Angle of Repose Study Guide

Angle of Repose

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose is a novel by Wallace Stegner published in 1971. The novel follows Lyman Ward, a historian who has been paralyzed by a degenerative illness. Having become alienated from his family, he turns back towards his past, writing a biography of his grandmother who lived on the frontier. Based partly on actual historical letters by Mary Hallock, Ward's history presents a realistic account of life in the West and Mexico, albeit an account tainted by Ward's own disappointment in life.

Lyman Ward narrates a century after the fact. Lyman interprets the story at times and leaves gaps that he points out at other times. Some of the disappointments of his life, including his divorce, color his interpretation of his grandparents' story. Toward the end of the novel, he gives up on his original ambition of writing a complete biography of his grandmother.

Stegner's use of Mary Hallock Foote's historical letters gives the novel's locations—Grass Valley, Leadville, New Almaden, Idaho, and Mexico—an authentic feel; the letters also add vividness to the Wards' struggles with the environment, shady businessmen, and politicians. Lyman's position in the contemporary culture of the late sixties provides another historical dimension to the story.

Foils for this plot line include Lyman's adult son, a Berkeley-trained sociologist who sees little value in history, and a neighbor's daughter who helps transcribe Lyman's tape-recorded notes while she is home on summer break from UC Berkeley, where she has been active in the "hippie" counterculture movement.

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