Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace Essay

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Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace


Alias Grace is the most recent novel by Margaret Atwood, Canada’s most prominent modern novelist. The novel is, as Atwood writes in her afterword, ‘a work of fiction, although it is based on reality’(538) centred on the case of Victorian Canada’s most celebrated murderess, Grace Marks, an immigrant Irish servant girl.

The manner in which Atwood imaginatively reconfigures historical fact in order to create a subversive text which ‘writes back’ to both the journals of a Canadian literary ancestor, and to Canada’s nineteenth century self -image, illustrates what critic Linda Hutcheon has called ‘the use of irony as a powerful subversive rule in the rethinking and redressing of history by both the
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James Mac Dermott , Kinnear’s farmhand, was hanged for the crime; Grace’s youth and sex meant that her death sentence was commuted.

As Atwood makes clear in the novel, no one except Grace really knew what happened on the day of the murders. The co-accused gave several differing accounts of the event in question, and contemporary newspaper reports were riddled with contradiction and speculation, some of which probably influenced the manner in which the accused themselves framed their accounts. The case, with its potent mixture of sex scandal, class tension and extreme violence became a cause celebre in nineteenth century Canada

Atwood’s novel is set mainly in 1859, when Grace, having spent some time in an asylum, is now a thirty something, long serving inmate of a Toronto Penitentiary, so trusted that she is permitted to works as a seamstress and servant in the adjoining home of the governor. Enter (fictional) American Doctor Simon Jordan, a young psychiatrist who is determined to probe the depths of Grace’s psyche through a series of detailed interviews, intended to help him decide if she was sane or insane at the time of the killings. The bulk of the novel is taken up by Grace’s ‘recollections’ of past events

Grace is one of Canada’s white settlers, a Protestant immigrant from the North of Ireland. Forced from…