Transcript: Interview: Margaret Laurence | Mar 31, 1977

Mike McManus appears in a dark television studio with a lit-up sign that reads his name.
He’s in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted gray hair. He’s wearing a beige suit, white shirt, and dark brown tie.

He says SURVIVAL, COMMUNICATION, THE
PAST, PITIFUL AND COURAGEOUS
ATTEMPTS TO FIND
AND GIVE LOVE.
THESE ARE SOME OF THE
THEMES FROM THE NOVELS
OF MARGARET LAURENCE.
MY GUEST, MARGARET LAURENCE.
OUR SUBJECT, HER LONG
VOYAGE BACK HOME.

(music plays)
In animation, the phrase “The education of Mike McManus” flies by, as Mike walks across the studio and joins Margaret Laurence at a small round table.

The opening sequence rolls.
Soft flute music plays.

Portraits of Mike made of dots in different colours flash by as the title flies by: The Education of Mike McManus.

Then, Mike and Margaret appear on screen again.
Margaret is in her late forties, with brown hair in a bob. She’s wearing rounded glasses and a flowery dress.

Mike says CLARA THOMAS, MARGARET,
SAID OF YOUR LAST BOOK,
THE DIVINERS, THAT IT WAS
THE STORY OF A PROFOUNDLY
RELIGIOUS PILGRIMAGE.
THE AFFIRMATION OF FAITH
AND THE FINDING OF GRACE.
AND I'M WONDERING IN WHAT
SENSE WAS IT A PILGRIMAGE
TO YOU PERSONALLY?

Margaret says WELL, I THINK THE WRITING
OF ANY NOVEL, FOR A SERIOUS
WRITER, IS, IN A
SENSE, A PILGRIMAGE.
ONE DISCOVERS A GREAT DEAL, I
THINK, ABOUT ONESELF THROUGH
WRITING ABOUT CHARACTERS
WHO MAY NOT BE ONESELF,
BUT WHOM ONE IS
TRYING TO UNDERSTAND.
I THINK IN
THE DIVINERS,
THE
TITLE IS REALLY THE KEY TO
THE WHOLE THING BECAUSE THE
DIVINERS, THERE WAS NOT JUST
THE ONE DIVINER WHICH WAS
ROYLAND WHO DIVINED FOR WATER,
MORAG IS A CREATIVE
ARTIST IN HER WAY.
AND JULES, WHO COMPOSED
SONGS, IN HIS WAY.
THEY WERE BOTH DIVINERS, TOO.
THEY WERE DIVINERS
AFTER TRUTH.
AND I THINK THIS IS TRUE
OF MOST CREATIVE ARTISTS.
AND IN THAT SENSE, OF COURSE,
THE WAY IN WHICH I FEEL
PERSONALLY ABOUT IT WAS
THAT ALTHOUGH THIS NOVEL IS
CERTAINLY, BY NO MEANS,
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL, IT COULD BE
DESCRIBED IN A SENSE AS A
SPIRITUAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY.
IN OTHER WORDS, THE EXTERNAL
EVENTS OF MORAG'S LIFE WERE
NOT THINGS THAT, IN FACT,
HAPPENED TO ME, BUT THE
STANCES TOWARDS LIFE, THE
DISCOVERIES WERE THINGS
THROUGH WHICH I
HAD ALSO PASSED.
AND I THINK THE THING ABOUT
THE RELIGIOUS ASPECT OF IT TO
ME, I MEAN RELIGIOUS IN THE
VERY BROADEST SENSE, IS THAT
MORAG FINALLY DISCOVERS, AS
SHE HAS SENSED ALL ALONG, THAT
ANY KIND OF CREATIVE WORK, ANY
KIND OF CREATIVE ART, IS IN A
WAY, AN ATTEMPT TO CONNECT
WITH THE MYSTERY WHICH IS
AT THE CORE OF LIFE.
AND THE NAME FOR THAT
MYSTERY MIGHT BE GOD.
WHEN I SPEAK OF GRACE --
I MEAN THIS IS SOMETHING
THAT EVERY WRITER KNOWS.
AND EVERY ARTIST IN
EVERY CULTURE KNOWS.
BECAUSE ALTHOUGH THE CHRISTIAN
TERM FOR IT IS GRACE, THIS IS
SOMETHING EXPERIENCED BY
ARTISTS IN EVERY SINGLE
CULTURE, IN EVERY AGE OF
MANKIND, WHICH IS WHEN ONE
OCCASIONALLY FINDS THAT YOU
ARE WRITING OR PERFORMING
BETTER THAN YOU HAVE
THE ABILITY TO PERFORM,
YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THE
THING WERE A GIFT.
NOT A TALENT OF YOURS, BUT
SOMETHING GIVEN TO YOU TO DO.
AND THIS, I THINK, EXPRESSES
SOME OF MY FEELINGS ABOUT
THE CREATIVE ACT.

