Atwood, Margaret 1939–
Atwood, Margaret 1939–
Born November 18, 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Carl Edmund (an entomologist) and Margaret Dorothy (Killam) Atwood; married Jim Polk, 1967 (divorced 1977); married Graeme Gibson (a writer); children: (second marriage) Jess (daughter). Education: University of Toronto, B.A., 1961; Radcliffe College, A.M., 1962; Harvard University, graduate study, 1962–63, 1965–67. Politics: "William Morrisite." Religion: "Immanent Transcendentalist."
Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, House of Anansi Press, 110 Spadina Ave., Ste. 801, Toronto, Ontario M5V 2K4, Canada.
Novelist, poet, and educator. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, lecturer in English literature, 1964–65; Sir George Williams University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, lecturer in English literature, 1967–68; York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, assistant professor of English literature, 1971–72; House of Anansi Press, Toronto, editor and member of board of directors, 1971–73; University of Toronto, writer-in-residence, 1972–73; University of Alabama—Tuscaloosa, writer-in-residence, 1985; New York University, New York, NY, Berg Visiting Professor of English, 1986; Macquarie University, North Ryde, Australia, writer-in-residence, 1987. Formerly worked as a camp counselor and waitress.
E.J. Pratt Medal, 1961, for Double Persephone; President's Medal, University of Western Ontario, 1965; YWCA Women of Distinction Award, 1966, 1988; Governor General's Award, 1966, for The Circle Game, and 1986, for The Handmaid's Tale; first prize in Canadian Centennial Commission Poetry Competition, 1967; Union Prize for poetry, 1969; Bess Hoskins Prize for poetry, 1969, 1974; City of Toronto Book Award, Canadian Booksellers' Association Award, and Periodical Distributors of Canada Short Fiction Award, all 1977, all for Dancing Girls, and Other Stories; St. Lawrence Award for fiction, 1978; Radcliffe Medal, 1980; Life before Man selected a notable book of 1980, American Library Association; Molson Award, 1981; Guggenheim fellowship, 1981; named companion, Order of Canada, 1981; International Writer's Prize, Welsh Arts Council, 1982; Book of the Year Award, Periodical Distributors of Canada/Foundation for the Advancement of Canadian Letters, 1983, for Bluebeard's Egg, and Other Stories; named Woman of the Year, Ms. magazine, 1986; Ida Nudel Humanitarian Award, Toronto Arts Award for writing and editing, and Los Angeles Times Book Award, all 1986, and Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction, and Commonwealth Literature Prize, both 1987, all for The Handmaid's Tale; Council for the Advancement and Support of Education silver medal, 1987; Humanist of the Year award, 1987; Booker Prize shortlist, City of Toronto Book Award, Coles Book of the Year Award, Canadian Booksellers' Association Author of the Year Award, Foundation for Advancement of Canadian Letters citation, Periodical Marketers of Canada Award, and Torgi Talking Book Award, all 1989, all for Cat's Eye; Harvard University Centennial Medal, 1990; named to Order of Ontario, 1990; Trillium Award for Excellence in Ontario Writing, and Book of the Year Award, Periodical Marketers of Canada, both 1992, both for Wilderness Tips, and Other Stories; Commemorative Medal, 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation; Booker Prize shortlist, Trillium Award, Canadian Authors' Association Novel of the Year Award, Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Canadian and Caribbean Region, and Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, all 1994, and Swedish Humour Association's International Humourous Writer Award, 1995, all for The Robber Bride; named chevalier, French Order des Arts et des Lettres, 1994; Trillium Award, 1995, for Morning in the Burned House; Norwegian Order of Literary Merit, 1996; Booker Prize shortlist, and Giller Prize, both 1996, both for Alias Grace; International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist, Dublin City Library, 1998; Booker Prize, 2000, and Dashiell Hammett Award, International Association of Crime Writers, 2001, both for The Blind Assassin; Booker Prize shortlist, 2003, for Oryx and Crake; Enlightenment Award, Edinburgh International Festival, 2005. Recipient of honorary degrees from Trent University, 1973, Concordia University, 1980, Smith College, 1982, University of Toronto, 1983, Mount Holyoke College, 1985, University of Waterloo, 1985, University of Guelph, 1985, Victoria College, 1987, University of Montreal, 1991, University of Leeds, 1994, Queen's University, 1994, Oxford University, 1998, Cambridge University, 2001, and others.
(And illustrator) Up in the Tree (juvenile), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978, reprinted, Groundwood Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2006.
(With Joyce Barkhouse) Anna's Pet (juvenile), James Lorimer, 1980.
For the Birds, illustrated by John Bianchi, Firefly Books (Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada), 1991.
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut (juvenile), illustrated by Maryann Kovalski, Workman (New York, NY), 1995.
Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes (juvenile), illustrated by Dušan Petričicć, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2004.
Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, illustrated by Dušan PetričIć, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
Double Persephone, Hawkshead Press (Ontario, Canada), 1961.
The Circle Game, Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI), 1964, revised edition, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1978.
Kaleidoscopes Baroque: A Poem, Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI), 1965.
Talismans for Children, Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI), 1965.
Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein, Cranbrook Academy of Art (Bloomfield Hills, MI), 1966.
The Animals in That Country, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1968.
The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1970.
Procedures for Underground, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1970.
Power Politics, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1971, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
You Are Happy, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1974.
Selected Poems, 1965–1975, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1976, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1978.
Marsh Hawk, Dreadnaught Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.
Two-headed Poems, Oxford University Press, 1978, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1981.
Notes toward a Poem That Can Never Be Written, Salamander Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981.
True Stories, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
Snake Poems, Salamander Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
Interlunar, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1984.
Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New, 1976–1986, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.
Morning in the Burned House, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1995.
Eating Fire: Selected Poetry, 1965–1995, Virago Press (London, England), 1998.
Also author of Expeditions, 1966, and What Was in the Garden, 1969.
NOVELS; FOR ADULTS
The Edible Woman, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1969, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1970, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Surfacing, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1973, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Lady Oracle, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1976, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Life before Man, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Bodily Harm, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1981, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Encounters with the Element Man, William B. Ewert (Concord, NH), 1982.
Unearthing Suite, Grand Union Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
The Handmaid's Tale, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1985, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1986.
Cat's Eye, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1989.
The Robber Bride, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.
Alias Grace, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1996.
The Blind Assassin, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2000.
Oryx and Crake, Nan A. Talese (New York, NY), 2003.
The Tent, Nan A. Talese, (New York, NY), 2006.
Dancing Girls, and Other Stories, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Anchor Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Bluebeard's Egg, and Other Stories, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983, Anchor Doubleday (New York, NY), 1998.
Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1983.
Wilderness Tips, and Other Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1991.
Good Bones, Coach House Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1992, published as Good Bones and Simple Murders, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1994.
A Quiet Game: And Other Early Works, edited and annotated by Kathy Chung and Sherrill Grace, Juvenilia Press (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada), 1997.
The Trumpets of Summer (radio play), Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC-Radio), 1964.
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1972.
The Servant Girl (teleplay), CBC-TV, 1974.
Days of the Rebels, 1815–1840, Natural Science Library, 1976.
The Poetry and Voice of Margaret Atwood (recording), Caedmon (New York, NY), 1977.
(Author of introduction) Catherine M. Young, To See Our World, GLC Publishers, 1979, Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.
Snowbird (teleplay), CBC-TV, 1981.
Second Words: Selected Critical Prose, House of Anansi Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.
(Editor) The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1982.
(Editor with Robert Weaver) The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English, Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986.
(With Peter Pearson) Heaven on Earth (teleplay), CBC-TV, 1986.
(Editor) The Canlit Foodbook, Totem Books (New York, NY), 1987.
(Editor with Shannon Ravenal) The Best American Short Stories, 1989, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.
(Editor with Barry Callaghan and author of introduction) The Poetry of Gwendolyn MacEwen, Exile Editions (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Volume 1: The Early Years, 1993, Volume 2: The Later Years, 1994.
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature (lectures), Oxford University Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
Some Things about Flying, Women's Press (London, England), 1997.
(With Victor-Levy Beaulieu) Two Solicitudes: Conversations (interviews), translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
(Author of introduction) Women Writers at Work: The "Paris Review" Interviews, edited by George Plimpton, Random House (New York, NY), 1998.
Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing (nonfiction), Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2002.
(Author of introduction) Ground Works: Avant-garde for Thee, edited by Christian Bök, House of Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.
Moving Targets: Writing with Intent, 1982–2004, House of Anansi (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004, published as Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose, 1983–2005, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2005.
