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The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521548519 | ISBN-10: 0521548519)




The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood




Margaret Atwood’s international celebrity has given a new visibility to Canadian literature in English. This Companion provides a comprehensive critical account of Atwood’s writing across the wide range of genres within which she has worked for the past forty years, while paying attention to her Canadian cultural context and the multiple dimensions of her celebrity. The main concern is with Atwood the writer, but there is also Atwood the media star and public performer, cultural critic, environmentalist and human rights spokeswoman, social and political satirist, and mythmaker. This immensely varied profile is addressed in a series of chapters which cover biographical, textual, and contextual issues. The contributors consider recurrent topics, for what emerges through the multiplicity of Atwood’s voices, personas, and formal experiments are the continuities in her work across decades and across genres. The Introduction contains an analysis of dominant trends in Atwood criticism since the 1970s, while the essays by twelve leading international Atwood critics represent the wide range of different perspectives in current Atwood scholarship.

CORAL ANN HOWELLS is Professor of English and Canadian Literature at the University of Reading. Her books include Private and Fictional Words, Margaret Atwood (winner of the Margaret Atwood Society Best Book Award in 1997), Alice Munro, and Contemporary Canadian Women’s Fiction: Refiguring Identities. She is co-editor of Margaret Atwood: The Shape-Shifter and editor of Where are the Voices Coming From? Canadian Culture and the Legacies of History. She is former President of the British Association of Canadian Studies and has been associate editor of the International Journal of Canadian Studies. She has lectured extensively on Margaret Atwood and Canadian women’s fiction in the UK, Europe, Australia, Canada, USA, and India.







THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO

MARGARET ATWOOD




EDITED BY

CORAL ANN HOWELLS







CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York

www.cambridge.org
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521548519

© Cambridge University Press 2006

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2006

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
The Cambridge companion to Margaret Atwood / edited by Coral Ann Howells.
p. cm. – (Cambridge companions to literature)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-83966-2 (hardback)
ISBN-10: 0-521-83966-1 (hardback)
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-54851-9 (pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-521-54851-9 (pbk.)
1. Atwood, Margaret Eleanor, 1939 – Criticism and interpretation – Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Women and literature – Canada – History – 20th century – Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Howells, Coral Ann. II. Series.
PR9199.3.A8Z565 2006
818′.5409 – dc22 2005024381

ISBN-13 978-0-521-83966-2 hardback
ISBN-10 0-521-83966-1 hardback
ISBN-13 978-0-521-54851-9 paperback
ISBN-10 0-521-54851-9 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.







CONTENTS




  Notes on contributors page vii
  Acknowledgments x
  Note on editions used xi
  List of abbreviations xii
  Margaret Atwood chronology xiii
  Introduction 1
  CORAL ANN HOWELLS
1   Margaret Atwood in her Canadian context 12
  DAVID STAINES
2   Biography/autobiography 28
  LORRAINE YORK
3   Power politics: power and identity 43
  PILAR SOMACARRERA
4   Margaret Atwood’s female bodies 58
  MADELEINE DAVIES
5   Margaret Atwood and environmentalism 72
  SHANNON HENGEN
6   Margaret Atwood and history 86
  COOMI S. VEVAINA
7   Home and nation in Margaret Atwood’s later fiction 100
  ELEONORA RAO
8   Margaret Atwood’s humor 114
  MARTA DVORAK
9   Margaret Atwood’s poetry and poetics 130
  BRANKO GORJUP
10   Margaret Atwood’s short stories and shorter fictions 145
  REINGARD M. NISCHIK
11   Margaret Atwood’s dystopian visions: The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake 161
  CORAL ANN HOWELLS
12   Blindness and survival in Margaret Atwood’s major novels 176
  SHARON R. WILSON
  Further reading 191
  Index 196