Mike says THE END PRODUCT BEING
MORE THAN JUST THE PARTS.
YOU USE AT THE BEGINNING OF
THE DIVINERS, AND AGAIN AT
THE END, THE SYMBOL OF THE
RIVER FLOWING, AND THE SOUTH
WIND, FLOWING NORTH TO SOUTH,
AND THAT SOUTH WIND COMING
UP, AND IT ALMOST APPEARS THAT
THE RIVER IS FLOWING BOTH WAYS.

Margaret says YES, WELL NOW THAT, OF
COURSE, WAS INTERESTING
BECAUSE IT BRINGS UP AN
INTERESTING ASPECT OF SYMBOLISM.
BECAUSE I DON'T BELIEVE YOU
SHOULD SUPERIMPOSE SYMBOLS
ON A WORK.
I BELIEVE THEY SHOULD BE WHAT
I CALL GRASSROOTS SYMBOLS.
THEY GROW THERE.
THEY ARE THERE NATURALLY.
WHILE I WAS WRITING THAT
BACK, I WAS OUT AT MY SUMMER
COTTAGE ON THE OTONABEE
RIVER, NEAR PETERBOROUGH,
AND INDEED, THE OTONABEE DOES
APPEAR TO BE FLOWING BOTH
WAYS BECAUSE THE BREEZE COMES
FROM A DIFFERENT DIRECTION
TO THE CURRENT.
SO THE RIVER SOMEHOW FOUND
ITS WAY INTO THE NOVEL.
AND IT SEEMED TO ME IT DID
HAVE THAT KIND OF EXTRA
DIMENSION OF MEANING, IT
SEEMED TO ME THAT IT
REPRESENTED THE TWO WAYS
IN WHICH TIME FLOWS.
THAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP
AMONG ALL THE GENERATIONS.
THAT THE PAST IS ALWAYS THE
PRESENT IS ALWAYS THE FUTURE.
THAT WE ARE NOT
DISCONNECTED FROM HISTORY.
WE ARE NOT DISCONNECTED FROM
OUR PAST, FROM OUR ANCESTORS,
AND INDEED FROM OUR CHILDREN,
AND FROM OUR DESCENDANTS
WHOM WE WILL NEVER SEE.

Mike says THE PAST IS VERY
IMPORTANT TO YOU.
YOU SAY THAT IT
HAUNTS THE MIND.
AND MANAWAKA IS A PLACE
TO BE ESCAPED FROM,
BUT A PLACE THAT'S
FINALLY INESCAPABLE.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Margaret Laurence."

Margaret says YES, NOW I THINK OF THIS
NOW IN A VERY POSITIVE WAY.
OF COURSE, WHEN I, MYSELF, WAS
VERY YOUNG, GROWING UP IN A
SMALL PRAIRIE TOWN, LIKE MOST
KIDS OF MY GENERATION, WHEN I
WAS ABOUT 18, I COULDN'T WAIT
TO GET OUT OF THE PLACE.
YET NOW I FIND MYSELF LIVING
IN A SMALL TOWN NOT UNLIKE
THE ONE IN WHICH I GREW UP.
AND OF COURSE THERE IS THIS
KIND OF, IN
THE DIVINERS
ANYWAY, THIS KIND OF PARADISE
LOST AND REGAINED THEME.
WHERE YOU LEAVE HOME BECAUSE
YOU HAVE TO, IN A SENSE,
EDEN IS LOST.
AND EDEN IS NEVER
REGAINED IN THAT WAY.
BUT YOU FIND AND MAKE YOUR
OWN HOME AT SOME POINT.
SO THAT IN A WAY, YOUR
LIFE COMES FULL CIRCLE.
AND I FEEL NOW THAT THOMAS
WOLFE, WHO SAID YOU CAN'T GO
HOME AGAIN, I DON'T AGREE.
I THINK YOU
HAVE
TO GO HOME AGAIN.
NOT NECESSARILY TO THE
PHYSICAL PLACE IN WHICH YOU
WERE BORN AND GREW UP, BUT IN
YOUR HEART, AND IN YOUR MIND,
TO COME TO SOME KIND OF
POSITIVE TERMS WITH YOUR PAST
SO THAT YOU CAN ASSIMILATE IT.
SO IT NO LONGER THREATENS YOU,
BUT THAT YOU ASSIMILATE IT,
AND IN THAT WAY, HONOUR IT.

Mike says WHY DO YOU ALSO FEEL IT'S
IMPORTANT, MARGARET,
TO UNDERSTAND EVEN
THE DISTANT PAST?
TO UNDERSTAND EXPERIENCES
OF PEOPLE THAT YOU'VE NEVER
REALLY KNOWN?