The Penelopiad: The Myth of Penelope and Odysseus (play), Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) 2005.
Contributor to anthologies, including Five Modern Canadian Poets, 1970; The Canadian Imagination: Dimensions of a Literary Culture, Harvard University Press, 1977; Women on Women, 1978; and Story of a Nation: Defining Moments in Our History, Doubleday Canada, 2001. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, New Yorker, Harper's, New York Times Book Review, Saturday Night, Tamarack Review, and Canadian Forum.
Atwood's works have been translated into French.
Reflections: Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer, a six-minute visual interpretation of Atwood's poem by the same name, was produced by Cinematics Canada, 1972, and by Universal as Poem as Imagery: Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer, 1974. The Journals of Susanna Moodie was adapted as a screenplay, Tranby, 1972; Surfacing was adapted for film, Pan-Canadian, 1979; The Handmaid's Tale was filmed by Cinecom Entertainment Group, 1989, and was adapted as an opera by Danish composer Poul Ruders, for the Royal Danish Opera Company, 2002. The Atwood Stories, adaptations of Atwood's fiction, appeared as six half-hour episodes on W Network. Many of Atwood's books have been adapted as audiobooks.
Margaret Atwood is considered one of Canada's major novelists and has attained a measure of celebrity; according to Ann Marie Lipinski, writing in the Chicago Tribune, the writer is "one of the leading literary luminaries, a national heroine of the arts, the rara avis of Canadian letters." Atwood's books, which have been highly lauded in the United States and Europe as well in as her native Canada, have won numerous literary awards, among them Great Britain's prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. In her works, she often examines the relationship between humanity and nature, and she also looks at power as it pertains to gender and politics, although she rejects the label of feminist that many have attached to her. Employing symbolism, irony, and self-conscious narrators, Atwood takes literary chances in her writing, borrowing techniques from science fiction and detective-genre fiction.
While Atwood's fame rests on such novels as The Handmaid's Tale, Alias Grace, Cat's Eye, and The Blind Assassin, the author is also a published poet, playwright, essayist, and author of short fiction. She has also published books for younger readers throughout her decades-long career. Praised as a "silly romp" by a Publishers Weekly contributor, Atwood's 1996 picture book, Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, features a rhythmic text that rejoices in the sound of the letter "P" while telling the story of a pretty princess who is prompted to do three good deeds after a wise old woman weaves a convincing magic.
Born in 1939, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Atwood was raised in a tight-knit family that also included a brother and a sister. Until her late teens, she spent at least half the year in the remote regions of northern Ontario and Quebec, where her etymologist father researched forest insects for the Canadian government while the family lived in a cabin without running water or electricity. Educated by her mother, she delved into books of all sorts during these long sojourns away from civilization, particularly Greek and Celtic mythology and the often brutal fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. Her family's itinerant lifestyle combined with her exposure to etymological and mythic metamorphosis to build a fascination with the concepts of destruction and rebirth as inevitabilities. As a six year old, Atwood had already started dabbling with poetry, writing a series she called "Rhyming Cats." The following year, in 1946, she and her family moved to Toronto, where her father took a university post. While attending Toronto's city schools, Atwood still spent half the year living close to nature in Canada's north woods.
By the time she reached high school, Atwood had decided to become a professional writer. As she told Kim Hubbard in People, she was somewhat frightened by her decision, for she had few female role models in her chosen profession. "Emily Dickinson lived in a cupboard, Charlotte Brontë died in childbirth. They were weird like Christina Rossetti, or they drank or committed suicide like Sylvia Plath. Writing seemed like a call to doom. I thought I would probably get [tuberculosis] and live in a garret and have a terrible life."
Graduating from Toronto's Leaside High School in 1957, Atwood attended the University of Toronto's Victoria College and entered the English honors program. Studying under well-known critic Northrop Frye, she became versed in the use of mythical and biblical imagery. As an undergraduate she wrote for the college literary magazine and had her first poem published at age nineteen. Four years later, in 1961, the soon-to-graduate Atwood published her first volume of poetry, the award-winning Double Persephone. She then earned an M.A. at Radcliffe College, studying Victorian literature, and also attended Harvard University. When her second poetry collection, The Circle Game, won Canada's Governor General's award in 1964, its author was teaching at the college level. Five years later, Atwood published her first novel, The Edible Woman, marking the start of her meteoric fiction-writing career.
Atwood's novels are known for their strong female characters. Early novels such as Surfacing, Bodily Harm, and the well-known The Handmaid's Tale feature female protagonists who are characteristic of Atwood: they are, as Judy Klemesrud reported in the New York Times, "intelligent, self-absorbed modern women searching for identity" who "hunt, split logs, make campfires and become successful in their careers, while men often cook and take care of their households." In Atwood's plots, the lives of these women are shattered by overwhelming threats: "cancer, divorce, violence—and those that persist quietly, naggingly—solitude, loneliness, desperation," according to Lipinski.
In The Handmaid's Tale Atwood draws readers into Gilead, a future America in which Fundamentalist Christians have killed the president and members of Congress and imposed their own patriarchal dictatorial rule. In this future world, polluted by toxic chemicals and nuclear radiation, few women can bear children and the birthrate has dropped alarmingly. Those women able to bear children are forced to become "Handmaids," Gilead's official breeders, while those not deemed suitable are reduced to slaves under the repressive religious government. As Elaine Kendall explained in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Atwood's novel is strongly grounded in current laws and regulations, and depicts "a future firmly based upon actuality, beginning with events that have already taken place and extending them a bit beyond the inevitable conclusions. The Handmaid's Tale does not depend upon hypothetical scenarios, omens, or straws in the wind, but upon documented occurrences and public pronouncements; all matters of record." Atwood's Oryx and Crake also draws readers into a provocative future world, this time focusing on a man who, his psyche shattered by violent memories, attempts to make sense of the post-apocalyptic wasteland he now inhabits.
In Cat's Eye Atwood narrows her focus and explores the dynamic of a family that resembles, on its surface, the one she was raised in, with its etymologist father, unconventional mother, and home-schooled children. However, the novel's pivotal tragedy hinges on the cruelty of children. The story focuses on Elaine, a successful painter who returns to her family's home in Toronto for an exhibition of her work. In a flashback to her childhood, Elaine relives her time with her childhood nemesis, a girl named Cordelia whom Elaine thought was her best friend but who actually made Elaine the object of a series of potentially deadly pranks. The young Elaine feels helpless to defend herself and is unable to confide in her parents. As Cordelia enters her teen years, however, she becomes overweight and unhappy, and she eventually goes insane. By the book's conclusion, the adult Elaine discovers how these events have influenced her art and her life. As Hermione Lee noted of Cat's Eye in the New Republic, "Under Atwood's sharp satire on girls' codes is a nightmare of persecution, which is the ugly heart of the novel…. Atwood's account of this torture is horrifyingly brilliant, and will strike home to anyone who was ever involved in childhood gang warfare, whether as bullier or bullied."
Alias Grace and the Booker Prize-winning The Blind Assassin venture into the genre of historical fiction. The Blind Assassin draws readers back to the early twentieth century to explore a family tragedy and its aftershocks. Based on an actual incident, Alias Grace centers on Grace Marks, a servant found guilty of murdering her employer and his mistress in northern Canada in 1843. Some doubt Grace's guilt, however, and as she serves out her sentence of life in prison with no memory of the murders, reformers agitate for clemency. In a quest for evidence to support their position, they assign a young doctor, Simon Jordan, who is versed in the new science of psychiatry, to evaluate her soundness of mind. Over many meetings, Grace tells the doctor the harrowing story of her life, which has been marked by extreme hardship. Much about Grace, though, remains puzzling: she is haunted by flashbacks of the supposedly forgotten murders and by a woman who died from a mishandled abortion. Praised by many reviewers for its evocation of day-to-day life during the mid-1800s, Alias Grace was dubbed "pure enchantment" by Los Angeles Times Book Review critic Richard Eder. Reviewing the novel in Maclean's, Diane Turbide wrote of Atwood's complex protagonist that Grace is more than an intriguing character: she is also "the lens through which Victorian hypocrisies are mercilessly exposed."
