Margaret Atwood on the Need to Scratch

Margaret AtwoodAward-winning Canadian author Margaret Atwood was born in 1939.  She has written upwards of twenty books, numerous short stories, and poems. Her writing has consistently crossed genres and poked at sacred cows. Atwood characterizes her writing as social science fiction. In the historical novel Alias Grace, Atwood tells the tale of Grace Marks, a young serving girl, accused of murdering her employer and his housekeeper. This real life crime swept the imaginations of the class stratified society in Toronto in 1843. After her trial and guilty verdict, Grace spent almost thirty-years in prison and in insane asylums alternatively abused and feasted by a curious public, by manipulating spiritualists, and by prying practitioners of the new science of psychology. The selection below is from Grace Mark’s point of view. Alias Grace (1996 Doubleday)

Possibly I hear a whispering. Now there’s an eye looking in at me through a slit cut in the door. I can’t see it but I know it’s there. Then a knocking.

And I think, Who could that be? The Matron? The Warden, come to give me a scolding? But it can’t be any of them, because nobody here does the courtesy of knocking, they look at you through the little slit and then they just walk in. Always knock first, said Mary Whitney. Then wait until they give you leave. You never know what they may be up to, and half of it’s nothing they want you to see, they could have their fingers up their nose or some other place, as even a gentlewoman feels the need to scratch where it itches, and if you see a pair of heels sticking out from under the bed it’s best to take no notice. They may be silk purses in the daytime, but they’re all sows’ears at night.

Mary was a person of democratic views.

Margaret Atwood on her Creative Process

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