The Stone Angel

Laurence, Margaret

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown
  • Date of entry: Feb-12-2007
  • Last revised: Feb-05-2007


Ninety year old Hagar Shipley is as proud, independent, and clever as when she was a young girl growing up through the Depression and afterwards in a prairie town in Manitoba. Now in Vancouver, she suffers from arthritis, memory loss, incontinence and abdominal pain that make it impossible for her to be cared at home by her eldest son Marvin, aged 64 and his wife Doris.

She is ill and fearful but shares none of this with anyone. Unwilling to leave her house and move to a nursing home, Hagar slips away to a cottage she remembers from summers ago, and secretly find her way back to it.

On this journey, her present life continually blurs with remembrances from her past, as a self-assured "peacock" daughter of Jason Currie, a tough, disapproving Scottish Protestant store owner who values propriety, refinement and friends of social standing. Hagar defies her father by marrying Bram Shipley, an unsuccessful farmer with coarse manners. Their stormy marriage produces two sons, Marvin and John, whom she dominates. The harsh frontier life in the 1930s and the couple's incompatibilities cause her to leave her husband and go to Vancouver. Consistently Hagar's fierce independence and pride prevent her from expressing emotion or accepting weaknesses in her family, and in herself.

Eventually she is found by her son Marvin. By then she has become ill and disoriented, and is hospitalized. She is dying and must come to terms with her past and her present life and accept the death that is her future.


The novel is a remarkable account of aging. Narrated in the first person, Hagar's story is a sharply observed, unsentimental portrait of a strong-willed, stubborn woman growing up and growing old. The book's protagonist is at once likeable and difficult, defensive and regretful about her life, outwardly self-sufficient and inwardly vulnerable. Hagar's rage and shame at the changes and deteriorations of her aging body, her frustration at her loss of independence and control in her illness and dementia, and her insights at the end of her life are described with great skill and clarity.


First published: 1964


Univ. of Chicago Press

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