Horses of the Night


Margaret Laurence

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Horses of the Night Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Margaret Laurence's Horses of the Night. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Margaret Laurence

Jean Margaret Laurence (née Wemyss) was born in 1926 in Neepawa, Manitoba, Canada. Her mother died when she was four years old. Her father remarried and then died when Laurence was nine. After his death she was raised in her maternal grandfather’s home with her stepmother and brother. She left Neepawa for Winnipeg in 1941, when she was 18, to attend United College (now University of Winnipeg) where she studied liberal arts. She began publishing work in the school’s newspaper under the penname “Steve Lancaster” and became part of a literary circle on campus. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature in 1947. A progressive, Laurence was a lifelong member of a Christian socialist group and worked for a leftist newspaper, The Westerner, after graduating. Shortly after graduation, Laurence married engineer Jack Fergus Laurence, with whom she had two children, Jocelyn and David. Her husband’s work took them to British Somaliland where she fell in love with Somalian oral literature and recorded and translated the work into a published collection. Laurence divorced her husband in 1962 and moved to England for the next 11 years. Later, she returned to Canada as a writer in residence at the University of Toronto, and she later served as chancellor of Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario. In 1986 Laurence was diagnosed with untreatable late-stage lung cancer. Laurence committed suicide by overdose on January 5, 1987, explaining in a suicide note that it would spare both herself and her family any further suffering. 
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Historical Context of Horses of the Night

“Horses of the Night” takes place against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II. The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1939, was a decade of severe economic depression that was felt globally after the crash of the U.S. stock market. Canada was hit especially hard by the global economic crisis, and this left thousands of Canadian people unemployed and often without enough money for food or shelter. The western Canadian provinces, including Manitoba where the story takes place, were affected even more severely due to reliance on exports that suffered due to the Depression’s impact on international trade. These Canadian prairie provinces were also most affected by the Dust Bowl, a period of severe drought and dust storms that lasted in waves from 1934 to 1940. The Dustbowl devastated farmers and people living in rural areas, many of whom ended up migrating out of the plains and prairies in search of work. The end of the Great Depression is commonly understood to have been brought on by the outset of World War II. Over one million Canadians were enlisted in the fight abroad, and at least 42,000 were killed. On the home front, the war jump-started Canadian farms and industries that had previously been struggling under the forces of the Depression and the Dust Bowl.  

Other Books Related to Horses of the Night

“Horses of the Night” is the fourth of eight short stories included in Laurence’s A Bird in the House. The semi-autobiographical collection is narrated by Vanessa, now 40, looking back on the events of her childhood in the fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba. Manawaka was the setting for Laurence’s first published story “The Land of our Father.” Laurence is best known for her novel The Stone Angel which likewise takes place in Manawaka, and explores themes of feminism and social class also seen in A Bird in the House. Her novels A Jest of God and The Diviners both won Governor General’s awards. Laurence was part of a new wave of post-war Canadian women writers, among them Alice Munro, whose collection of short stories, Lives of Girls and Women, similarly follows a young protagonist coming of age in small-town Canada.  
Key Facts about Horses of the Night
  • Full Title: Horses of the Night
  • Where Written: Buckinghamshire, England
  • When Published: 1970
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism, Feminism
  • Genre: Short Story, Canadian Literature
  • Setting: The fictional town of Manawaka, Manitoba, Canada
  • Climax: Vanessa and her family find out that Chris has been discharged from the army because he suffered a mental breakdown and is in the care of a psychiatric hospital.
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Horses of the Night

Movie Adaptation. Laurence’s acclaimed novel, The Stone Angel, premiered as a feature-length film in 2007.