Margaret says WELL, THE WHOLE ANCESTRAL
THEME IS A VERY IMPORTANT
ONE TO ME.
I THINK PARTLY BECAUSE ONLY
THROUGH HAVING THAT SENSE OF
WHO OUR ANCESTORS WERE DO WE
REALLY KNOW WHERE WE CAME
FROM, AND THEREFORE,
WHAT FORMED US.
HISTORY DID NOT
BEGIN WITH US.
IT BEGAN SO UNIMAGINABLY LONG
AGO, THAT I DON'T EVEN MEAN
OUR OWN PERSONAL ANCESTORS.
THERE IS A POINT IN DISTANT
TIME WHEN THE ANCESTORS BECOME
EVERYBODY'S ANCESTORS.
AND I THINK THAT IT'S
IMPORTANT TO CONNECT WITH THAT
SENSE OF THE DISTANT PAST IN
ORDER TO TRY AND SEE WHO
WE ARE AND WHERE
WE MAY BE GOING.

Mike says EVEN THE DISCOVERY THAT
REALLY THOSE ANCESTORS
ARE NOT YOU?

Margaret says WELL, OF COURSE, I THINK,
THIS AGAIN BRINGS UP THE
INTERESTING QUESTION OF MYTH.
SOMEBODY ONCE SAID MAN
IS A MYTH-MAKING ANIMAL.
AND THIS IS TRUE.
WITHOUT OUR HEROIC FIGURES, OR
WITHOUT OUR MYTHS AND LEGENDS
OF THE PAST, WE
HAVE NO BACKGROUND.
NOW, THE THING IS THAT WE MAKE
MYTHS, AS I TRIED TO SUGGEST
IN
THE DIVINERS, IN VERY
INTERESTING AND COMPLEX WAYS.
WE MAKE MYTHS OUT OF
OUR DISTANT ANCESTORS.
WE ALSO FIND THAT WE ARE
MAKING MYTHS OUT OF OUR MORE
IMMEDIATE ANCESTORS, JUST AS
MORAG, ULTIMATELY, IS TELLING
TALES TO HER DAUGHTER,
HER YOUNG DAUGHTER, ABOUT
CHRISTIE, AND CHRISTIE AND
LAZARUS, TO THE CHILD BECOME
MYTHS, KIND OF IN A SENSE
ALMOST LARGER THAN LIFE FIGURES.
JUST AS CHRISTIE TRIED TO
GIVE MORAG A SENSE OF HER OWN
PLACE OF BELONGING, HER OWN
ANCESTRY, BY TELLING HER MYTHS
BASED ON HISTORICAL FACT, BUT
ABOUT A MYTHICAL ANCESTOR,
PIPER GUNN.

Mike says I KNOW THAT BOTH OF YOUR
PARENTS WERE DEAD BY THE TIME
YOU WERE TEN.
THAT YOU WERE RAISED
BY A STEPMOTHER.
AND YOU WERE WRITING WHEN YOU
WERE VERY YOUNG, AND YOU WERE
ENCOURAGED BY YOUR STEPMOTHER.
WE HAVE TO MAKE LEAPS.
I KNOW MARRIAGE TOOK YOU TO
ENGLAND AND AFRICA, BUT IN
1964, WITH
THE STONE ANGEL,
AND THAT UNFORGETTABLE
CHARACTER OF HAGAR SHIPLEY,
SOMEONE SAID WITH THIS BOOK
YOU FOUND THE WAY
BACK TO MANAWAKA.

Margaret says WELL, THIS IS EXTREMELY TRUE.
IT WAS THE FIRST BOOK THAT
I WROTE OUT OF MY OWN
PRAIRIE BACKGROUND.
AND, ODDLY ENOUGH, THE NAME
MANAWAKA WAS ONE I MADE UP.
IT'S A MADE-UP NAME.
IT'S NOT AN ACTUAL
INDIAN NAME.
I HAD MADE THAT NAME UP MANY
YEARS AGO WHEN I WAS IN MY
TEENS, AND HAD WRITTEN
SOME THINGS OUT OF THAT
BACKGROUND, AND FILED
IT AWAY, I SUPPOSE.
AND WHEN I WROTE
STONE
ANGEL, I REALIZED THIS WAS
THE NAME I SHOULD USE.
AND THAT FOR THE FIRST TIME, I
WAS REALLY WRITING OUT OF
MY OWN CULTURE AND
MY OWN PEOPLE.
NOW, THERE AGAIN, PEOPLE
ALWAYS ASK ME IF I HAD EVER
KNOWN ANYBODY
EXACTLY LIKE HAGAR.
AND THE ANSWER IS NO.
BUT IN MY OWN HOMETOWN OF
NEEPAWA, I WOULD VENTURE TO
SUGGEST THAT THERE MAY HAVE
BEEN A NUMBER OF OLD WOMEN
WHO, IF NOT EXACTLY LIKE
HAGAR, HAD HER COURAGE AND
HER INDOMITABLE SPIRIT, AND
ALSO HER SENSE OF FEAR
OF WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBOURS
THINK, AND SO ON.
SO THAT IN THAT BOOK, WHICH WAS
A VERY GREAT PLEASURE TO WRITE,
I WENT BACK FOR THE FIRST
TIME AND KNEW THAT I HAD TO
HEREAFTER, WRITE OUT OF MY OWN
CULTURE, AND MY OWN PEOPLE.
AND I DISCOVERED, WHEN I WAS
WRITING IT, ALL SORTS OF IDIOM
FROM MY GRANDPARENTS'
GENERATION THAT I HAD
FORGOTTEN THAT I KNEW.
AND ALL THESE
THINGS CAME BACK.
SO IN THAT SENSE, ALTHOUGH
HAGAR WAS CERTAINLY NOT BASED
ON ANYBODY WHO EVER LIVED IN
NEEPAWA, NOR WERE ANY OF THOSE
CHARACTERS, THEY COULD
HAVE LIVED THERE.

