MargaretAtwood is a name synonymous
with Canadian literature and biting social commentary. Atwood has
likewise been credited with the creation of a sub-genre of Gothic and
Canadian fiction known as Southern Ontario Gothic. The Atwood
oeuvre of Gothic works includes most famously The
Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Surfacing (1972) and
Lady Oracle (1976). To
Collapse, resilience, stability and
sustainability in MargaretAtwood’s
Myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change. Myths
call for absolute, fictions for conditional assent. Myths make sense in
terms of a lost order of time … fictions, if successful, make sense of
the here and now. (Kermode 1967: 39)
The good news is that the end is in sight. The bad news is that it’s not
happy. The worse news is that it’s also not the end. (@neinquarterly, 5
Collapse, resilience, stability and
Recent criticism has increasingly asserted the centrality of gothic in the Canadian canon, and explicitly gothic conceptions of the forested and frozen North inform several of Margaret Atwood‘s novels, poems, essays and short stories. Her haunted wilderness settings are sites for the negotiation of identity and power relationships. This essay focuses on her 1970 poem sequence The Journals of Susanna Moodie and her short story `Death by Landscape (from her 1991 Wilderness Tips collection), considering them in relation to critical models of postcolonial gothic.
Postfeminist Vampirism in Margaret Atwood‘s The Robber Bride
The article examines Margaret Atwood‘s The Robber Bride in terms of Gothic imagery and postfeminist politics. The novel depicts three characteristically second wave women whose lives are disrupted by Zenia, the embodiment of postfeminism. Zenia threatens the stability of the women and they respond to her with both loathing and desire, experiencing her as a vampire feeding on their lives. The Robber Bride connects the subversive power of Gothic to the multiple identities, transgressions and instabilities of postfeminism. Using a common second wave feminist psychoanalytic rereading of Gothic terror as fear of confinement, I suggest that Atwood‘s depiction of Zenia as a Gothic figure points to some concerns about second wave feminist politics. The location of Zenia as both Self and Other raises questions about postfeminisms situation as a reactionary backlash against feminism, and equally as a liberal politics that many late twentieth-century women were increasingly identifying with.
This essay examines a particular kind of female Gothic. Seizing the moment at which features of Gothic form had become sufficiently established to become part of a cultural inheritance, some twentieth-century women writers, we argue, created comic Gothic fictions that extended the boundaries of potential feminine identity. Stella Gibbon‘s Cold Comfort Farm pits an Austen sensibility against a rural Radcliffean scenario and proceeds to parody both as literary ancestors of a contemporary narrative of femininity. Fay Weldon‘s The Life and Loves of a She-Devil (1983) also appropriates aspects of Gothic to spin a darkly comic tale of literary and literally constructed ‘woman’. The essay also looks at the Canadian novel published a year earlier, Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, which engages playfully with the relationship between Gothic writing and the feminine. Such texts constitute a challenge to the grand récit of gender difference, a challenge that has yet to be recognized fully by feminist critics many of whom have concentrated their energies on the feminist pursuit of life-writing. Female writers of comic Gothic, however, confront the stuff of patriarchy‘s nightmares and transform it into fictions of wry scepticism or celebratory anarchy. Through parody as ‘repetition with critical difference’, the boundaries of gender difference are destabilized in the service of creating different possibilities for female subjectivity. In their resistance both to tragic closure and their recasting of the fears of patriarchal society from a feminine perspective, such texts transform a literature of terror into a literature of liberation.
The gothic has, for two hundred years, played an important role in female culture; and worked early on to feminise established literary forms and has, throughout its history, strongly challenged established notions of femininity. Neo-gothicism reflects the feminine dimensions of the ongoing cultural and literary change: gothic horror addresses 'gendered' problems of everyday life. This book focuses on the narrative and ideological components that shape gothic fictions as feminine forms. It explores the classic texts of two hundred years of gothicism on three levels. The first is their contextualising of the specific cultural-historical situation that they both come from and address. The second is their narrative texture, marked by a complex subjectivity; and third, the inter-textualisation of feminine gothic writing. Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women uses gothic contextualising to tell a gothic story of growing up, and Margaret Atwood's Lady Oracle parodically incorporates gothic texture. The gothicism of Aritha van Herk's No Fixed Address relies very much on the Canadian landscape, and points to the intersection of neo-gothicism and Canadian culture. Lynne Tillman's Haunted Houses is a fictional braid of three gothic life stories of girls growing up in contemporary Brooklyn; the 'haunted houses' of the title are their bodies that are not born but becoming women. Dress, a classic feminine gothic sign for both propriety and property, is shown in the postmodern context as thematic enclosure of the body as well as formal enclosure of the story.
argument is based on a discussion of A. S. Byatt’s
Possession ( 1990 ) and MargaretAtwood’s Alias Grace ( 1996 ), and of the
cultural issues these novels contextualise. In the last section, I
will extend my discussion to the larger audiovisual popular art
forms that characterise the present international entertainment
Angela Carter’s postulate that ‘we live in
MargaretAtwood’s thriller Bodily Harm ( 1998  ). While the two novels omit any direct
reference to a specific country, they speak strongly to the
particularity of the smaller Caribbean islands. Finally, I read two
political memoirs by Prime Ministers of St Vincent for what they reveal
about the frontier: that of James ‘Son’ Mitchell, Prime
Minister from 1984 to 2001, and the other by his successor, Ralph
In the face of these recent
developments, the new feminine writing presents itself as a strong,
rebellious force, a dynamic challenge to the traps of such
institutionalised liberalism. This writing comes from writers as diverse
as Toni Morrison and MargaretAtwood, Angela Carter and Siri Hustvedt.
It evokes and reveals established images of femininity, but does not
propose new role models; it evokes
From Mary Shelley and Sir John Franklin to Margaret Atwood and Dan Simmons
poisoning was blamed
on the badly soldered food cans. The excavation of the bodies and the
widely circulated pictures, books and film footage brought a fresh
‘iconography of horror’, which led to a new rush of
Franklin tales, as if there were as compelling an interest in the story
today as in Victorian England.
MargaretAtwood was perhaps the first writer to be
fascinated by the