The Stone Angel, first edition
First edition
The Stone Angel
Novel, 1964
approx. 106,000 words,
303 pages @350 wds/pg

Listed on:

• Greatest Literature list

• Greatest Canadian Literature list

First line: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Above the town, on the hill brow, the stone angel used to stand.

Great lines: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Privacy is a privilege not granted to the aged or the young.

Bless me or not, Lord, just as You please, for I'll not beg.

How it irks me to have to take her hand, allow her to pull my dress over my head, undo my corsets and strip them off my, and have her see my blue veined swollen flesh and the hairy triangle that still proclaims with lunatic insistence a non-existent womanhood.

Last line: [SHOW] [HIDE]

And then—

The author: [SHOW] [HIDE]

In the hearts of Canadians of a certain age, Margaret Laurence has a special place as the first great novelist of their own country they ever read. Morley.... more

The movie: [SHOW] [HIDE]

Great expectations preceded the film adaptation of The Stone Angel, an iconic and iconoclastic Canadian novel. (Take that characterization.... more

COMMENTARY

Raging against the light

Several times during readings of The Stone Angel I have been so impressed by Margaret Laurence's complete commitment to the character, the elderly Hagar Shipley who relives her entire life in memory while on the lam from a nursing home. A great sustained acting job, never stepping out of character.

Then occasionally I've found something forced and obvious about the narration, written by Laurence when she was still in her thirties, as though the author was trying too hard to come across as a crusty, old gal with a life of secrets unknown to the younger folks.

But mostly I'm just completely taken.

I've seen several reviews about what an heroic and inspiring character Hagar is. True, she is strong, proud and bold. But she's also a mean, petty, headstrong woman who ruined one son and is making life a misery for her other one. She has regrets for things she's done but it's unlikely she'd change much if she had the chance to live it all over again. Yes, she has suffered many hardships which she has had to overcome in her life, but, more often, she has been a victim of her own pig-headedness and narrow-mindedness which she will never overcome. In short, she's a real person, not an inspiring example for a Reader's Digest article. Somehow you come to love her without ever liking her.

Most impressive is that we the readers see the various ambiguities that Hagar has refused to face during her life, despite the story being told entirely by Hagar. Laurence's sentences are short and declarative, but get across greater meanings than conveyed directly by the words. We see through Hagar's eyes what she sees—and much more. We even see things that Hagar does not want us to see. Sometimes we doubt what she tells us she sees. We come to recognize how she shades and colours what she reports and we make allowances to discover our own truths.

The economy of expression rises to the level of mastery. For example, rather than go on about the weather as some authors do, Laurence, in Hagar's voice, will simply note, "Rain."

What more do we need for the sake of the story? That's my kind of writing.

The Stone Angel is one of those novels that made many of us become readers in the first place. It takes us inside someone else's mind, not to escape our own lives but to challenge them.

— Eric

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Author
Margaret Laurence

Novel
The Diviners

Movies
The Stone Angel

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The Diviners
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The Stone Angel
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