Mike says RIGHT.
DID YOU FEEL, TO TAKE THIS
JOURNEY BACK LITERARY-WISE
FIRST YOU HAD TO GET AWAY?
THAT PART OF BEING AWAY FROM
WHERE YOU WERE WAS ESSENTIAL?

Margaret says I THINK MANY WRITERS
HAVE FELT THIS.
I DIDN'T GO AWAY SIMPLY FOR
THAT REASON, OBVIOUSLY.
BUT WHEN WE RETURNED TO
CANADA, I REALIZED THEN, AFTER
HAVING LIVED IN AFRICA FOR
SOME SEVEN YEARS, I REALIZED
THEN THAT I COULDN'T WRITE
ANYMORE ABOUT, OR OUT OF
AFRICA, NOR DID I WANT TO.
I THINK THAT THOSE YEARS
AWAY HAD GIVEN ME PERHAPS A
SHARPER PERSPECTIVE ON MY OWN
CULTURE IN MY OWN COUNTRY.
BECAUSE OF COURSE WITHOUT
GOING AWAY AT ALL, I THINK ONE
SORT OF IMAGINES THAT THINGS
ARE THE SAME EVERYWHERE,
OR THAT CONCEPTS ARE
THE SAME EVERYWHERE.
AND WHEN YOU LIVE IN
A DIFFERENT COUNTRY,
PARTICULARLY PERHAPS WHERE
THE CULTURE IS EXTREMELY
DIFFERENT FROM YOUR OWN, YOU
BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THAT
MANKIND HAS MANY CULTURES.
AND THAT THESE CULTURAL
DIFFERENCES HAVE TO BE
RESPECTED, BUT THAT IT GIVES
YOU A KIND OF FOCUS ON YOUR
OWN CULTURE, WHICH YOU PERHAPS
MIGHT NOT HAVE HAD OTHERWISE,
OR AT LEAST THIS IS
TRUE IN MY CASE.

Mike says AND ALSO SOME SHARPER
SENSE OF UNIVERSALS?

Margaret says OH, UNDOUBTEDLY.
BECAUSE I THINK WHEN WE FIRST
WENT TO LIVE IN AFRICA, IN
SOMALIA, IN EAST AFRICA,
I HAD THE SORT OF FEELING AT
FIRST THAT THERE REALLY WASN'T
TOO MUCH DIFFERENCE AMONG
HUMAN BEINGS.
THEN THE NEXT STAGE WAS TO
DISCOVER THAT THE SOMALIS,
INDEED, HAD VERY MANY CULTURAL
CONCEPTS WHICH WERE EXTREMELY
DIFFERENT FROM MY OWN.
AND THE THIRD STAGE WAS TO
DISCOVER THAT THERE ARE SOME
REAL UNIVERSALS UPON WHICH WE
CAN BASE OUR UNDERSTANDING
OF ONE ANOTHER.
FOR EXAMPLE, EVERY CULTURE IN
THE WORLD PASSES ON INHERITED
KNOWLEDGE TO THEIR CHILDREN.
EVERY CULTURE IN THE WORLD
REARS THEIR CHILDREN
CAREFULLY, AND CARES
ABOUT THEM, AND SO ON.
THERE ARE MANY UNIVERSALS.

Mike says THE THEME OF SURVIVAL,
IN
THE STONE ANGEL,
YOU'VE SAID YOU RESENTED
HAGAR'S AUTHORITARIANISM,
BUT YOU ADMIRED HER
SPIRITED BATTLING.

