Wallace Stegner

Angle Of Repose

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Angle Of Repose Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 48-page guide for “Angle Of Repose” by Wallace Stegner includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 54 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Conversation Between Past and Present and Home.

Written by Wallace Stegner and released in 1971, Angle of Repose is a novel about Lyman Ward, a wheelchair-bound historian who decides to write about his frontier-era grandparents, particularly his grandmother, Susan Burling Ward. He hopes that their experiences will help him deal with his present situation. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972 and is based on the letters of Mary Hallock Foote, which were later published as A Victorian Gentlewoman in the Far West.

Plot Summary

A bone disease forces Lyman to live confined to a wheelchair after having his leg amputated. While Lyman was in the hospital convalescing, his wife, Ellen Hammond Ward, left him for Lyman’s surgeon. To pass the time, Lyman moves into his old family home and begins to study his family’s history, charting his grandmother Susan’s emergence on the New York high society scene before she meets and marries Oliver Ward, a mining engineer. Lyman originally plans to write a novel about Susan’s professional experiences but writes about her marriage instead. Lyman accepts the help of a young college dropout, Shelly Rasmussen, in sorting through Susan’s papers, which detail Susan’s experiences as a writer and an artist in the mid- to late-19th century.

Susan and Oliver were married for 60 years and faced tragedy, infidelity, jealousy, and even long separations. Susan’s story is told in an epistolary style, through letters written to her closest friend, Augusta Hudson: After a long journey to California in the late 1800s, Susan arrives in her new home: a cottage on the outskirts of a lively mining town. Susan’s reputation as an artist proceeds her, but she does not fall in love with the locals. Oliver spends his days in the mine, and Susan is lonely. After she becomes pregnant, she is happier and makes friends. Susan publishes her experiences in a magazine article and is paid. She gives birth to her son, Ollie. Soon, Susan learns that all is not well in the mine. Oliver falls out with his boss and quits. They are forced to leave their home and find somewhere new.

While Oliver searches for work, they rely on Susan’s art and writing to keep the family afloat. They separate and reunite, but Susan soon begins an affair with Oliver’s assistant, Frank. As marital and financial struggles continue to plaque Susan and Oliver, they relocate to Colorado, Mexico, Idaho, and California. Susan gives birth to a daughter named Agnes. As Susan and Oliver’s marriage continues to deteriorate, Oliver drinks more, and Susan becomes increasingly resentful. To make ends meet, Oliver takes up a new job, but it means the family must leave their home again. Susan goes to Canada. Before she leaves, however, she sees Frank one last time. Frank admits that he still loves Susan, and they kiss. In the summer, Agnes drowns in the canal. A few days later, Frank shoots himself in the head. Oliver and Susan separate for two years. Eventually, Oliver takes a job at the Zodiac mine, and he and Susan live nearby until they die.

Through learning of Susan and Oliver’s hurdles, Lyman makes discoveries about himself and his own life; he realizes that a lifelong commitment to another person is difficult no matter what time period one lives in, or no matter how old one is. Through learning of his grandparents’ mistakes, his bitterness ebbs away. Though the book does not end on a saccharine note, Lyman does want to learn to forgive his Ellen, not for her sake, but to lift the burden from his own shoulders and become a better person.

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