Margaret Atwood and History

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In The Robber Bride (1993) Margaret Atwood’s military historian, Tony, takes magical control of her present, her history and that of others, reversing words while differently re-running famous historical battles using colored beans, rewriting history. Partial, constructed and skewed, history and the forces which produce and fix it are fair targets, newly malleable in the hands of those who deliberately fictionalize and reweave what seems stitched up for good. Atwood’s extensive and varied writing interweaves carefully researched historical fact with the imaginative, fictionalizing, rewriting and inventing. It brings into the foreground lives and voices hidden from formal, approved versions of history and in so doing reveals how skewed all histories are, how they might be reimagined, revealed and differently presented. Atwood’s reappraisal of Canada’s national history and heritage myths are an ongoing concern, as she reads Canadian themes through her contemporary social, ethical concerns. Canada is source and canvas, but Atwood’s concerns are global, emphasizing links between history (the damage and misinterpretations of the past) and potential (speculative, world ending) futures. She decries simplified reductive versions of history, white, privileged, male, European in descent, as she also rejects simplifying critical labels (including that of being feminist). However, a feminist-originated approach is enabling when making sense of how history is selected and constructed, as Hélène Cixous notes in “Sorties”: “Woman un-thinks the unifying, regulating history that homogenizes and channels forces, herding contradictions into a single battlefield.” Like history, we approach Margaret Atwood’s work from many critical angles, recognizing her engagement with the vitality of indigenous modes of life, the dangers of the Anthropocene, the occlusion of histories of immigrated and indigenous people, of the underclasses and women.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood
EditorsCoral Ann Howells
PublisherCambridge University Press
Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2019


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