(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.)


(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.)