Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl. the Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl. the Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood

Article excerpt

Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl. The Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 143 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-521-69463-6. $20.99.

Wisker, Gina. Margaret Atwood: An Introduction to Critical Views of Her Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 233 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-4039-8712-9. $25.00.

This review discusses two recent introductions to Margaret Atwood's work, which have some intersections but address different audiences: the Cambridge Introduction to Margaret Atwood by Heidi Slettedahl Macpherson and Gina Wisker's Margaret Atwood: An Introduction to Critical Views of her Fiction. Both experts in the field, Macpherson has published several articles and chapters on Atwood's Alias Grace (1996) and Wisker's previous work on Atwood includes reader's guides to The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Alias Grace. While Macpherson's Cambridge Introduction is published in a series of similar volumes introducing classic authors from Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Austen to Sylvia Plath and Zora Neale Hurston, Wisker's Margaret Atwood is not part of a series but rather stems--as Wisker points out in the "Acknowledgements"--from her experience of teaching Atwood in various contexts. Although both volumes are introductions, their focus and the audiences they target differ considerably: Macpherson's book introduces the reader to Atwood's life, the context of Canadian literature, her work, and its critical reception. This volume is targeted at students and interested readers of Atwood's work and offers a concise and accessible introduction to anyone encountering the vastly productive phenomenon that is Margaret Atwood for the first time. Wisker's study focuses on individual works, discussing Atwood's novels and short story collections as well as their critical reception and introducing important contexts for Atwood's writing along the way. Wisker's discussion of Atwood approaches her as a complex writer, whose work can be read and interpreted from various angles. The volume combines new, authoritative critical analyses with summaries of previous critical assessments, making it an excellent starting point for any kind of Atwood-related research.

Both books are organized roughly in a chronological order that follows Atwood's life and development as a writer. However, while the Cambridge Introduction begins with a short biographical sketch of the author, Margaret Atwood's introductory chapter gives the reader insight into Atwood's development as a writer and critic as well as the most important contexts for her writing. Both volumes also include suggestions for further reading, which will be useful to students. The Cambridge Introduction's list at the back of the volume is arranged clearly, listing the texts under the respective works they discuss. It may, thus, be more readily accessible for cursory readers than the alphabetically organized bibliography found at the end of Margaret Atwood. However, the sheer abundance of Wisker's suggestions for further reading, including both criticism and crucial theoretical texts, woven throughout each chapter of Margaret Atwood gives more experienced students and researchers a wide range of possibilities for further research.

The organization of information and the resulting density or accessibility of the writing is one of the main differences between the two volumes. Wisker provides a significant amount of information on other sources in her discussion--for example, when she describes Coral Ann Howell's previous work on Atwood's involvement with feminism in Margaret Atwood (1996), she writes,

   In her comments on The Edible Woman and The Handmaid's Tale,
   Howells traces Atwood's exploration of sexual power politics
   through social myths and representations of the female body and
   looks at how her work has shifted. She compares and contrasts the
   novels to the essays of Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique
   (1963), which in turn introduces criticism on Male and Female by
   Margaret Mead (1955), and Sheila MacLeod's (1981) The Art of
   Starvation, each of which are connected with body image and
   identity. … 
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