two months, three weeks, three nights

"A woman, if she is to write, Virginia Woolf once said, (or words to that effect), must have a room of her own. The garret bit never appealed to Morag unduly, but by God, it is at least a room of her own." p. 294

I'm just back from a short bit of lovely, homey holidays. Quiet days spent in southern B.C., where the snow was falling and wind whipping and I had every excuse in the world to wrap myself up in a blanket and read Margaret Laurence's The Diviners.

I have to tell you, I've found a new author to obsess over.

Laurence's work -- no surprise for any fan of CanLit -- is frankly brilliant. Thirty-four years after first publication, The Diviners still reads as absolutely ground-breaking. I marvel at the painful honesty with which Laurence treats her heroine, Morag Gunn.

This is the story of a woman who longs for something just out of reach, always. In the deep of the Depression, she wants to have money. In the heart of a loving but disgustingly poor home -- and Laurence marvels in the dusty, grungy, smelly corners of this small Manitoba home -- Morag wants to be clean, to smell good, to be smiled upon by fortune and neighbours.

"'I want to be glamorous and adored and get married and have kids. I still try to kid myself that I don't want that. But I do. I want all that. As well. All I want is everything,'" (p. 182) Morag tells her friend.

In finding herself, Gunn learns all the uses of a man. I don't mean that to sound shallow or vulgar. What I mean is, this is no romance novel. This is no tale of happily ever after.

In marriage, she wants to know her husband absolutely. Completely. She wants to be his equal, she wants him to take care of her. She wants a child. And so, over time, she learns man can be provider. Lover. Father. Friend. One-night stand. A man can be used for what a woman needs, the way a woman can be used for what a man needs.

For me, the haunting aspect of the novel is that, sometimes, a lifelong search can leave your hands empty. Depending on what you're looking for. I know that sounds cryptic, but I don't want to ruin this novel for you if you've not read it. On my little holiday alone, I read over the book almost three times. Before I'd gotten halfway through, I needed to go back and skim through again, review for lost clues. Once finished, I read it all one more time, studying Laurence's great attention to the importance of culture and personal or imagined history. Her decision to use sex as illustration of loneliness, love, isolation and one woman's choice to drop everything expected of her.

I'm not the first or last person to analyze Margaret Laurence. And, you could probably find much better analysis in a high school English class. But I was so very moved by the rich detail.

"You can't go home again, said Thomas Wolfe. Morag wonders now if it may be the reverse which is true. You have to go home again, in some way or other. This concept cannot yet be looked at." p. 302


erin said...

Dude! Now I totally want to re-read it, since I don't remember the plot at all... and now I DEFINITELY recommend "The Stone Angel". And YAY!! A Canadian female author that we can both love!

TSS said...

This entry and a recommendation from another friend have inspired me to pick it up. I have never read any Laurence either (what with her being Canadian, and a woman to boot), but you never know.