Angle of Repose (novel)

Angle of Repose (novel)

infobox Book |
name = Angle of Repose
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First edition cover
author = Wallace Stegner
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Novel
publisher = Doubleday
release_date = 1971
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0-14-016930-X
preceded_by =
followed_by =

:"For the engineering term, see Angle of repose."

"Angle of Repose" is a 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Wallace Stegner about a wheelchair-bound historian, Lyman Ward, who has lost connection with his son and living family and decides to write about his frontier-era grandparents. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972. The novel is directly based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, later published as "A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West".Stegner's use of substantial passages of Foote's actual letters as correspondence from his fictional character Susan Burling Ward caused a continuing controversy [Philip L. Fradkin, "A Classic, or A Fraud? Plagiarism allegations aimed at Stegner's "Angle of Repose" won't be put to rest," Los Angeles Times, 3 February 2008, sec. M, p. 8] .

Plot summary

The title is an engineering term for the angle at which soil finally settles after, for example, being dumped from a mine as tailings. It seems to describe the loose wandering of the Ward family as they try to carve a civilized existence in the west and, hopefully, return to the east as successes. The story is a series of Oliver's hopeful struggles on various mining, hydrology and construction engineering jobs, and Susan's adaptation and struggle to support him.

The book is given more complexity by having Lyman Ward narrate from his wheelchair a century after the fact. It is clear we are reading Lyman's interpretation of the story, a literary device that encourages readers to be more skeptical of what they are told. Some of the disappointments of his life, including his divorce, color his interpretation of his grandparent's story. Toward the end of the novel, he gives up on his original ambition for a complete biography of his grandmother. It is as if he picked up the disappointment from his ancestors or, perhaps, is drawn to focus more closely on his own mortality and what he can accomplish himself.

Stegner's use of Mary Hallock Foote's historical letters gives the novel's locations -- Leadville, New Almaden, Idaho, and Mexico -- an authentic feel one doesn't usually find in westerns; the letters also give the Ward's struggles with the environment, shady businessmen, politicians and other dangers a human feel. In Lyman's interaction with (and rantings about) 1970s culture, we get yet another historical dimension to the story (Lyman's son teaches at Berkeley and a counter culture daughter of a neighbor helps transcribe the tapes).

Fictional Characters in "Angle of Repose"

Lyman Ward

Lyman Ward is the narrator of the book, a divorced amputee with a debilitating disease that is slowly "petrifying" him. A retired history professor, in the early 1970s he is dictating the book, the biography of his grandmother Susan Burling Ward, to tape. Fiercely independent, he lives alone in the house where Susan Ward died and in which he spent time as a child. As he dictates, he is fighting off intrusions into his life by his son and other well-meaning people that are concerned by his being alone when he is wheelchair-bound.

usan Burling Ward

In her youth, Susan Burling (the Mary Hallock Foote-based character) was a promising writer and artist connected with some of the leading lights in New York culture. When she and Oliver Ward meet and fall in love, she leaves the promise of New York to follow him, expecting to return. The contrast between her life in the American west of the second half of the 1800s to that of her best friend in New York is a constant thread through the novel. Lyman depicts her frustrated by the loss of her writing/art career and disappointment with their position in life, but a strong character able to adjust to the circumstances.

Oliver Ward

Based on Mary's husband Arthur DeWint Foote, Oliver is a bright, straight-forward, honest man who has focused on supporting the family he loves. A mining engineer, he moves all over the West following jobs to Colorado, California, Mexico and Idaho. Some times he is on his own, but when he feels he can, he has his family join him — often in the most primitive of homes in the wildest of places. His honesty limits his progress in the rough world they find themselves trying to succeed in. Lyman sees a struggle between this limitation and Susan's desire to recreate some of the "culture" of the east that she gave up upon her marriage.

Historical Characters in "Angle of Repose"

The novel is thickly populated with real, although minor, historical personages, giving further realism to the narrative. A "Who's Who" of American mining engineers of the late 1800s make their appearance, including Clarence King, [ Samuel Emmons] , Henry Janin, and [ Rossiter Raymond] .


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