Jean Margaret Wemyss was born on July 18, 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada. She began writing at the age of eight, and at age thirteen she sent a story to a Winnipeg Free Press competition; in that story, she first used the name Manawaka for a town similar to her native Neepawa. She contributed stories to her school magazines and later to the university magazine when she attended United College in Winnipeg. She completed a B.A. in honors English from that institution in 1947 and went to work as a reporter on the Winnipeg Citizen. She married Jack Laurence, an engineer, and moved with him to England in 1949. In 1950, her husband was offered a job in Somaliland to build dams in the desert, and so the Laurences moved to Africa, a place that would have a strong effect on Margaret Laurence’s writing career. It was there that she began to write seriously.
In 1952, the couple moved to Ghana, where Jocelyn was born. Laurence had been translating Somali folktales and poetry, which were published as A Tree for Poverty: Somali Poetry and Prose by the Somali government in 1954. That same year, the Laurences’ son David was born. In 1957, the family returned to Vancouver, Canada.
In 1960, her novel This Side Jordan was published simultaneously in Canada, England, and the United States. Two years later, she separated from Jack Laurence and moved with her children to Buckinghamshire, England. There, she published her...
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Margaret Laurence was born Jean Margaret Wemyss on July 18, 1926, in Neepawa, Manitoba, to Robert Wemyss and the former Verna Jean Simpson. Laurence’s mother’s family was of Irish descent; her father’s, Scottish. Although she was separated from the “old country” on both sides by at least two generations, her early memories, like those of Vanessa MacLeod in the short stories in A Bird in the House and of Morag Gunn in The Diviners, are of a proud and lively Scottish ancestry.
When Laurence was four, her mother died, and her aunt, Margaret Simpson, left a respected teaching career in Calgary and went home to care for her niece. A year later, she and Robert Wemyss were married. They had one son, Robert, born only two years before his father died of pneumonia. In 1938, Margaret Simpson Wemyss took the two children and moved in with her father, the owner of a furniture store. This domestic situation in slightly altered form provides the setting for the Vanessa MacLeod stories in A Bird in the House. Laurence lived in Grandfather Simpson’s house until she went to United College, University of Winnipeg, in 1944.
John Simpson was a fierce and autocratic man of eighty-two when his widowed daughter and her two children moved in with him. Laurence resented his authority over her and her stepmother; this relationship fostered Laurence’s empathy with women struggling toward freedom. All of her heroines—Hagar Shipley, Rachel Cameron, Vanessa MacLeod, Stacey MacAindra, and Morag Gunn—struggle against oppressive forces, and Laurence’s recurring theme of the lack of communication between men and women, as well as between women and women, is rooted in the domestic situation in Grandfather Simpson’s house. It appears...
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