Like her adult novels, Atwood's books for children also depict a world slightly off-kilter, but instead of looming secrets, murderous servants, and the threat of cultural annihilation young readers are introduced to petulant princesses, likeable misfits, and challenges that resolve in happy-ending fashion. In fact, books like Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, and Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut provide Atwood with an excuse to engage in all manner of wordplay. While her first book for children, 1976's self-illustrated and hand-lettered Up the Tree, relates a simple story that Booklist contributor Gillian Engberg deemed "whimsical" and a "refreshing return to basics," the generous helping of humorous alliterations, slapstick plot-lines, and complex vocabulary to be found in Atwood's more recent books make them almost interactive: readers need to keep a dictionary at the ready in order to get the writer's most sophisticated jokes. Still, these books appeal on several levels, and as Resource Links reviewer Adriane Pettit noted of Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, "the wittiness and creativity in this wonderful tongue-twisting book make it an enjoyable read" for both adults and children. While a Publishers Weekly contributor cautioned that readers of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes might "feel overstuffed with rococo remarks" as they tackle Atwood's tale about a clueless man who, with his pet rat Ralph, leaves his "ramshackle rectangular residence" and eventually finds a new home with red-haired Rillah (who lives, not surprisingly, in a rectory), other critics disagreed. In Kirkus Reviews a contributor praised Atwood's text as "both amusing and enlightening in its use of rich vocabulary," while School Library Journal writer Caroline Ward maintained that the author's "command of wordplay is impressive, and unfamiliar words … may afford youngsters an opportunity for vocabulary enrichment."
Although her writing has been grist to many critics and scholars, and has been labeled everything from Cana-dian nationalist and feminist to gothic, the versatile Atwood continues to defy easy categorization and her books are enjoyed as much for their compelling plots and characters as for their intellectual depth. Writing in Saturday Night, Linda Sandler described the writer as "all things to all people … a nationalist … a feminist or a psychologist or a comedian … a maker and breaker of myths … a gothic writer. She's all these things, but finally she's unaccountably … elusive, complex, passionate." In World and I Linda Simon quoted Atwood's comments regarding the central quandary of choosing a writer's life: "There's always this tug of war. If you're writing, you're not living, and if you're living you're not writing. So which are you going to do?"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Bloom, Harold, editor, Margaret Atwood, Chelsea House (Philadelphia, PA), 2000.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 13, 1980, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 25, 1983, Volume 44, 1987.
Cooke, Nathalie, Margaret Atwood: A Biography, ECW Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.
Howells, Coral Ann, Margaret Atwood, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1996.
Ingersoll, Earl G., editor, Waltzing Again: New and Selected Conversations with Margaret Atwood, Ontario Review Press (Princeton, NJ), 2006.
McCombs, Judith, and Carole L. Palmer, Margaret Atwood: A Reference Guide, G.K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1991.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Sullivan, Rosemary, The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out, HarperFlamingo Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.
Twigg, Alan, For Openers: Conversations with Twenty-four Canadian Writers, Harbour, 1981.
Woodcock, George, The Canadian Novel in the Twentieth Century, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1975.
Booklist, December 15, 1995, Hazel Rochman, review of Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, p. 702; June 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of The Blind Assassin, p. 1796; April 1, 2006, Gillian Engberg, review of Up in the Tree, p. 47.
Books in Canada, January, 1979; December, 1980, review of Anna's Pet, p. 18; June-July, 1980: March, 1981; December, 1995, review of Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, p. 18.
Canadian Book Review Annual, 2003, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 445.
Canadian Forum, February, 1970, John Stedmond, review of The Edible Woman, p. 267; January, 1973; November-December, 1974; December-January, 1977–78; June-July, 1981, Chaviva Hosek and Scott Lauder, review of True Stories; December-January, 1981–82, Frank Davey, review of Life after Man, pp. 29-30.
Canadian Review of Materials, March, 1991, review of For the Birds, p. 93.
Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 7, 1984; October 5, 1985; October 19, 1985; February 15, 1986; November 15, 1986; November 29, 1986; November 14, 1987.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2004, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 802.
Library Journal, August 9, 2000, Beth E. Andersen, review of The Blind Assassin; December, 2003, Laurie Selwyn, review of Oryx and Crake, p. 184
Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1982; April 22, 1982; May 9, 1986; January 12, 1987; September 26, 2000, p. E1.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 17, 1982; February 9, 1986, Elaine Kendall, review of The Handmaid's Tale; December 23, 1987; November 14, 1993, pp. 3, 11; December 15, 1996, Richard Eder, review of Alias Grace, p. 2.
Maclean's, January 15, 1979; October 15, 1979, Roy MacGregor, review of Life before Man; December 15, 1980, Ann Johnston, review of Anna's Pet, p. 52; March 30, 1981; October 5, 1992, John Bemrose, review of Good Bones; October 3, 1993, Judith Timson, "Atwood's Triumph," pp. 56-61; February 6, 1995, John Bemrose, review of Morning in the Burned House; September 23, 1996, Diane Turbide, "Amazing Atwood," pp. 42-45; October 14, 1996, p. 11; July 1, 1999, Margaret Atwood, "Survival, Then and Now," p. 54; September 11, 2000, John Bemrose, review of Margaret's Museum, p. 54.
New York Review of Books, December 16, 1993, Gabrielle Annan, review of The Robber Bride, pp. 14-15; December 19, 1996, Hilary Mantel, review of Alias Grace, pp. 4-6.
New York Times, December 23, 1976; January 10, 1980; February 8, 1980; March 6, 1982, Anatole Broyard, review of Bodily Harm, p. 13; March 28, 1982, Judy Klemesrud, "Canada's High Priestess of Angst," p. 21; September 15, 1982; January 27, 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of The Handmaid's Tale, p. C24; February 17, 1986, Mervyn Rothstein, "Atwood Finds No Balm in Gilead," p. C11; November 5, 1986; October 26, 1993, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Robber Bride, p. C20; November 23, 1993, Sarah Lyall, "An Author Who Lets Women Be Bad Guys," pp. C13, C16; September 8, 2000, Michiko Kakutani, review of The Blind Assassin, p. E43.
New York Times Book Review, October 18, 1970, Millicent Bell, review of The Edible Woman; March 4, 1973; April 6, 1975; September 26, 1976; May 21, 1978; February 3, 1980, Marilyn French, review of Life before Man, pp. 1, 26; October 11, 1981; February 9, 1986, Mary McCarthy, "Breeders, Wives, and Un-women," pp. 1, 35; February 5, 1989, Alice McDermott, "What Little Girls Are Really Made Of," pp. 1, 35; October 31, 1993, Lorrie Moore, review of The Robber Bride, pp. 1, 22; December 11, 1994, Jennifer Howard, review of Good Bones and Simple Murders; April 28, 1996, p. 22; December 29, 1996, Francine Prose, review of Alias Grace, p. 6; September 3, 2000, p. 7.
People, May 19, 1980; February 27, 1989, Susan Toepfer, review of Cat's Eye, pp. 22-23; March 6, 1989, Kim Hubbard, "Reflected in Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye, Girlhood Looms as a Time of Cruelty and Terror," pp. 205-206; December 18, 1995, review of Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, August 23, 1976; October 3, 1994, review of Good Bones and Simple Murders; August 28, 1995, pp. 107-108; January 1, 1996, review of Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, p. 70; October 7, 1996, p. 58; April 13, 1998, p. 65; July 24, 2000, review of The Blind Assassin, p. 67, and interview with Atwood, p. 68; August 23, 2004, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 54.
Quill & Quire, April, 1981, Robert Sward, review of True Stories; September, 1984; September, 1995, review of Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, p. 73.
Resource Links, December, 2003, Denise Parrott, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 1; April, 2005, Adriane Pettit, review of Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, p. 1.
School Library Journal, November, 2004, Caroline Ward, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 90.
Times (London, England), March 13, 1986; June 4, 1987; June 10, 1987; January 26, 1989, Philip Howard, review of Cat's Eye; November 8, 2000, p. 3.
Times Literary Supplement, March 21, 1986; June 12, 1987; September 29, 2000, p. 24.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 21, 1993, p. 1.
Washington Post Book World, September 26, 1976; December 3, 1978; January 27, 1980; March 14, 1982; February 2, 1986; November 7, 1993, Francine Prose, review of The Robber Bride, p. 1; September 3, 2000, Michael Dirda, review of The Blind Assassin, pp. 15-16; November 7, 2004, Elizabeth Ward, review of Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, p. 12.
Writer's Digest, October, 2000, p. 34.
World and I, January, 2003, Linda Simon, "Words and Their Glories: Margaret Atwood's Journey," p. 236.
Atwood Society Web site, http://www.mscd.edu/∼atwoodso/ (May 10, 2006).
Margaret Atwood Information Site, http://www.owtoad.com/ (May 10, 2006).
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (May 10, 2006), "Margaret Atwood."
