Writing Grief

Margaret Laurence and the Work of Mourning


Margaret Laurence's much admired Manawaka fiction—The Stone Angel, A Jest of God, The Fire-Dwellers, A Bird in the House, and The Diviners—has achieved remarkable recognition for its compassionate portrayal of the attempt to find meaning and peace in ordinary life. In Writing Grief, Christian Riegel argues that the protagonists in these books achieve resolution through acts of mourning, placing this fiction within the larger tradition of writing that explores the nuances and strategies of mourning.

Riegel's analysis alludes to sociological and literary antecedants of the study of mourning, including the tradition of elegy, from Derrida and Lacan to Freud, van Gennep, and Milton. The "work" of mourning is necessary to move from a state of emotional paralysis to one of acceptance and active engagement. Laurence's characters "perform the work of mourning ... returning over and over again to the key issues relating to loss," and, as Riegel's close examination of the texts suggests, are changed thereafter fundamentally and significantly.

As an important study of one aspect of Laurence's oeuvre, Writing Grief not only illustrates how Laurence's own preoccupations with mourning are figured, but also how different ways of working through grief result in renewed potential for consolation and connection, and "a renewed definition of self."

About the Author

Christian Riegel teaches Canadian Literature, Genre Studies, and Poetry courses at Campion College at the University of Regina. He is the editor of Challenging Territory: The Writing of Margaret Laurence and A Sense of Place: Re-evaluating Regionalism in Canadian and American Writing, and has published interviews and articles about several Canadian writers.