Margaret says YES, ABSOLUTELY.
AND OF COURSE WHILE I WAS
WRITING IT, AND I STILL DO,
HAVE QUITE AMBIGUOUS
FEELINGS ABOUT HAGAR.
BECAUSE ON THE ONE HAND,
I LOVE HER VERY DEARLY.
I REALLY ADMIRE THAT
SENSE OF NEVER GIVING UP.
ON THE OTHER HAND, OF COURSE,
SHE DID GREAT DAMAGE.
SHE WAS A VERY AUTHORITARIAN
KIND OF FIGURE WHO BECAUSE OF
HER REAL INABILITY TO GIVE AND
RECEIVE LOVE, AND BECAUSE OF
HER SPIRITUAL PRIDE, DID, IN
FACT, DAMAGE BOTH HER HUSBAND
AND HER TWO SONS.
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, I
REALLY ADMIRE THE FACT THAT
WHEN I SPEAK ABOUT SURVIVAL
IN TERMS OF
THE STONE ANGEL,
WHAT I MEAN IS THAT SHE
WOULD NOT YIELD UP HER LIFE
WITHOUT A BATTLE.
I MEAN THAT, TOO.
BUT I ALSO MEAN SURVIVAL IN
THE SENSE OF SURVIVING WITH
SOME HUMAN DIGNITY
UNTIL THE ABSOLUTE END.
AND THE THING THAT REMINDS ME
THERE, THE CONNECTION WITH
THE DIVINERS,
IS THE CHARACTER
OF LAZARUS, JULES' FATHER.
AND IN ONE OF THE SONGS, THE
SONG THAT JULES COMPOSED FOR
HIS FATHER, LAZARUS, THE LINE
'HE KEPT HIS LIFE FOR LIFE'.
WELL, OF COURSE, HAGAR
DID THE SAME THING.
IN OTHER WORDS, THERE
WAS NO GIVING UP.

Mike says YOU'VE WRITTEN THAT “TO FREE
ONESELF FROM THE STULTIFYING
ASPECTS OF THE PAST AND BEGIN
TO SEE ITS TRUE VALUE, WHICH
IN THE CASE OF MY PEOPLE WAS
A DETERMINATION TO SURVIVE
AGAINST WHATEVER ODDS.”
THIS IS HOW YOU FINALLY CAME
TO GRIPS WITH
THEIR JOYLESSNESS,
RELATIVE JOYLESSNESS,
THEIR AUTHORITARIANISM?
YOU FOUND THE TRUE VALUE?

Margaret says I THINK SO.
I THINK THIS WAS TRUE, OF
COURSE, OF MANY OF THE PIONEER
GENERATION IN THE COUNTRY.
AND OF COURSE THERE HAVE BEEN
MANY PIONEER GENERATIONS.
BUT IN MY PARTICULAR PEOPLE'S
CASE, I THINK WHEN THEY FIRST
CAME OUT FROM WHEREVER IT
WAS, I MEAN, IN MY CASE,
FROM SCOTLAND, IT WAS AN
EXTRAORDINARILY DIFFICULT LIFE.
AND IF THEY WERE STRICT AND
REPRESSIVE, THIS WAS PARTLY
THEIR KIND OF CALVINISTIC
RELIGION, IT WAS ALSO PARTLY
THE FACT THEY HAD TO BE A
STRICT AND STERN PEOPLE SIMPLY
TO PHYSICALLY SURVIVE.
IT WAS A VERY, VERY
DIFFICULT LIFE.
MY OWN PARTICULAR FAMILY WERE
NOT PIONEERS IN THAT SENSE
BECAUSE THEY WERE LANDOWNERS
WHO CAME OVER AT A LATER DATE.
BUT THE HIGHLAND SCOTS
WHO CAME OVER DURING THE
CLEARANCES IN THE EARLY
1800s CAME OVER
AS A HEARTBROKEN PEOPLE.
THEY HAD BEEN BETRAYED
BY THEIR CHIEFS.
THEY HAD BEEN THROWN OFF THEIR
LANDS THAT THEIR PEOPLE HAD
OCCUPIED FOR CENTURIES, AND THEY
CAME HERE AS A PEOPLE BEREFT.
AND THEY SURVIVED
THAT HEARTBREAK.
AND I THINK THAT SHOWS JUST
INCREDIBLE STRENGTH OF SPIRIT.
WHICH I ADMIRE A GREAT DEAL.

Mike says WE'RE LEAPING HERE, MARGARET,
TO 1966, AND
A JEST OF GOD,
WHICH BECAME ALSO THE MOTION
PICTURE
RACHEL, RACHEL.
AND RACHEL IN IT,
WHAT'S THE LESSON THERE?
SHE DOES TAKE A STEP, IT
IS A KIND OF AFFIRMATION
OF LIVING AGAIN.