"Atwood, Margaret 1939–." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/atwood-margaret-1939
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Margaret Eleanor Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood
One of Canada's most distinguished person of letters, Margaret Eleanor Atwood (born 1939) was an internationally famous novelist, poet, critic, and politically committed cultural activist.
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, in 1939, moving to Sault Ste. Marie in 1945 and to Toronto in 1946. Until she was 11, she spent half of each year in the northern Ontario wilderness, where her father worked as an entomologist. She studied at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where she received a B.A. in 1961, and at Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass. (M.A. 1962). Atwood also studied at Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., from 1962-63 and 1965-67.
In addition to her academic accomplishments, Atwood received many honorary degrees, including: D. Litt., Trent University, 1973; LL.D., Queen's University, 1974; D. Litt., Concordia, 1980; Smith College, Northampton, Mass., 1982; University of Toronto, 1983; University of Waterloo, 1985; University of Guelph, 1985; Mount Holyoke College, 1985; Victoria College, 1987; Université de Montréal, 1991; University of Leeds, 1994; and McMaster University, 1996.
She has received more than 55 awards, including two Governor General's Awards, the first in 1966 for The Circle Game, her first major book of poems; the second for her 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which was also shortlisted for Britain's Booker Prize and made into a fairly successful wide circulation movie. Her recognition was often reflective of the diversity of her work. Among awards, honors, and prizes was a Guggenheim fellowship, the Los Angeles Times Fiction Award, 1986; Ms. Magazine's Woman of the Year, 1986; Canadian Booksellers Association Author of the Year, 1989; Government of France's Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, 1994; the Sunday Times Award for Literary Excellence, (London, U.K.), 1994; the Humanist of the Year Award, 1987; shortlisted for the Ritz Hemingway Prize (Paris), 1987; and Arthur C. Clarke Award for best Science Fiction, 1987.
Atwood clearly—quite early—enjoyed a career of remarkable distinction and success, not only as the highly prolific author of volumes of poetry, ten novels, two books of literary criticism, four collections of short stories, and three children's books and editor of two anthologies, as well as author of much uncollected journalism, but also as a major public figure, cultural commentator, and proponent of activist views in areas ranging from Canadian nationalism, through feminism, to such international causes as Amnesty International and PEN.
Most of her fiction has been translated into several foreign languages; a new Atwood novel becomes a Canadian, American, and international best-seller immediately (only Robertson Davies, among Canadian writers, has a comparable international public). There is a Margaret Atwood Society, a Margaret Atwood Newsletter, and an ever-increasing number of scholars studying and teachers teaching her work in women's studies courses as well as North American literature courses world wide.
Atwood is not only an acclaimed writer, serious as well as popular, in several genres, but outspoken, sardonically memorable, and distinctly quotable on moral and political private and public issues and a stalwart spokesperson for Canadian literature. Her popular and influential contribution to the never-ending quest for the Canadian identity, Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature (1972), is, among other things, a manifesto for her own work; what began as a polemical political comment on Canadian cultural history is now a part of that very history.
She alternated prose and poetry throughout her career, often publishing a book of each in the same or consecutive years. While in a general sense the poems represent "private" myth and "personal" expression and the novels a more public and "social" expression, there is, as these dates suggest, continual interweaving and cross-connection between her prose and her poetry. The short story collections, Dancing Girls (1977), Bluebeard's Egg (1983), and especially the short stories cum prose poems in the remarkable, overtly metafictional collection Murder in the Dark (1983), bridge the gap between her poetry and her prose.
Her first six volumes of verse—The Circle Game (1966), The Animals in That Country (1968), The Journals of Susanna Moodie (1970), Procedures for Underground (1970), Power Politics (1971), and You Are Happy (1974)—are represented in Selected Poems (1976); the three subsequent volumes—Two-Headed Poems (1978), True Stories (1981), and Interlunar (1984)—in Selected Poems II (1986).
She wrote in an exact, vivid, witty, and often sharply discomfiting style in both prose and poetry. Her writing is often grotesque and unsparing in its gaze at pain and unfairness:
you fit into me like a hook into an eye fish hook open eye (Power Politics)
"Nature" in her poems is a haunted, explicitly Canadian wilderness in which, unnervingly, man is the major predator of and terror to the "animals of that country," including himself. Her poetry works with myths, public and private; metamorphosis; process-product dualities of entrapment, like Blake's "mind-forg'd manacles"; and the vertical movement from underground to surface exemplified by such mythic figures as Persephone and Orpheus.
The Canadian critic Northrop Frye and the little-known, much underrated Canadian poet Jay Macpherson, were key influences on her early books. The Journals of Susanna Moodie echo the national themes of Survival, the individual's struggle with wilderness ending in a sort of defeat: "I planted him in that country/Like a flag," says Moodie of her drowned son. In Power Politics the grimmer, more mordant phases of Atwood's sex-war feminism become evident in poems with the power of a less vulnerable, more life-affirming Sylvia Plath.
Atwood's novels are social satires as well as identity quests. Her typical heroine is a modern urban woman, often a writer or artist, always with some social-professional commitment, fighting for self and survival in a society where men are the all-too-friendly enemy but women are often complicit in their own entrapment. Critics of Atwood, largely feminist in approach, see Surfacing (1972) as a Jungian "search for the essential female self" and The Edible Woman (1969) and Lady Oracle (1976) as comedies of female re-integration, the latter also being notable for its hilarious and skillful parodies of the female Gothic. Life Before Man (1979), the least comic, is slower, more somber, built on internal thought events, unified by the poetic subtexts drawn from the documentary detail of its setting in the Royal Ontario Museum.
Bodily Harm (1981) is explicitly political and feminist. Its heroine experiences violence and mutilation—bodily harm—in the double setting of the hospital where she endures her mastectomy and the tropical island from whose political violence she discovers she cannot stay aloof. She is there, it turns out, to "bear witness" to the torture inscribed on the female body of a companion, to record this mutilation in her reporter's language, and to acknowledge her own involvement through a compassion that releases the "hope" caught in "Pandora's box."
The Handmaid's Tale, a feminist rewriting (published in 1985) of the dystopia of Orwell's 1984, is, like all dystopias, not a novel of the future but a critique of the present day in which the seeds of a destructive, misogynistic puritan revival are already planted. It is Atwood's closest approach to science fiction.
Cat's Eye (1988) is a self-portrait of the (female) artist returning to the Toronto of her childhood to recover her own past and with it a resurgence of her creativity. Her flashback recollections alternate with her satiric observations of the contemporary cultural scene in a narrative pattern found in most of Atwood's novels.
More recent books include a children's book, For the Birds (1990), and two volumes of short fiction, Wilderness Tips (1991) and Good Bones (1992). In 1993 Atwood published The Robber Bride, which was co-winner of Ontario's Trillium Book Award and won the City of Toronto Award.
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature, the printed version of the four Clarendon Lectures delivered at Oxford University (England) in 1991 was published around the world in 1995. Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut and The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories were released in 1995.
Morning in the Burned House (1995) was her first book of new poetry in a decade. Alias Grace was first published in hardcover in the fall of 1996 and in the summer of 1997 as a paperback. It is the story of an infamous, 19th-century Canadian woman convicted as an accessory in the murder of her employer and his mistress. The lead character spends most of the novel in limbo between prison and an insane asylum, with doctors and psychologists attempting to diagnose her.
Atwood's literary works have also been recognized in other forms of artistic endeavor. In 1981, she worked on a television drama, Snowbird (CBC), and had her children's book Anna's Pet (1980) adapted for stage (1986).
One of the largest Atwood collections can be seen at The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, located at the University of Toronto. Manuscripts, reviews, critical responses, correspondence, and copies of both domestic and foreign editions are on display, though some areas of the collection are restricted access, requiring special permission for viewing or copying.
Atwood is known as a very accessible writer. One of her projects, the official Margaret Atwood Web site, is edited by Atwood herself and updated frequently. The Internet resource is an extensive, comprehensive guide to the literary life of the author, while also revealing a peek into Atwood's personality with the links to her favorite charities, such as the Artists Against Racism site, or jocular blurbs she posts when the whim hits. As well, the site provides dates of lectures and appearances, updates of current writing projects, and reviews she has written. The address is: http://www.web.net/owtoad/toc.htm
She is also a talented photographer and watercolorist. Her paintings are clearly illustrative of her prose and poetry and she did, on occasion, design her own book covers. Her collages and cover for The Journals of Susanna Moodie bring together the visual and verbal media.
