Author Chose Suicide Rather Than Slow Death

James King's Biography

James King’s Biography

I well remember the day many years ago when my morning newspaper told of my favorite author’s death. A confirmed smoker, she died of lung cancer, the article said. And I wept.

Really. Tears in my eyes and a thunk in my chest, I wept.

For Margaret Laurence was the one. When I first read The Fire Dwellers, on loan to me from my reader mother, I related to that housewife who stood in the bedroom, naked before the mirror, bemoaning the decline of her own body. And in A Jest of God, to the old maid school teacher who finally had sex in the grass on a one-night stand and used her mother’s ancient birth control apparatus to try to prevent pregnancy, after the fact.

The Stone Angel had a special part of my heart as I taught it to seniors for several years. There is no joy quite so visceral as delving into the depths of a treasured book with bright students who absolutely get the writer’s skill. Morag Gunn is a character name which I will keep forever as her pain and troubles with her life, her lover, and her recalcitrant daughter made for an award-winning final novel for this amazing author.

I had to realize, that sad morning, that my dream of meeting Laurence and telling her in person just how much her writing had affected my life would never be. But today, I tell the world about this clever and talented writer whose work I treasured so much.

My title, above, is the headline for an article in The Toronto Star which announces James King’s The Life of Margaret Laurence.

And her suicide.

Even at her end, suffering from lung cancer, she made the unspeakably difficult decision to end her own life. I suppose she wanted to save herself and her family the suffering she knew was coming. Courageous and fully aware of how horrifying suicide might be to some of her followers, she took control, herself, the best of the intrepid female characters she created.

Margaret Laurence, (born July 18, 1926, Neepawa, Man., Can.—died Jan. 5, 1987, Lakefield, Ont.), Canadian writer whose novels portray strong women striving for self-realization while immersed in the daily struggle to make a living in a male-dominated world.


15 thoughts on “Author Chose Suicide Rather Than Slow Death

  1. Thanks, Elaine, for sharing Margaret Laurence. I had never heard of her, but she sounds like an amazing author. I’ll have to read her when I have time to truly taste and savor her books as they sound like the kind of book that deserves all my attention. Thanks again.


    • Laurence wrote before the writers’ bonanza of crossing borders so easily via the Internet. You would love her work. She also wrote a couple about her time in Africa with her husband. Interesting but not so speak-to-my-heart as her main books.


  2. This is a really sad yet uplifting article as it is really written from the heart! Thank you for sharing and for talking so nicely of Margaret Laurence – she’s not someone I have read to be honest but that now is going to change!


  3. Elaine, I was introduce to Laurence in an English class, and delighted to learn that someone awesome had risen from the prairies. I’d passed through Neepawa many times on my way to an uncle’s farm in summer months. I think that little sliver of knowledge gave birth to a belief that I could be special, too, and that the door was not closed to me. (Still waiting on that one, I’ll let you know how the journey turns out.)

    I had the good fortune to pass through Neepawa again a few years ago, on a road trip to the farm, and down memory lane. Bonus, I introduced my sister to Laurence when we stopped at her house, bought King’s book, and visited the cemetery where the sightless angel, (inspiration for Stone Angle unconfirmed) stands.


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