Margaret says OH, ABSOLUTELY.
WELL, THE THING ABOUT RACHEL,
OF COURSE, IS THAT SHE HAS
LED NOT ONLY A VERY
SELF-REPRESSED, IN A SENSE,
LIFE, BUT SHE HAS BEEN
ALMOST A SELF-MADE MARTYR.
SHE HAS FELT RESENTFUL
AT HAVING TO STAY HOME
AND LOOK AFTER HER
MOTHER, AND SO ON.
BUT THAT WAS A MARTYRDOM
WHICH WAS PARTLY SELF-CHOSEN
BECAUSE OF HER LACK OF
CONFIDENCE AND SO ON.
AND SHE WAS ALWAYS TERRIFIED
OF MAKING A FOOL OF HERSELF,
AND SO ON.
AND WAS VERY SHUT IN AND,
IN A SENSE, WITHDRAWN.
AND THE TREMENDOUS STEP THAT
SHE TAKES FORWARD, AT THE END,
OF COURSE, IS TO BE ABLE TO
LIBERATE HERSELF, AT LEAST TO
THE EXTENT OF RECOGNIZING THAT
IN RELATION TO HER MOTHER,
SHE REALLY STOOD IN THE
PARENTAL ROLE NOW, AND THAT
SHE COULD, INDEED, LEAVE THE
STULTIFYING ATMOSPHERE IN
WHICH SHE HAD GROWN UP AND
HAD LIVED FOR MANY YEARS,
AND THAT SHE COULD BE A
LITTLE LESS AFRAID OF LIFE
AND AFRAID OF HERSELF.
SO THAT EVEN THOUGH IT
WASN'T A TOTAL VICTORY,
IT WAS A PARTIAL ONE.

Mike says SO DETERMINATION, SURVIVAL,
A SMALL STEP IN THE DIRECTION
OF LIBERATION, YOU SAID
YOU'VE BEEN THROUGH SOME OF
THESE PASSAGES YOURSELF, AND
IN LIFE THESE THINGS ARE
IMPORTANT TO YOU.
IN
THE FIRE DWELLERS, 1969,
YOU SAY ONE THEME OF THE BOOK
IS COMMUNICATION, THE OTHER
IS REPRESSED PURITANISM,
OR THE EFFECTS OF
REPRESSED PURITANISM.

Margaret says WELL, I THINK THE WHOLE SORT
OF COMMUNICATION THEME IS
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT IN
THE FIRE DWELLERS.
AND OF COURSE, WHAT I AM
SUGGESTING IS, IN A SENSE, THE
POSSIBILITIES OF COMMUNICATION
BETWEEN HUMAN INDIVIDUALS,
MAYBE DEFINED EVEN
BY THE LACK OF THEM.
THAT IS BETWEEN
MACK AND STACEY.
THERE IS NOT AS MUCH
COMMUNICATION VERBALLY,
AS STACEY WOULD WANT AND
PERHAPS EVEN AS MACK WOULD WANT.
MACK WAS NOT A
VERY VERBAL PERSON.
BUT, OF COURSE, STACEY COMES TO
REALIZE IN THE END THAT EVEN
THOUGH PERHAPS HE WILL NEVER
BE ABLE TO COMMUNICATE
VERBALLY, AS SHE IS ABLE TO,
THAT HE COMMUNICATES AS MUCH
AS HE CAN, IN HIS OWN WAY,
WHICH IS NOT NECESSARILY A
VERBAL WAY.
AND THAT THAT WAY
IS ALL RIGHT, TOO.
I THINK THE OTHER THING THERE
IS THE KIND OF INNER FREEDOM.
PEOPLE HAVE SAID TO ME
OCCASIONALLY, WHY DID STACEY
COP OUT?
I SAID, WHAT DO
YOU MEAN, COP OUT?
THIS WAS A FAIRLY YOUNG
PERSON WHO SAID THIS TO ME.
AND SHE SAID, WHY DIDN'T
SHE JUST UP AND LEAVE,
YOU KNOW, WITH
THE YOUNG LOVER?
AND I SAID, THAT WOULD
HAVE BEEN A COP-OUT.
SHE CARED VERY, VERY DEEPLY
ABOUT HER CHILDREN AND ABOUT
HER HUSBAND.
AND SHE, OF COURSE, STAYED,
AND COPED WITH THE SITUATION.
THE THING IN THE END, HER
TRIUMPH, IS THAT SHE KNOWS
SHE IS A STRONG PERSON.
SHE IS NOT, INDEED, GOING TO
FOLD UP LIKE A PAPER FAN.
SHE IS GOING TO SURVIVE AND
WITH SOME, AT THAT POINT,
DEGREE OF FEELING
OF INNER FREEDOM.

Mike says THAT BRINGS US BACK TO
THE DIVINERS
IN 1974.
MORAG IN THE BOOK CONTENDS THAT
LIFE IS 'BLOODY TERRIFYING'.
WOULD YOU CONTEND
THAT, MARGARET?

Margaret says I DON'T SEE HOW ONE COULD
AVOID IT IN A WORLD LIKE OURS.
AND I SUSPECT THE WORLD,
IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER,
HAS ALWAYS BEEN THAT WAY.
I THINK, YES, LIFE
IS TERRIFYING.
BUT ON THE OTHER HAND, THERE
IS ALSO THE POSSIBILITY OF
INCREDIBLE JOY, AS WELL.
I WOULD NOT EVER CONSIDER
THAT MY WORK WAS PESSIMISTIC.

