Magazine article Herizons

Margaret Atwood: Is This the Path We Want to Be Seen On?

Magazine article Herizons

Margaret Atwood: Is This the Path We Want to Be Seen On?

Article excerpt

Her oeuvre includes early Canadian feminist literature, poignant love stories, a gothic novel and science fiction. She is an alchemist whose novels help pinpoint where we are and where humanity is headed.

Margaret Atwood has won every major writing award, including the Booker Prize. While her recent bestseller, Oryx and Crake, could be compared to a journey through Dante's Inferno, Atwood maintains that human beings are fundamentally a helpful species.

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Herizons contributor Irene D'Souza spoke to Atwood recently about her childhood, her prescient gifts and her research into the trajectory that marks women's path towards equality.

IRENE D'SOUZA: What arouses your interest in reading?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I am interested in laws as they pertain to women, and in tracing the advent of laws that disenfranchised women and took away the things they already had. The trajectory goes gradually up.

It is essential background to reading, to put things in perspective. And some of it is things you have never heard of before.

Is it always a learning experience?

MARGARET ATWOOD: Yes--what women are entitled to throughout the years in different societies, ancient China and Russia, for instance. The Russian Revolution was nice for men but it was really bad for women. All unmarried women had to be registered on a sex registry, and any man who wanted could have sex with them. Sexuality was considered the property of the state.

In The Blind Assassin, Iris and Laura were sold to the highest bidder. Is this based on fact?

MARGARET ATWOOD: It is completely historical. It was what the crown heads of Europe did with their children. They formed political alliances. The further up the social scale, the more creative the deal-making.

Nowadays, women with high status have less freedom. Women have more freedom when there is no exchange of property--who is going to bother? If there is property to exchange, you have to lock them up and make sure they get traded in an alliance you want to make.

What attracted you to the sibling relationship in The Blind Assassin?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I had never written about sisters. I started out wanting to write about my mother's and grandmother's generations, the two world wars and the Depression--it was the period that interested me. I couldn't really use their lives because they are far too good to be in novels.

I did use my grandmother's World War I knitting group. If you were really bad, you knitted washcloths, and then you could knit your way up to scarves and socks. My grandmother was actually really bad--she never graduated from knitting washcloths. The women in the book are better knitters.

Who were the storytellers in your family?

MARGARET ATWOOD: My mother told stories about her family. My father told stories about the adventures he had. He was a great woodsman--a forest entomologist. His adventures involved getting encircled by forest fires.

What about storybooks?

MARGARET ATWOOD: I was not confined to storybooks. I could read anything. No one ever told me not to read. We didn't have television; in fact, nobody had television then. We weren't in range of a movie theatre or live theatre. We could sometimes get the radio, but unclearly. So it was books.

In the winters, we were in the city. I do remember being traumatized by Snow White at an early age. We got taken to see Henry V during the war because my parents couldn't find a babysitter. I remember the arrow scene.

Are you born a reader?

MARGARET ATWOOD: To make a child a reader is to read to them when they are small. It provides a nice space and a relationship with the parent. Even if the story is very scary, you can handle it because you are protected. My mother was such a great reader that when we moved to Sault Ste. Marie the neighbourhood children came to our house to listen to her read.

Wonderful memories!

MARGARET ATWOOD: Yes, it was very good for her to do that. …

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