All Atwood's novels and her collected poems are widely and internationally available, as is considerable criticism and scholarship. Two collections, Arnold and Cathy Davidson's The Art of Margaret Atwood: Essays in Criticism (1981) and Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan Garden Castro's Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms (1988), along with Sherrill Grace's book Violent Duality: A Study of Margaret Atwood (1980), are good places to start exploring her, but Atwood is a very accessible writer who is perhaps best approached directly.
See the official Margaret Atwood Web site, edited by Atwood herself, as well as BDD Online, at http://www.bbd.com and other web sites. □
"Margaret Eleanor Atwood." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/margaret-eleanor-atwood
"Margaret Eleanor Atwood." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/margaret-eleanor-atwood
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One of Canada's best-known writers, Margaret Atwood is an internationally famous novelist, poet, and critic. She is also committed to positive change in our way of life.
Margaret Eleanor Atwood was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, in 1939. She moved with her family to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, in 1945 and to Toronto, Canada, in 1946. Until she was eleven she spent half of each year in the northern Ontario wilderness, where her father worked as an entomologist (insect scientist). Her writing was one of the many things she enjoyed in her "bush" time, away from school. At age six she was writing morality plays, poems, comic books, and had started a novel. School and preadolescence brought her a taste for home economics. Her writing resurfaced in high school, though, where she returned to writing poetry. Her favorite writer as a teen was Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849), who was famous for his dark mystery stories.
Atwood was sixteen years old when she made her commitment to pursue writing as a lifetime career. She studied at Victoria College, University of Toronto, where she received a bachelor's degree in 1961. Then she went on to complete her master's degree at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1962. Atwood also studied at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, from 1962 to 1963 and from 1965 to 1967.
Honors and awards
Atwood has received more than fifty-five awards, including two Governor General's Awards, the first in 1966 for The Circle Game, her first major book of poems; the second for her 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which was made into a movie. In 1981 she worked on a television drama, Snowbird, and had her children's book Anna's Pet (1980) adapted for stage (1986). Her recognition is often reflective of the wide range of her work. She is also a major public figure and cultural commentator.
Most of Atwood's fiction has been translated into several foreign languages. A new Atwood novel becomes a Canadian, American, and international bestseller immediately. There is a Margaret Atwood Society, a Margaret Atwood Newsletter, and an ever-increasing number of scholars studying and teaching her work in women's studies courses and in North American literature courses worldwide.
Style and statement
Atwood has alternated prose (writing that differs from poetry due to lack of rhyme and closeness to everyday speech) and poetry throughout her career, often publishing a book of each in the same or consecutive years. While in a general sense the poems represent "private" myth and "personal" expression and the novels represent a more public and "social" expression, there is, as these dates suggest, continual interweaving and cross-connection between her prose and her poetry. The short story collections, Dancing Girls (1977), Bluebeard's Egg (1983), and especially the short stories in the remarkable collection Murder in the Dark (1983) bridge the gap between her poetry and her prose.
Atwood writes in an exact, vivid, and witty, style in both prose and poetry. Her writing is often unsparing in its gaze at pain and unfairness: "you fit into me / like a hook into an eye / a fish hook / an open eye" (from Power Politics ) "Nature" in her poems is a haunted, clearly Canadian wilderness in which, dangerously, man is the major predator of and terror to the "animals of that country," including himself.
Atwood's novels are sarcastic jabs at society as well as identity quests. Her typical heroine is a modern urban woman, often a writer or artist, always with some social-professional commitment. The heroine fights for self and survival in a society where men are the all-too-friendly enemy, but where women are often participants in their own entrapment.
Atwood is also a talented photographer and watercolorist. Her paintings are clearly descriptive of her prose and poetry and she did, on occasion, design her own book covers. Her collages and cover for The Journals of Susanna Moodie bring together the visual and the written word.
Popular and accessible
Atwood is known as a very accessible writer. One of her projects, the official Margaret Atwood Website, is edited by Atwood herself and updated frequently. The Internet resource is an extensive, comprehensive guide to the literary life of the author. It also reveals a peek into Atwood's personality with the links to her favorite charities, such as the Artists Against Racism site, or humorous blurbs she posts when the whim hits. As well, the site provides dates of lectures and appearances, updates of current writing projects, and reviews she has written. The address is: http://www.owtoad.com
Margaret Atwood's contribution to Canadian literature was most recently recognized in 2000, when she received Britain's highest literary award, the $47,000 Booker Prize. Atwood donated the prize money to environmental and literary causes. Her generosity is not at all a surprising development to her many fans.
For More Information
Cooke, Nathalie. Margaret Atwood: A Biography. Toronto: ECW Press, 1998.
Howells, Coral Ann. Margaret Atwood. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.
VanSpanckeren, Kathryn, and Jan Garden Castro. Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988.
"Atwood, Margaret." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/atwood-margaret
"Atwood, Margaret." UXL Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved July 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/atwood-margaret
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Atwood, Margaret Eleanor
Margaret Eleanor Atwood, 1939–, Canadian novelist and poet. Atwood is a skilled and powerful storyteller whose novels, mainly set in the near future, sometimes make use of such popular genres as historical, detective, and science fiction. Her writing typically treats contemporary issues, such as feminism, sexual politics, the fate of Canada and Canadian literature, and the intrusive nature of mass society. Her best-known novel, The Handmaid's Tale (1986), is set in a mid-21st-century American dystopia ruled by religious extremists. Among her other works are the novels The Edible Woman (1969), Surfacing (1972), Bodily Harm (1981), The Robber Bride (1993), Alias Grace (1996), The Blind Assassin (2000; Booker Prize), The Penelopiad (2005), and the postapocalyptic trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and MaddAddam (2013). Her short stories have been collected in Dancing Girls (1983), Bluebeard's Eggs (1993), Moral Disorder (2006), and Stone Mattress (2014). She also has written several volumes of poetry, including The Circle Game (1965), Power Politics (1970), and True Stories (1981), and numerous essays. Her nonfiction includes Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008) and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011).
See interviews in E. G. Ingersoll, ed., Margaret Atwood: Conversations (1990) and V.-L. Beaulieu, ed., Two Solicitudes: Conversations (1998); biography by N. Cooke (1998); studies by A. E. and C. N. Davidson, ed. (1981), S. E. Grace and L. Weir (1983), F. Davey (1984), J. Mallinson (1984), J. H. Rosenberg (1984), B. H. Rigney (1987), J. McCombs, ed. (1988), K. VanSpanckeren and J. G. Castro, ed. (1988), S. Hengen (1993), E. Rao (1993), S. R. Wilson (1993), C. Nicholson, ed. (1994), C. A. Howells (1996), L. M. York, ed. (1994), K. F. Stein (1999), H. Bloom, ed. (2000), R. M. Nischik, ed. (2000), P. Cuder (2003), C. Tennant (2003), and S. R. Wilson (2003).
"Atwood, Margaret Eleanor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (July 19, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/atwood-margaret-eleanor
"Atwood, Margaret Eleanor." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/atwood-margaret-eleanor
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Atwood, Margaret (Eleanor)
ATWOOD, Margaret (Eleanor)
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Ottawa, Ontario, 18 November 1939. Education: Victoria College, University of Toronto, 1957-61, B.A. 1961; Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, A.M. 1962; Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 1962-63, 1965-67. Family: Married; one daughter. Career: Lecturer in English, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1964-65; instructor in English, Sir George Williams University, Montreal, 1967-68; teacher of creative writing, University of Alberta, Edmonton, 1969-70; assistant professor of English, York University, Toronto, 1971-72. Editor and member of board of directors, House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 1971-73. Writer-in-residence, University of Toronto, 1972-73, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, 1985, Macquarie University, North Ryde, New South Wales, 1987, and Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas, 1989; Berg Visiting Professor of English, New York University, 1986. President, Writers Union of Canada, 1981-82, and PEN Canadian Centre, 1984-86. Awards: E.J. Pratt medal, 1961; President's medal, University of Western Ontario, 1965; Governor-General's award, 1966, 1986; Centennial Commission prize, 1967; Union League Civic and Arts Foundation prize, 1969, and Bess Hogkin prize, 1974 (Poetry, Chicago); City of Toronto award, 1976, 1989; St. Lawrence award, 1978; Radcliffe medal, 1980; Molson award, 1981; Guggenheim fellowship, 1981; Welsh Arts Council International Writers prize, 1982; Ida Nudel Humanitarian award, 1986; Toronto Arts award, 1986; Los Angeles Times Book award, 1986; Arthur C. Clarke Science-Fiction award, for novel, 1987; Humanist of the Year award, 1987; National Magazine award, for journalism, 1988; Harvard University Centennial medal, 1990; Trillium award, for Wilderness Tips, 1992, for The Robber Bride, 1994; Trillium award for excellence in Ontario writing, 1995; Commonwealth Writer's prize, 1994, Sunday Times award for literary excellence, 1994, both for The Robber Bride. Chevalier dans L'Ordre des arts et des lettres, 1994; Giller prize 1996; Medal of Honor for Literature (National Arts Club), 1997. D. Litt.: Trent University, Peterborough, Ontario, 1973; Concordia University, Montreal, 1980; Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, 1982; University of Toronto, 1983; Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, 1985; University of Waterloo, Ontario, 1985; University of Guelph, Ontario, 1985; Victoria College, 1987; University of Leeds, 1994; McMaster University, 1996. LL.D.: Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, 1974. Honorary degree from Oxford University, Oxford, England, 1998. Companion, Order of Canada, 1981. Fellow, Royal Society of Canada, 1987; Honorary Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1988. Agent: Phoebe Larmore, 228 Main Street, Venice, California 90291, U.S.A. Address: c/o Oxford University Press, 70 Wynford Drive, Don Mills, Ontario M3C 1J9, Canada.