Mike says GENERATIONS OF CANADIANS, LIKE
SOME OF THE PEOPLE FROM THE
PRAIRIE TOWNS, THOUGHT OF THE
COUNTRY AS RATHER DULL AND FLAT.
THIS ISN'T YOUR CHARGE
AGAINST MANAWAKA.

Margaret says NEVER.
I DON'T THINK IN THOSE
PRAIRIE TOWNS MOST OF US EVER
CONSIDERED OUR LIFE
WAS BORING OR DULL.
OF COURSE, IN SOME WAYS
IT WAS A STULTIFYING LIFE
AS FAR AS THE
INTELLECT WAS CONCERNED.
AND CERTAINLY THE
POSSIBILITIES OF LEARNING
ABOUT GREAT MUSIC, GREAT
PAINTING, AND SO ON,
WERE EXTREMELY LIMITED.
EVEN THE NUMBER OF BOOKS THAT
WERE AVAILABLE TO US IN THOSE
DAYS WAS LIMITED.
BUT I DON'T THINK THAT I EVER
CONSIDERED THAT THAT COUNTRY,
GEOGRAPHICALLY OR
PHYSICALLY, WAS DULL.
AND I DON'T THINK THAT
ANY OF US EVER CONSIDERED
THAT IT WAS BORING EITHER.
I THINK THAT IS A KIND OF
THING WHICH SOMEHOW CANADIANS,
I THINK, IN GENERAL, FOR QUITE
A WHILE, KNEW PERFECTLY WELL
WHO WE WERE.
I DON'T THINK WE HAVE ANY WORRY
ABOUT THIS IDENTITY CRISIS.
IT'S NEVER BEEN A PROBLEM AS
FAR AS I'VE BEEN CONCERNED.
I'VE ALWAYS KNOWN, YOU KNOW,
WHAT IT WAS TO BE A CANADIAN
IN THAT SENSE, TO GROW UP
IN A SMALL PRAIRIE TOWN.
I HAVE FOUND IT CERTAINLY
A FRUSTRATING EXPERIENCE
IN MANY WAYS, BUT WHAT
CHILDHOOD ISN'T?
BUT IN MANY WAYS, IT WAS
A VERY RICH CHILDHOOD.
THE OPEN COUNTRY WAS
ACCESSIBLE TO US VERY READILY,
AND THAT WAS INFINITE
FASCINATION THERE.
THEN OF COURSE THE WHOLE
SORT OF THEME OF THE EARTH
AND THE IMPORTANCE OF IT IS
SOMETHING THAT COMES OUT
IN A GREAT DEAL OF
MY WRITING, I THINK.

Mike says ON THE BUSINESS OF WRITING,
MARGARET, I KNOW IT'S A KIND
OF MYSTERIOUS THING.
YOU'VE SAID THAT “WHAT I CARE
ABOUT IS TRYING TO EXPRESS
SOMETHING THAT IN FACT
EVERYBODY KNOWS, BUT DOESN'T
CARE TO SAY OR
PERHAPS CAN'T EXPRESS.”

Margaret says WELL, I THINK THAT I MADE
THAT STATEMENT MANY YEARS AGO.
I THINK I'D PROBABLY
MODIFY IT NOW.
I DON'T SUPPOSE THAT EVERYBODY
DOES KNOW THE THINGS THAT I'M
TRYING TO SAY, AND A LOT OF
PEOPLE KNOW OTHER THINGS
THAT I DON'T KNOW.
BUT WHAT I WAS TRYING TO
COMMUNICATE IN THAT STATEMENT
WAS THAT WRITERS ARE NOT
DIFFERENT FROM OTHER PEOPLE.
AND WE DO NOT NECESSARILY
HAVE EVEN MORE HEIGHTENED
PERCEPTIONS, BUT WE ARE ABLE
TO EXPRESS THOSE THINGS,
WHICH PERHAPS A GREAT MANY
PEOPLE SEE BUT DON'T SAY,
OR ARE NOT ABLE TO SAY.

Mike says ON THE BUSINESS OF THE GIFT,
ROYLAND IN
THE DIVINERS,
THE WATER DIVINER CLAIMS HE
HAS LOST THE GIFT OF DIVINING
WATER, AND THERE IS SOME
SUGGESTION THAT YOU FEEL THE
GIFT, PERHAPS, FOR WRITING
NOVELS NOW HAS LEFT YOU.