NOTES ON CONTRIBUTORS




MADELEINE DAVIES is Lecturer in English at the University of Reading. Her major research interests include Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, and female-authored narratives of war. She has also published widely in the areas of post-war British drama, where she is the author of Peter Shaffer: Theatre and Drama (1998) and editor of British Television Drama Past, Present and Future (2000). She is currently working on Margaret Atwood: Writing Women, Women Writing.
MARTA DVORAK is Professor of Canadian and Postcolonial Literatures and co-director of the Centre for Canadian Studies at the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris. She is the author of Ernest Buckler: Rediscovery and Reassessment (2001) and Vision/Division: l’oeuvre de Nancy Huston (2004), and editor of several books including Lire Margaret Atwood:The Handmaid’s Tale” (1999) and Thanks for Listening: Stories and Short Fictions by Ernest Buckler (2004). A book on Carol Shields is forthcoming. She is currently editor of Commonwealth Essays and Studies.
BRANKO GORJUP is the chief editor of the Peter Paul Bilingual series of Contemporary Canadian Poetry (English/Italian), which includes a volume on Margaret Atwood (2000). He has also edited several anthologies of short fiction by Canadian authors and a book of essays by Northrop Frye, Mythologizing Canada (1997), as well as a special issue of Nuovi Argomenti (2003) featuring Canadian contemporary writing in English. His most recent edited collection is White Gloves of the Doorman: The Works of Leon Rooke (2004). He has taught Canadian literature at universities in Canada and Italy, and currently lives in Los Angeles and Toronto.
SHANNON HENGEN is Professor of English at Laurentian University, Canada. In addition to numerous articles on Atwood, comedy, Canadian theatre, and Beowulf, she is the author of Margaret Atwood’s Power (1993), editor of Performing Gender and Comedy: Theories, Texts, Contexts (1998), and co-editor of Approaches to Teaching Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Taleand Other Works (1996). From 1999 to 2001 she was President of the Margaret Atwood Society.
REINGARD M. NISCHIK is Professor of American Literature at the University of Constance, Germany. She has published numerous essays and is the author and editor of twenty books on Canadian, American, and comparative literature. Since 1992 she has been Managing Editor of the interdisciplinary journal Zeitschrift fuer Kanada-Studien, and since 1996 editor of the book series European Studies in American Literature and Culture for Camden House, New York. Her edited collection Margaret Atwood: Works and Impact (2000) received the Best Book Award of the Margaret Atwood Society.
ELEONORA RAO is Associate Professor of English at the University of Salerno. She is the author of Strategies for Identity: The Fiction of Margaret Atwood (1994) and Heart of a Stranger: Contemporary Women Writers and the Metaphor of Exile (2002). She has published numerous essays on contemporary women writers and has co-edited Letteratura e femminismi, an anthology of Anglo-American feminist theories in translation (2000).
PILAR SOMACARRERA teaches English and Canadian literature in the Department of English at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. She has translated Margaret Atwood’s Power Politics into Spanish (2000) and is the author of a book in Spanish on the topic of power, Margaret Atwood: Poder y Feminismo (2000), as well as numerous articles on other Canadian women writers.
DAVID STAINES IS PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA. HE IS THE EDITOR OF THE JOURNAL OF CANADIAN POETRY AND OF THE NEW CANADIAN LIBRARY. HIS BOOKS INCLUDE THE FORTY-NINTH AND OTHER PARALLELS: CONTEMPORARY CANADIAN PERPECTIVES (1986), BEYOND THE PROVINCES: LITERARY CANADA AT CENTURY’S END (1995), NORTHROP FRYE ON CANADA (WITH JEAN O’GRADY, 2003), AND MARSHALL MCLUHAN: UNDERSTANDING ME (WITH STEPHANIE MCLUHAN, 2003). IN 1998, HE RECEIVED THE LORNE PIERCE MEDAL FOR DISTINGUISHED SERVICE TO CANADIAN LITERATURE FROM THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF CANADA.
COOMI S. VEVAINA IS PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MUMBAI, INDIA. SHE IS THE AUTHOR OF RE/MEMBERING SELVES: ALIENATION AND SURVIVAL IN THE NOVELS OF MARGARET ATWOOD AND IN THE MANAWAKA NOVELS OF MARGARET LAURENCE (1996). SHE HAS WRITTEN NUMEROUS ARTICLES ON CANADIAN WRITING AND IS CO-EDITOR OF SEVERAL ESSAY COLLECTIONS, INCLUDING INTERSEXIONS: ISSUES OF RACE AND GENDER IN CANADIAN WOMEN’S WRITING (1996), AND MARGARET ATWOOD: THE SHAPE-SHIFTER (1998). IN 2004, SHE RECEIVED THE AWARD OF MERIT FROM THE INDIAN ASSOCIATION OF CANADIAN STUDIES.
LORRAINE YORK teaches Canadian literature at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. She is the author of a book about photography and Canadian fiction, The Other Side of Dailiness (1988) and of Front Lines: The Fiction of Timothy Findley (2002). She has also edited Various Atwoods: Essays on the Later Poems, Short Fiction and Novels (1995) and Rethinking Women’s Collaborative Writing (2002). She is currently writing a book on Canadian literary celebrity.
SHARON R. WILSON is Professor of English and Women’s Studies at the University of Northern Colorado and founding co-President of the Margaret Atwood Society. In addition to articles on Atwood, Doris Lessing, Jean Rhys, Samuel Beckett, and other writers, she is the author of Margaret Atwood’s Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics (1993), co-editor of Approaches to Teaching Margaret Atwood’sThe Handmaid’s Taleand Other Works (1996), and editor of Margaret Atwood’s Textual Assassinations: Recent Poetry and Fiction (2003).