The Edible Woman. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, and London, Deutsch, 1969; Boston, Little Brown, 1970; New York, Bantam Books, 1996.
Surfacing. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1972; London, Deutsch, and New York, Simon and Schuster, 1973.
Lady Oracle. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, and New York, Simon and Schuster, 1976; London, Deutsch, 1977.
Life Before Man. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1979; New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Cape, 1980.
Bodily Harm. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1981; New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Cape, 1982.
The Handmaid's Tale. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1985;Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Cape, 1986.
Cat's Eye. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1988; New York, Doubleday, and London, Bloomsbury, 1989.
The Robber Bride. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, New York, Doubleday, and London, Bloomsbury, 1993.
Alias Grace. New York, Nan A. Talese, 1996.
The Blind Assassin. New York, Nan A. Talese, 2000.
Dancing Girls and Other Stories. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1977; New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Cape, 1982.
Encounters with the Element Man. Concord, New Hampshire, Ewert, 1982.
Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems. Toronto, CoachHouse Press, 1983; London, Cape, 1984.
Bluebeard's Egg and Other Stories. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1983; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1986; London, Cape, 1987.
Unearthing Suite. Toronto, Grand Union Press, 1983.
Hurricane Hazel and Other Stories. Helsinki, Eurographica, 1986.
Wilderness Tips. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, New York, Doubleday, and London, Bloomsbury, 1991.
Good Bones. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1992; London, Bloomsbury, 1993; published as Good Bones and Simple Murders. New York, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1994.
In Our Nature: Stories of Wilderness, edited by Donna Seaman. NewYork, Dorling Kindersley, 2000.
Uncollected Short Stories
"When It Happens," in The Editors' Choice 1, edited by George E. Murphy, Jr. New York, Bantam, 1985.
"Theology," in Harper's (New York), September 1988.
"Kat," in New Yorker, 5 March 1990.
"Weight," in Vogue (New York), August 1990.
"Hack Wednesday," in New Yorker, 17 September 1990.
Contributor, Fiction, edited by R. S. Gwynn. New York, HarperCollins, 1993.
Contributor, Myths and Voices: Contemporary Canadian Fiction, edited by David Lampe. Fredonia, New York, White Pine Press, 1993.
The Trumpets of Summer, 1964.
The Servant Girl, 1974; Snowbird, 1981; Heaven on Earth, with Peter Pearson, 1986.
Double Persephone. Toronto, Hawskhead Press, 1961.
The Circle Game (single poem). Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, CranbrookAcademy of Art, 1964; introduction by Sherrill Grace. Toronto, House of Anansi, 1998.
Talismans for Children. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, CranbrookAcademy of Art, 1965.
Kaleidoscopes: Baroque. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, CranbrookAcademy of Art, 1965.
Speeches for Doctor Frankenstein. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1966.
The Circle Game (collection). Toronto, Contact Press, 1966.
Expeditions. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, Cranbrook Academy ofArt, 1966.
The Animals in That County. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1968;Boston, Little Brown, 1969.
Who Was in the Garden. Santa Barbara, California, Unicorn, 1969.
Five Modern Canadian Poets, with others, edited by Eli Mandel. Toronto, Holt Rinehart, 1970.
The Journals of Susanna Moodie. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1970; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1997.
Oratorio for Sasquatch, Man and Two Androids: Poems for Voices. Toronto, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1970.
Procedures for Underground. Toronto, Oxford University Press, andBoston, Little Brown, 1970.
Power Politics. Toronto, Anansi, 1971; New York, Harper, 1973; second edition published as Power Politics: Poems, Concord, Ontario, Anansi, 1996.
You Are Happy. Toronto, Oxford University Press, and New York, Harper, 1974.
Selected Poems. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1976; New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978.
Marsh, Hawk. Toronto, Dreadnaught, 1977.
Two-Headed Poems. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1978; NewYork, Simon and Schuster, 1981.
True Stories. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1981; New York, Simon and Schuster, and London, Cape, 1982.
Notes Towards a Poem That Can Never Be Written. Toronto, Salamander Press, 1981.
Snake Poems. Toronto, Salamander Press, 1983.
Interlunar. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1984; London, Cape, 1988.
Selected Poems 2: Poems Selected and New 1976-1986. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1986; Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
Selected Poems 1966-1984. Toronto, Oxford University Press, 1990.
Poems 1965-1975. London, Virago Press, 1991.
Morning in the Burned House. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, and London, Virago, 1995.
Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965-1995. London, Virago, 1998.
Other (for children)
Up in the Tree. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1978.
Anna's Pet, with Joyce Barkhouse. Toronto, Lorimer, 1980.
For the Birds. Toronto, Douglas and McIntyre, 1990.
Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, illustrated by MaryannKovalski. New York, Workman, 1995.
Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto, Anansi, 1972.
Days of the Rebels 1815-1840. Toronto, Natural Science of Canada, 1977.
Second Words: Selected Critical Prose. Toronto, Anansi, 1982;Boston, Beacon Press, 1984.
Margaret Atwood: Conversations, edited by Earl G. Ingersoll. Princeton, New Jersey, Ontario Review Press, 1990.
Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature. NewYork, Oxford University Press, 1995.
The Labrador Fiasco. London, Bloomsbury, 1996.
A Quiet Game: And Other Early Works, edited by Kathy Chung andSherill Grace, with illustrations by Kathy Chung. Edmonton, Alberta, Juvenilia Press, 1997.
Two Solicitudes: Conversations (with Victory-Levy Beaulieu), translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1998.
Introduction, Women Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, edited by George Plimpton. New York, Modern Library, 1998.
Editor, The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English. Toronto, New York, and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1982.
Editor, with Robert Weaver, The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English. Toronto, Oxford, and New York, Oxford Univeristy Press, 1986.
Editor, The Canlit Food Book: From Pen to Palate: A Collection of Tasty Literary Fare. Toronto, Totem, 1987.
Editor, with Shannon Ravenel, The Best American Short Stories 1989. Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1989.
Editor, Barbed Lyres. Toronto, Key Porter, 1990.
Editor, with Barry Callaghan, Gwendolyn MacEwen. Toronto, ExileEditions, 1994.
Editor, with Robert Weaver, The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English. New York, Oxford University Press, 1995.
Foreword, The Book Group Book: A Thoughtful Guide to Forming and Enjoying a Stimulating Book Discussion Group, edited by Ellen Slezak. Chicago Review Press, 1995.*
"Margaret Atwood: An Annotated Bibliography" (prose and poetry) by Alan J. Horne, in The Annotated Bibliography of Canada's Major Authors 1-2 edited by Robert Lecker and Jack David, Downsview, Ontario, ECW Press, 2 vols., 1979-80.
Fisher Library, University of Toronto.
