance of the daughter in Laurence’s work.

23 Verduyn, “Contra/dictions/s,” 67.

24 Engel mooted the possibility of a commune of women helping other women in The Glassy Sea, and Laurence vehemently rejected the excluding snobbery of the Bloomsbury group.

Auteur

Department of English
Wilfrid Laurier University
Waterloo, Ontario

© Les Presses de l’Université d’Ottawa | University of Ottawa Press, 2001

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

Acheter

Volume papier

amazon.fr