ACKNOWLEDGMENTS




I am grateful to Margaret Atwood for permission to quote extracts from her private correspondence with several contributors.

   Extracts from unpublished Atwood manuscript materials in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto and from the following poems: “The Circle Game” (The Circle Game), “The Double Voice” (The Journals of Susanna Moodie), “You Fit into Me,” “They are Hostile Nations,” “Small Tactics” (Power Politics), and “Half-Hanged Mary” (Morning in the Burned House), are reproduced with permission of Margaret Atwood and of Curtis Brown Group Ltd. London, Copyright Margaret Atwood 1966–71, Copyright O. W. Toad Ltd. 2001–03.







NOTE ON EDITIONS USED




In quoting from Margaret Atwood’s novels, poems, and short stories, contributors to this volume have used a variety of British, Canadian, and American editions, usually paperbacks when available. Details of editions used are included in the endnotes to every chapter.







ABBREVIATIONS




AG Alias Grace
BA The Blind Assassin
BE Bluebeard’s Egg
BH Bodily Harm
CE Cat’s Eye
DG Dancing Girls
EW The Edible Woman
GB Good Bones
HT The Handmaid’s Tale
JSM The Journals of Susanna Moodie
LBM Life Before Man
LO Lady Oracle
MBH Morning in the Burned House
MD Murder in the Dark
NWD Negotiating with the Dead
O&C Oryx and Crake
PP Power Politics
PU Procedures for Underground
RB The Robber Bride
S Surfacing
SP Selected Poems
SPII Selected Poems II
ST Strange Things
SW Second Words
THP Two-Headed Poems
WT Wilderness Tips
YAH You Are Happy