Margaret Atwood: A Symposium edited by Linda Sandler, Victoria, British Columbia, University of Victoria, 1977; A Violent Duality by Sherrill E. Grace, Montreal, Véhicule Press, 1979, and Margaret Atwood: Language, Text, and System edited by Grace and Lorraine Weir, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 1983; The Art of Margaret Atwood: Essays in Criticism edited by Arnold E. Davidson and Cathy N. Davidson, Toronto, Anansi, 1981; Margaret Atwood by Jerome H. Rosenberg, Boston, Twayne, 1984; Margaret Atwood: A Feminist Poetics by Frank Davey, Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1984; Margaret Atwood by Barbara Hill Rigney, London, Macmillan, 1987; Margaret Atwood: Reflection and Reality by Beatrice Mendez-Egle, Edinburg, Texas, Pan American University, 1987; Critical Essays on Margaret Atwood edited by Judith McCombs, Boston, Hall, 1988; Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms edited by Kathryn van Spanckeren and Jan Garden Castro, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1988; The Novels of Margaret Atwood and Anita Desai: A Comparative Study in Feminist Perspectives by Sunaina Singh, New Delhi, Creative Books, 1994; Various Atwoods: Essays on the Later Poems, Short Fiction, and Novels, edited by Lorraine M. York, Concord, Ontario, Anansi, 1995; The Influence of Painting on Five Canadian Writers: Alice Munro, Hugh Hood, Timothy Findley, Margaret Atwood, and Michael Ondaatje by John Cooke, Lewiston, New York, Edwin Mellen Press, 1996; Margaret Atwood by Coral Ann Howells, New York, St. Martin's, 1996; Re/membering Selves: Alienation and Survival in the Novels of Margaret Atwood and Margaret Laurence by Coomi S. Vevaina, New Delhi, Creative Books, 1996; Margaret Atwood: A Biography by Nathalie Cooke, Toronto, ECW Press, 1998; The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood Starting Out by Rosemary Sullivan, Toronto, HarperFlamingo Canada, 1998; Margaret Atwood Revisited by Karen F. Stein, New York, Twayne, 1999; Margaret Atwood, edited by Harold Bloom, Philadelphia, Chelsea House, 2000.* * *
In interviews, Margaret Atwood has often commented that when she started writing in the late 1950s and early 1960s, "Canadian literature" was considered a contradiction in terms. Arguably, as a novelist, poet, critic, and literary/political activist, Atwood has done more to put Canada on the literary map than any other author. While Atwood is an accomplished poet—and the interconnections between her poetry, short fiction, and her longer works are both rich and complex—it is primarily as a novelist that she has gained an international reputation. Her first novel, The Edible Woman, establishes a preoccupation that remains central in all her subsequent fiction: power politics, and in particular, sexual politics. Excavating their layered histories and formative childhood experiences, Atwood explores and exposes the unequal power relations that shape and inhibit the lives of her female protagonists. Novel by novel, she extends the scope and the complexity of this examination in an astute commentary on North American social and cultural politics and an unflinching recognition of our all too human capacity to both inflict and sustain harm. Although Atwood refuses any designations that may pigeonhole her as a writer, her work is clearly feminist, and distinctively Canadian.
While Atwood's first three novels are quite different in form and tone—anti-comedy, mythic quest, and Gothic spoof—they are united by their focus on the individual effects of a society that encourages women to collude in their own objectification. The three protagonists: Marian in The Edible Woman, the significantly unnamed narrator in Surfacing, and Joan Foster in Lady Oracle, all experience (or witness) the transformations demanded by gendered social norms, with their illusory promise of a happily ever after. Atwood's heroines, however, are not the stuff of which fairy tales or costume gothics are made. Thus, The Edible Woman traces the ambivalent responses of Marian MacAlpin (who, ironically, works for a market research firm), to her upcoming marriage to a young, rising lawyer. Here, Atwood links the economy of a consumer society with women's place in the economy of the marriage market for Marian's engagement to Peter marks her transition from subject consumer to object consumed as she becomes entrapped by his conservative expectations of regulation femininity. As Peter, the epitome of a shrink-wrapped husband-to-be, starts subjecting Marian to his ideal wife makeover, Marian experiences an increasing sense of her self as an object, an alienation that is textually signaled by the movement from first-to third-person narration. While she generally acquiesces to Peter's demands, her unconscious rejection of this process is played out quite literally in terms of consumption: Marian's body begins to refuse food. This rejection begins with steak, but as the wedding day approaches her rebellion escalates in a symbolic identification with any edible object. Finally, she flees her own engagement party before she is trapped forever in the menacing photographic frame of Peter's desires. Her return to subject status is marked by the baking of an edible woman; presenting this cake surrogate to her shocked fiancé, she rejects both his marriage proposal and his objectifying construction of her. Eating the cake herself, she moves from consumed victim to autonomous consumer.
Atwood's second novel develops many of the thematic concerns of her poetry in evocative prose. Like The Edible Woman, Surfacing presents a woman disabled by the consequences of her "marital" experience, but the protagonist's journey from psychic and emotional paralysis to unified agency has a powerful mythic dimension that the earlier novel lacks. With three companions, the narrator returns to the landscape of her childhood—a remote cabin on a lake in Northern Quebec—to search for her missing father. She is ambivalent about revisiting the scene of her past, because it reminds her of a more immediate event, the loss of her child in a recent divorce. It is an experience that has left her anaesthetized, cut off from her emotions by a form of mind/body split, and her memories are so painful that she represses them in willful amnesia. The quest in search of her father, however, triggers a quest of self-discovery, as the narrator's history refuses to remain submerged; she is haunted by memories of her parents, a marriage that never was, and her complicity in the abortion of her child. Eventually, she is forced to confront her specters when a dive below the lake surface becomes a symbolic dive into her own unconscious. Abandoning her manipulative companions, she ritualistically sheds all vestiges of a language and culture that has led her into self-betrayal and murder. Alone on the island, she undergoes a shamanistic cleansing madness, ultimately surfacing with a new-found sense of self. The novel's conclusion resonates with Atwood's contemporaneous thematic guide to Canadian literature, Survival. Poised to return to the world that she has left, the narrator's vision leaves her with a resolution that speaks to her experience as both a Canadian and as a woman: "This above all, to refuse to be a victim."
Lady Oracle comes as something of a light relief as Atwood's concerns with metamorphosis and identity are given a comic spin. With a protagonist whose many incarnations give new meaning to "a.k.a.," Atwood parodies the conventions of romance and of the gothic in an exploration of the damaging effects of mass-produced fantasies for women. Joan Foster is the ultimate escape artist whose identity is made up of a number of different personae. Ostensibly, she is Joan Foster, self-effacing wife of an ineffectually radical husband, but she is also Joan Foster, celebrated author of a volume of feminist poetry. Secretly, she is Louisa K. Delacourt, author of some fifteen costume gothics. Lurking in the background is a freakish circus clown figure, the Fat Lady, a lingering self-conception from her years as an overweight, unloved child. When, under threat of blackmail, Joan's various lives are in danger of converging, she fakes her own drowning and flees to Italy. These personae, however, continue to surface as she completes her latest Harlequinesque offering, Stalked By Love, in an ironic and unconscious identification with her heroine's predicament. For all its droll comedy—Atwood even includes parodic autobiographical asides—Lady Oracle, like The Edible Woman, contains a serious message. Although Joan's recognition of her situation is debatable, the novel demonstrates the debilitating consequences for women of the beauty myth and the conventional romance plot.
Life Before Man is Atwood's bleakest exploration of relations between the sexes, and her most atypical novel to date. Although popular with readers, it has been less well received by critics, partly because of its uncharacteristic pessimism. Set in a claustrophobic one-mile radius of metropolitan Toronto, the novel is dominated by a central symbolic locale, the dinosaur exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum. Atwood's specimens are emotionally isolated characters involved in a love triangle: Elizabeth, whose icy, self-control is a product of a dreadful childhood; Nate, her indecisive, politically disillusioned husband; and Lesje, a dreamy paleontologist who becomes Nate's lover. Covering a precisely dated two-year span, and structured by the alternating perceptions of the participants in this banal ménage à trois, Life Before Man traces the frustrated interactions of characters who cannot connect. Events in the novel are unrelentingly quotidian; even the dramatic suicide of Elizabeth's lover occurs before the story opens. Lesje's obsession with prehistory focuses the novel's exploration of time and extinction, since the age of the dinosaurs provides a metaphysical conceit for the eyeblink of human existence in cosmic terms. Perhaps, Atwood implies, we are only in the middle of a lengthy evolutionary process; certainly, the changes undergone by the three protagonists are minimal at best. Since they are products of social milieu that is all too recognizable as our own, "life before man" suggests that at this historical moment ours is a condition that is not yet fully human.
