A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters from Margaret Laurence to Canadian Writers


296 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 0-920953-87-5
DDC C813'.54





Edited by J.A. Wainwright
Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian studies at
Concordia University, Japan Foundation Fellow 1991-92, and the author of
Margaret Laurence: The Long Journey Home and As Though Life Mattered:
Leo Kennedy’s Story.


We find something of Margaret Laurence’s development as a writer and
of the growth of Canadian literature between 1962 and 1985 in this
strong collection of 33 letters, arranged alphabetically by the names of
the recipients. The volume was sparked by a conversation J.A. Wainwright
had with Malcolm Ross, whose information suggested to Wainwright “that
Laurence’s chief contact with creative associates was through her
letter-writing.” Laurence’s correspondents included many of the
literary stars of the country for which she cared passionately:
Gabrielle Roy, Al Purdy, Margaret Atwood, Ernest Buckler, Marian Engel,
Timothy Findley, Hugh MacLennan, and Alice Munro, among others.

J.A. Wainwright is a teacher and a poet who has lived and worked in
Nova Scotia for the last 20 years. In his preface, he sketches
Laurence’s life and writings from her birth in Manitoba in 1926 to her
settling in Lakefield, Ontario, in 1974 and her death from cancer early
in 1987. The collection draws not only on the Laurence papers in the
York University Archives but also on some two dozen interviews with
writers about their feelings for Laurence. Wainwright was right to keep
the balance as it is, yet the brief reflections of other writers, given
in italics, add considerably to the interest of the letters. Timothy
Findley writes of Laurence’s projection, in her fiction, of a
woman’s point of view: “Margaret, when she came to the subject of
being a woman inside her writing ... you didn’t feel someone was
shouting at you, but you sure as hell knew what she was saying.”

A Very Large Soul is an important addition to the growing body of
biographical and critical writing on Laurence, and to the self-portrait
she has sketched in thousands of letters—most of them still


Laurence, Margaret., “A Very Large Soul: Selected Letters from Margaret Laurence to Canadian Writers,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 16, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/1142.