MARGARET ATWOOD CHRONOLOGY




1939   Margaret Eleanor Atwood born 18 November, in Ottawa, Canada.
1940–45   Family based in Ottawa, but spends long periods every year in the bush of northern Ontario and Quebec, as her father an entomologist; they live in Sault Ste. Marie (1945).
1946   Family moves to Toronto, though summers spent up north, and Atwood only begins attending school regularly in 1951.
1952–57   Attends Leaside High School, where she writes a column for school newspaper; at 16 she “becomes a poet”; works as summer camp counsellor.
1957–61   Attends Victoria College, University of Toronto; publishes stories and poems in college literary journal and designs posters and programmes for college drama society; first poem accepted by The Canadian Forum ; begins reading her poems at the Bohemian Embassy Coffeehouse; graduates (1961) with honors degree in English, and wins Woodrow Wilson Fellowship to Radcliffe College (later part of Harvard University).
1961   Double Persephone (privately published chapbook) wins University of Toronto E. J. Pratt Medal.
1961–63   Attends Radcliffe College, where she gains MA and begins doctoral studies at Harvard University.
1963–64   Returns to Toronto, where she works at market research company; begins her first novel (unpublished); first trip to England and France in summer, 1964.
1964–65   Moves to Vancouver, to lecture in English at the University of British Columbia; drafts The Edible Woman and writes fourteen short stories and over fifty poems.
1965   Returns to Harvard to continue PhD research (thesis not completed).
1966   The Circle Game published, which wins Governor-General’s Award for Poetry (1967).
1967   Marries James Polk, an American postgraduate student at Harvard; they move to Montreal for a year, where Atwood lectures in English at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia).
1968   The Animals in That Country; moves to Edmonton, Alberta.
1969   The Edible Woman; teaches creative writing at University of Alberta.
1970   The Journals of Susanna Moodie and Procedures for Underground; Atwood and Polk spend the year in England and France.
1971   Power Politics; return to Toronto, where Atwood is Assistant Professor at York University; joins board of directors of House of Anansi Press (1971–73).
1972   Surfacing and Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature; Atwood is writer-in-residence at Massey College, Toronto (1972–73).
1973   Atwood and Polk are divorced; Atwood moves with Graeme Gibson to a farm in Alliston, Ontario; receives her first honorary doctoral degree from Trent University, Ontario.
1974   You Are Happy; TV script “The Servant Girl” for Canadian Broadcasting Commission; cartoon artist for This Magazine.
1976   Selected Poems (Oxford) and Lady Oracle; daughter Eleanor Jess is born.
1977   Dancing Girls and Days of the Rebels: 1815–1840; special Atwood issue of The Malahat Review, the first critical survey of her work.
1978   Two-Headed Poems and Up in the Tree; Atwood’s first of many world book promotion tours (Paris, Afghanistan, India, Australia); family moves to Scotland, where Gibson is writer-in-residence at University of Edinburgh for three months.
1979   Life Before Man.
1980   Anna’s Pet; family returns to Toronto; Atwood elected Vice-President of the Writers’ Union of Canada.
1981   Bodily Harm and True Stories; wins Molson Prize and Guggenheim Fellowship; becomes a Companion of the Order of Canada; President of the Writers’ Union.
1982   Second Words: Collected Critical Prose; The New Oxford Book of Canadian Verse in English (co-ed., with William Toye).
1983   Murder in the Dark: Short Fictions and Prose Poems and Bluebeard’s Egg; receives honorary doctorate from University of Toronto; family moves to Norfolk (November 83–March 84), then to West Berlin (March-May 84).
1984   Interlunar; return to Toronto (summer 84); elected President of PEN International, Canadian Centre (English-speaking) (1984–86).
1985   The Handmaid’s Tale, which wins Governor-General’s Award for Fiction (1986), Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Science Fiction, Toronto Arts Award, Los Angeles Times Fiction Award; Atwood is Visiting Chair of Creative Writing at Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
1986   Selected Poems Ⅱ: Poems Selected and New, 1976–1986 (Oxford) and The Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English (co-ed., with Robert Weaver); Atwood holds Berg (Visiting) Chair at New York University.
1987   Edits The CanLit Foodbook, in aid of PEN International; elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; writer-in-residence at Macquarie University, Sydney.
1988   Cat’s Eye.
1989   Selected Poems: 1966–1984 (Oxford) and For the Birds; wins Canadian Booksellers’ Association Award; writer-in-residence at Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas.
1990   Attends Berlin Film Festival for premiere of Volker Schlondorff’s film of The Handmaid’s Tale.
1991   Wilderness Tips; Clarendon Lectures at University of Oxford; family spends winter in France (1991–92).
1992   Good Bones.
1993   The Robber Bride; Atwood is named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts and des Lettres by Government of France.
1995   Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature, Morning in the Burned House, and Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut; The New Oxford Book of Canadian Short Stories in English (co-ed., with Robert Weaver); series of radio interviews in French with Quebec writer Victor-Lévy Beaulieu.
1996   Alias Grace, which wins Giller Prize.
1997   In Search of Alias Grace.
1998   Eating Fire: Selected Poetry 1965–1995 (Virago); receives honorary doctorate from University of Oxford.
2000   The Blind Assassin, which wins Booker Prize; Empson Lectures at University of Cambridge; attends premiere in Copenhagen of Poul Ruders’s opera The Handmaid’s Tale.
2001   Receives honorary doctorate from University of Cambridge.
2002   Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing.
2003   Oryx and Crake and Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes; attends London premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale opera.
2004   Bottle (Hay Festival Press) and Moving Targets: Writing with Intent, 1982–2004; “Margaret Atwood: The Open Eye” international symposium, University of Ottawa; Toronto premiere of The Handmaid’s Tale opera; receives honorary doctorate from Harvard University.
2005   Curious Pursuits: Occasional Writing, 1970–2005; receives honorary doctorate from Université de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris; The Penelopiad.
2006   The Tent.

This chronology shows only a selection of Atwood’s numerous national and international literary awards and of her many honorary doctoral degrees.


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