Challenged about the apparent hopelessness of Life Before Man, Atwood asserts the writer's responsibility to bear witness to the world around her. Moving her examination of power politics into an international arena, Atwood's next two novels, Bodily Harm and The Handmaid's Tale, translate this commitment into a moral imperative. Here, Atwood outlines the interconnected nature of various oppressions for the protagonists' personal circumstances are literally or symbolically associated with systemic abuses of power. Initially, both Rennie Wilford in Bodily Harm and Offred in The Handmaid's Tale are complacently assured of their own political neutrality, in the mistaken belief that violence happens elsewhere to other people. They quickly learn, however, that immunity is a political myth. Rennie becomes embroiled in the after-effects of British and American foreign policy, while Offred exists in a chilling aggregate of historical and contemporary events pushed to their logical extreme: a totalitarian theocracy whose seeds lie in America's Puritan history. Both take up the challenge of documenting their experiences, bearing witness to the brutal realities of the worlds that they inhabit. The novels are saved from didacticism, however, by their narrative strength and the ironic observations of the protagonists who demonstrate that history, especially personal history, is never reducible to simplistic black and white categorizations.
Bodily Harm 's protagonist is a journalist of sorts, but her work centers on surfaces rather than depths: Rennie writes trivial lifestyle pieces for city magazines. Her own insulated lifestyle, however, is disrupted by a malignant tumor. After a mastectomy, and subsequent abandonment by her lover—a more sinister version of Peter in The Edible Woman —she flees to a Caribbean island attempting to escape her feelings of violation and a life that has become too horrifically real. Structured associatively, rather than chronologically, Bodily Harm demonstrates Atwood's talent for mining the multilayered possibilities of metaphorical language as she links sexism with imperialism, cancer of the female body with cancer of the body politic. The fragmented narrative echoes Rennie's own sense of dismemberment. Like the narrator in Surfacing, she is alienated from the body that has betrayed her, a divorce that symbolically complements her inability to connect with others. Thus, she refuses to engage with the political situation in her island getaway, preferring instead to remain a professional tourist. When the island is shaken by a political coup, however, Rennie is dragged unwillingly into the thick of it. Witnessing the brutal torture of a defenseless prisoner, and the equally viscous beating of her friend and cellmate, Lora, Rennie starts making some personal and political connections. Finally, she realizes the illusory nature of her belief in her own political exemption, and of the pressing need for massive involvement. Clearly, Atwood's own involvement with Amnesty International marks this novel, for Rennie's projected response to the Canadian officials who release her and request her silence is a telling resolution: "In any case she is a subversive. She was not one once but now she is. A reporter. She will pick her time; then she will report."
The Handmaid's Tale —Atwood's first sustained prose foray into speculative fiction—struck many as a radical departure, but it is merely a versatile variation in her ongoing exploration of the intersections of sex and power. It is also the novel that best exemplifies her understanding of the political, a term that she defines as "who's allowed to do what to whom, who gets what from whom, who gets away with it and how." Revisioning Orwell's 1984 in feminist terms, Atwood creates the Republic of Gilead, a dystopian projection extrapolated from current trends. Although some critics derided its plausibility, the path of American affairs since the novel's publication makes The Handmaid's Tale read like prophetic realism. In Atwood's not-too-distant patriarchal future, New England has been taken over by right-wing Christian fundamentalists whose family values involve the state-enforced reduction of women to economic and biological functions, justified by selective readings of the Old Testament. As one of the few fertile women in a polluted world, the protagonist's role is that of a surrogate mother; she is a handmaid, ritually impregnated by the paternalistic Commander whose name she bears. Offred's "now" is partially explained by the memories that both pain and sustain her in a series of flashbacks to a past very similar to our own present. Then, Offred's chosen absence from history offered freedom; in Gilead this imposed absence constitutes historical erasure. Thus, her account documents her struggle to maintain her identity in a society that refuses to acknowledge it. Prohibited from access to pens or books, Offred's precocious command of language proves central to her self-preservation. And of course Offred is constructing and preserving her identity through the fragmented story that she relates, thus her text is strewn with postmodern allusions to the role of the reader in that process. As a subversive reporter on experience, Offred's plea for an audience becomes all the more pressing in the light of the ironic historical notes that conclude the novel.
With Cat's Eye, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace, Atwood returns to the Toronto setting of her earlier work to explore public and private histories, and the vicissitudes of female friendships. In many ways, Cat's Eye is also a return to the territory covered in Surfacing, not only in its autobiographical echoes, but also in its exploration of time and memory. Both present an artist protagonist reluctant to examine her personal and historical depths, who eventually wrestles with her inner demons in a psychic exorcism, but Cat's Eye 's complexities are more subtle and more fully realized. The novel is retrospective both in form and content. A retrospective exhibition brings a grudging Elaine Risley back to the city of her childhood in a return that initiates an imaginative narrative retrospective of her own supposedly forgotten past. A child of the 1940s and 1950s, (like Atwood), her reflections render the Toronto scene in every minute detail, thus Cat's Eye functions not only as memoir, but also as a social document of post-war Canadian culture. The dramatic center of the novel lies in Elaine's childhood experience of victimization at the hands of her three best friends, and in her ambivalent feelings about the chief agent of her feminine indoctrination and torment, Cordelia. As Atwood presents it, the world of little girls is not marked by sugar and spice, but rather by the same power politics that characterize adult life. Artistic insight is offered, however, in the paintings that are the key to Elaine's unresolved anxieties, and ultimately her attempt to master her past in a visionary blend of revenge and forgiveness, love and loss. Cat's Eye is perhaps Atwood's most profound achievement for here she, like her protagonist, transforms the scattered details of a life into unified work of art.
If Cat's Eye ventures into the uncharted terrain of malicious little girls, then The Robber Bride plumbs the depths of female sexual competitiveness. Here, Atwood braids the contrasting histories and perceptions of three battle-scarred "veterans"—Charis, Tony, and Roz—whose weaknesses are exploited by a machiavellian seductress. In a comic gender inversion of Grimm's tale, the titular villain is Zenia, a protean femme fatale who invades the protagonists' lives only to make off with the booty—their men. Indeed, warfare is the dominant motif, for Zenia's sexual terrorism is played out against a backdrop of past and present military conflict. As in Bodily Harm, the personal and the political are intricately intermingled. The Robber Bride also develops Atwood's characteristic concern with formative influences and female identity since Zenia, like Cordelia in Cat's Eye, functions not only as an antagonist, but also as a doppelgänger for each of the characters. Although each woman's point of view is symmetrically apportioned, it is Tony—the text's literal and figurative historian—whose perspective frames the novel. Musing on the ambiguous promise of History's explanatory power, and its relation to the inexplicability of Zenia, it is she who wonders whether the evil that Zenia represents may not also be a part of us.
With Alias Grace, her most recent novel, Atwood contributes to the contemporary boom in historical fiction, even as she indulges the fascination with "bad girls" that marks her previous two novels. Raiding the nineteenth-century archive, Atwood presents the richly evoked history of Canada's answer to Lizzie Borden: the "celebrated murderess," Grace Marks, convicted of abetting the murder of her Tory employer and his housekeeper/mistress. A Zenia who is allowed to tell her own story, Grace calmly exposes the contradictory constructions of her character, and unsettles the conventional expectations of Simon Jordan, the ambitious doctor who hopes to make his reputation by curing her apparent amnesia about the case. Like the imprisoned handmaid, Grace's tale is her only power and she wields her ability with consummate skill; she is as adept at storytelling as she is at the female art of quilt-making, the novel's dominant, somewhat overdetermined metaphor. Grace Marks's narrative voice is quintessential Atwood—dispassionate, laconic, devastating in its acuity—but, much like the historians who consider the handmaid's tale, Simon Jordan cannot "hear" its political import or register his own complicity in the unequal class and gender system that her story so subtly exposes. Exhibiting the same prurient interest in Grace's case as the salivating public (and, implicitly, the reader), Simon longs for the gory details; an ever enigmatic Grace provides an uncompromisingly detailed account of the social and economic circumstances that may (or may not) have led a housemaid to murder. Although Alias Grace contains a "revelation" that demonstrates Atwood's continued attraction to the psychological possibilities afforded by the gothic mode, even this sensational conclusion is ambiguous. Ultimately, the question of Grace Marks's guilt or innocence is subordinated to a more telling exposé of the power politics that constitute Atwood's abiding concern. In this, her first extended exploration of Canada's past since The Journals of Susanna Moodie, Atwood reiterates and historicizes the central tenet of her moral vision: our human potential to be both a victim and victimizer and our responsibility to be neither.
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Atwood, Margaret Eleanor
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"Atwood, Margaret Eleanor." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved July 19, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/atwood-margaret-eleanor