Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Many novelists, from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe to James Joyce to James Michener, have written novels describing the lives of young artists and the paths by which they came to be novelists. It was not until later, however, that women novelists began to undertake the same task. Laurence is among the most distinguished of these, and The Diviners is among the most impressive examples of the genre.

The Diviners is unusual in more than the fact that it tells of a woman artist’s life. The Kunstlerroman is most often written at a fairly early stage of the writer’s career and is usually focused on the adolescent and early adult years of the artist’s life; Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is an obvious example. It is significant that Laurence uses the vantage point of early middle age for her protagonist’s story, since it suggests that the struggle for a woman to become a respected writer is longer than that for many male authors. This struggle involves not only the fears and discoveries of childhood and adolescence but also the necessity to resolve the question of the place of love and marriage and motherhood in the life of the woman for whom an artistic career is a necessity. The Diviners is a feminist novel in the sense that it strongly suggests that such problems are more serious, and pose more difficulties, for women than for men. It may also be feminist in its suggestion that however tough the writer must be in insisting on being given space and time for his or her art, dedication to literature or any other art cannot remove the need for close human contact, nor does it absolve the individual of responsibility to others. The Diviners thus broadens the definition of the artist-novel, becoming a classic of feminist and Canadian fiction.