Margaret says WELL, I DON'T NECESSARILY
MAKE THAT STATEMENT.
I DIDN'T EVER SAY I THOUGHT
THAT WOULD BE MY LAST BOOK.
I THINK A NUMBER OF PEOPLE
MISUNDERSTOOD THAT.
I SAID I DIDN'T REALLY HAVE
ANOTHER NOVEL IN MIND.
I KNEW I WOULD KEEP ON
WRITING, WHATEVER THAT MAY BE.
AND I STILL DON'T HAVE
ANOTHER NOVEL IN MIND.
IT MAY WELL BE THAT
ANOTHER ONE WILL BE GIVEN.
IF IT IS, I WILL
BE VERY GRATEFUL.
BUT ALL I'M SAYING IS THAT I
THINK WRITERS HAVE TO REALIZE,
AS I TRIED TO COME TO TERMS
WITH THIS, THAT IF ONE COMES
TO THE POINT WHERE YOU REALLY
DON'T HAVE ANYMORE TO SAY,
THIS IS NOT A
MATTER FOR MOURNING.
WE ARE PASSING ON THIS WHOLE
THING TO THE NEXT GENERATION,
AND WE SHOULD BE
GLAD TO DO SO.

Mike says I'D LIKE TO COME BACK TO THE
NOTION OF PILGRIMAGE, WHERE
WE BEGAN, THAT YOU HAVE
ACHIEVED YOUR OWN IDENTITY
TODAY, AND YOUR OWN SENSE OF
SELF BY GOING BACK TO THE
PAST AND NOT RUNNING AWAY
FROM IT, COMING TO TERM WITH IT,
AND SEEING TRUE VALUES OF THE
PEOPLE THAT YOU GREW UP WITH.
DO YOU THINK, YOU KNOW, WHEN
WE READ ABOUT SOMEONE LIKE
YOU, MARGARET, THEY SAY
THE REPRESSED PURITANICAL
BACKGROUND, THE ETHIC OF DUTY,
AND ALL THIS STUFF THAT WAS
SO STULTIFYING, WELL, WE
WOULDN'T HAVE YOUR NOVELS
IF YOU HADN'T HAD
THAT BACKGROUND.
AND I WONDER IF YOU THINK
THERE'S ANY TRUTH TO THE FACT
THAT MAYBE WE HAVE TO BE NARROW
BEFORE WE CAN BECOME BROAD.
MAYBE WE HAVE TO HAVE SOME
CHAINS BEFORE WE CAN BE FREE.

Margaret says I'M SURE THIS IS TRUE.
AND I THINK WITH MY PARTICULAR
KIND OF CULTURAL BACKGROUND.
OF COURSE, THERE IS THE
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE
SIDES OF IT.
THE FACT IS THAT PARTICULAR
SORT OF RATHER REPRESSIVE
BACKGROUND, IN A WAY, HAS THE
OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN, IS THAT
I AM BY NO MEANS AGAINST THE
SO-CALLED PURITAN WORK ETHIC.
I AM A GREAT BELIEVER
IN HARD WORK.
AND I GREW UP THINKING THE RIGHT
THING TO DO IS TO WORK HARD.
I STILL BELIEVE THAT.
I THINK ONE HAS TO COME TO
TERMS WITH ONE'S CULTURE IN
THE SENSE OF SEEING WHAT ARE
THE POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE
ASPECTS AND ASSIMILATE ALL OF
THAT SO THE NEGATIVE THINGS
DO NOT ANY LONGER
THREATEN YOU.
IN OTHER WORDS, YOU ARE ABLE,
AT LEAST TO SOME EXTENT,
TO LIBERATE YOURSELF FROM
THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS WHILE
ACCEPTING AND HONOURING
THE POSITIVE ONES.

Mike says HAVE YOU GOT ONE FAVOURITE
CHARACTER FROM YOUR NOVELS
THAT STAYS WITH YOU?

Margaret says NO.
I THINK THAT IS REALLY LIKE
SAYING, MIKE, WHICH IS YOUR
FAVOURITE CHILD?
WELL, OF COURSE, YOUR FAVOURITE
CHILD IS ALL OF THEM,
BUT FOR A DIFFERENT REASONS.

Mike says DO THEY LEAVE YOU ENTIRELY
AFTER YOU'VE WRITTEN THEM,
OR ARE THEY STILL
IN YOUR HEAD?

Margaret says OH, THEY'RE
STILL IN MY HEAD.
I DON'T SEE BEYOND THE BOOK.
IN OTHER WORDS, I DON'T THINK
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT BECAUSE
THAT'S ALL OF THEIR LIVES
THAT IS GIVEN TO ME TO KNOW.
BUT I NEVER LOSE MY SENSE OF
THE REALITY OF THOSE CHARACTERS.
I NEVER CEASE
CARING ABOUT THEM.

Mike says ISN'T THAT NICE.
THANK YOU, MARGARET LAURENCE.
A PLEASURE.

Theme music plays as the end credits roll.

Guest, Margaret Laurence.

Producer and Director, Susan Murgatroyd.

Executive Producer, Mike McManus.

A learning opportunity by TVOntario.

Watch: Interview: Margaret Laurence