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From Aboriginal writing to Margaret Atwood, this is a complete English-language history of Canadian writing in English and French from its beginnings. The multi-authored volume pays special attention to works from the 1960s and after, to multicultural and indigenous writing, popular literature, and the interaction of anglophone and francophone cultures throughout Canadian history. Established genres such as fiction, drama and poetry are discussed alongside forms of writing which have traditionally received less attention, such as the essay, nature-writing, life-writing, journalism, and comics, and also writing in which the conventional separation between genres has broken down, such as the poetic novel. Written by an international team of distinguished scholars, the volume includes a separate, substantial section discussing major genres in French, as well as a detailed chronology of historical and literary/cultural events, and an extensive bibliography covering criticism in English and French.
All fictions begin with the question What if. The what if varies from book to book . . . but there is always a what if, to which the novel is the answer.
Atwood's hypothesis about narrative beginnings assumes a particular urgency in relation to her two near-future novels, The Handmaid's Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003), for both of them are an imaginative writer's response to contemporary situations of cultural crisis as they suppose what may happen at what Atwood has called “definitive moments” after which “things were never the same again.” Already the shifts between past, present, and future in my opening remarks will have illustrated the distinctive qualities of the genre to which these two novels belong, namely the dystopia. Perhaps the primary function of a dystopia is to send out danger signals to its readers: “Many dystopias are self-consciously warnings. A warning implies that choice, and therefore hope, are still possible.” This chapter will focus on Atwood's two dystopian novels, their narrators and narrative techniques, arguing that together they represent a synthesis of her political, social, and environmental concerns transformed into speculative fiction. They are embedded in very different historical contexts: The Handmaid's Tale is a product of the 1980s, focusing on the possible consequences of neo-conservative religious and political trends in the United States, while Oryx and Crake written at the beginning of the twenty-first century projects not a national disaster but a global catastrophe “in a world that has become one vast uncontrolled experiment.”
In November 2004 Margaret Atwood and Dame Gillian Beer engaged in a public conversation about her writing at the British Academy in London, a very “Establishment” literary event, where they discussed the image of the labyrinth as an appropriate description of the processes of writing novels and reading them. Two months later, Atwood appeared on a popular Canadian television show, rigged out in full ice hockey gear, showing the host, Richard Mercer, how to deflect a puck in Canada's favorite national sport. These two images of Atwood, as internationally famous writer talking seriously with a Cambridge professor about the mysteries of her craft, and the other as Canadian celebrity advertising her national identity in a playful masquerade, illustrates the combination of high seriousness and witty ironic vision which is the hallmark of Atwood's literary production. In this book, our primary concern is with Margaret Atwood the writer, but there is also Atwood the literary celebrity, media star, and public performer, Atwood the cultural critic, social historian, environmentalist, and human rights spokeswoman, and Atwood the political satirist and cartoonist. The chapters in this volume address all these features in the Atwood profile, as they consider her career from a variety of perspectives and with very different emphases, though it is her Canadianness and her international appeal as an imaginative writer which are the two leitmotifs.
Margaret Atwood's international celebrity has given a new visibility to Canadian literature in English. This Companion provides a comprehensive critical account of Atwood's writing across the wide range of genres within which she has worked for the past forty years, while paying attention to her Canadian cultural context and the multiple dimensions of her celebrity. The main concern is with Atwood the writer, but there is also Atwood the media star and public performer, cultural critic, environmentalist and human rights spokeswoman, social and political satirist, and mythmaker. This immensely varied profile is addressed in a series of chapters which cover biographical, textual, and contextual issues. The Introduction contains an analysis of dominant trends in Atwood criticism since the 1970s, while the essays by twelve leading international Atwood critics represent the wide range of different perspectives in current Atwood scholarship.
“Setting down her title” This phrase, taken from a Canadian woman's novel written in the early 1970s, addresses the double issue of women's writing and its relationship to wider feminist questions of women's literary and political entitlement. It also marks a significant starting point for this chapter, which will focus on Canadian women's fiction in English since the late 1960s, the period when Canadian writing achieved high visibility at home and abroad. At the present time Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, and Carol Shields, who all started publishing in the 1960s and 70s, are names that are synonymous with Canadian writing internationally. In addition, since the early 1990s a constellation of new women writers, including many from a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds, has enormously diversified Canada's literary image, and these women's novels and short stories feature in increasing numbers on international publishers' lists. Why should this be? What is so distinctive about these writers? And what factors have contributed to their popularity and visibility?
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