(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Stone Diaries is the story of the life of Daisy Goodwill Hoad Flett. The novel is divided into ten chapters, beginning with “Birth, 1905” and ending with “Death.” A fictional biography of a Canadian American woman, the novel spans her childhood, marriages, children, work, decline, and death.

Narrated by several different voices, but most often by Daisy herself, the novel weaves a complex pattern of stories that belie the chronological layout of the book. The description of Daisy’s own birth, for example, is told by Daisy in the first person. The narration begins in Tyndall, Manitoba, with Daisy’s mother, Mercy Stone Goodwill, making dinner on a hot summer day; one hour later, the mother has died giving birth. Interwoven into this chapter are the courtship stories of Mercy and Cuyler, freighted with emotions that could never have been described to the child by her father and revealing a first mystery: Mercy had not hidden her pregnancy from her husband but had simply been unaware of it herself.

Daisy is cared for by her parents’ neighbor, Clarentine Flett, who takes the infant child with her when she leaves her husband and goes to Winnipeg to live with her son, a college professor. The narrative in this chapter includes description of Cuyler’s building the stone tower on the grave of Mercy, and letters from Barker and Clarentine Flett advance the plot. Daisy’s character develops through her response to illness, a response that includes her discovery of an “absence inside herself,” a discovery that she lacked “the kernel of authenticity.”

Her marriage in 1927 leads to a defining moment for Daisy: her husband’s fall from a window while they are on their honeymoon in France, dramatically ending their unconsummated marriage and leaving Daisy to...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

The Stone Diaries Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Daisy Goodwill is born to Mercy Stone Goodwill, a large woman who had not realized she was pregnant until she was giving birth. Mercy dies in childbirth, and her devastated husband, Cuyler, leaves Daisy in the care of a neighbor, Clarentine Flett.

Clarentine soon leaves her husband and moves with Daisy to Winnipeg, where the two live with Clarentine’s botanist son, Barker. Clarentine begins a flower business. Cuyler remains in Tyndall, building a massive stone monument to his late wife; the monument is known as the Goodwill Tower. People come from all over to view it, not realizing that it actually obscures Mercy’s headstone.

Daisy is now eleven years old. After surviving a bout of measles followed by pneumonia, her guardian, Clarentine, dies in an accident. Cuyler, thanks to the attention he received from the Goodwill Tower, has gotten a lucrative job offer in Bloomington, Indiana. He comes to Tyndall to claim Daisy.

Eleven years later, Daisy is engaged to be married. Her fiancé is an alcoholic who dies on their honeymoon, leaving the marriage unconsummated. Magnus Flett, Barker’s father, has been so affected by his wife’s abandonment that he returns to his home on the Orkney Islands and memorizes his wife’s copy of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre. After Daisy’s first husband dies, she spends the next nine years living at home with her father, who is now remarried. Thanks to some money she receives from...

(The entire section is 589 words.)

The Stone Diaries Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Stone Diaries, Shields depicts the life of her fictional heroine, Daisy Goodwill Flett, by gathering the bits and pieces of that life into a form that resembles an autobiography or personal diary. This arrangement allows her to comment on the nature of autobiography and the fragmented ways in which one person must piece together his or her own life. The text is divided into sections reflecting the major events of Daisy’s life: “birth,” “childhood,” “love,” “marriage,” “motherhood,” “work,” “sorrow,” “ease,” “illness and decline,” and “death.” The neatness of these descriptors, however, is overshadowed by the slipperiness of memory and consequence. As the narrator says at the beginning of the novel:The recounting of a life is a cheat, of course; I admit the truth of this; even our own stories are obscenely distorted; it is a wonder really that we keep faith with the simple container of our existence.

Throughout the retelling of Daisy’s life, the reader may wonder how Daisy knows the information that she recalls. Furthermore, narrative shifts occur periodically throughout the novel, sometimes altering the point of view to another character’s perspective. Other times, Daisy is clearly speaking as the first-person narrator. Other disruptions include newspaper articles inserted in the text, as well as letters, dialogue, lists, and even photos. These disruptions put the onus on the reader to piece together Daisy’s life, even as Daisy proposes to be the person telling her story. Though in diary format, the reader has more information about Daisy than she has about herself.

The novel opens with Daisy’s unlikely retelling of her unusual birth. Her mother, Mercy Stone, an orphan whose last name becomes synonymous with the local industry—stonecutting—is immensely fat as well as naïve about the physiology of her own body. Thus, Mercy conceives and carries to term her daughter, Daisy, without anyone, including herself, knowing she was pregnant. As a result, Daisy is born to an unprepared mother who dies in childbirth. Her neighbor, Clarentine Flett,...

(The entire section is 883 words.)

The Stone Diaries Summary

Epigraph and Genealogy

The Stone Diaries begins with an epigraph, which is identified as a quotation from a...

(The entire section is 5330 words.)