Margaret Atwood Biography
(1939– ), Double Persephone, The Circle Game, The Edible Woman, The Journals of Susanna Moody, Survival, Surfacing
Canadian novelist, poet, and critic, born in Ottawa, educated at the University of Toronto, and at Radcliffe College. After an early collection of poems, Double Persephone (1961), the highly acclaimed collection The Circle Game (1966) established Atwood as one of her generation's foremost Canadian poets, matched by a reputation as an outspoken feminist critic. Her first novel, The Edible Woman (1969), adopts the mode of social satire, refracted through the lens of feminism, in a tale of suppressed creativity, marital ennui, and eating disorders. Several volumes of poetry and prose followed throughout the 1970s, notably The Journals of Susanna Moody (1970), which foreshadowed the sombre, reflective mood and the obsession with Canada's landscape and heritage that fuels her controversial and seminal study of similar themes in Canadian literature, Survival (1972). Her second novel, Surfacing (1972), locates this distinctive Canadian preoccupation in a unique and distinguished feminist fable. Lady Oracle (1976) is a diverting comic look at the self-fictions of romantic writers. Her fourth novel, Life Before Man (1979), established her as a major novelist with a wide canvas and an ability to organize plot and structure within the conventions of a domestic and social realism rewritten to accommodate her feminist critique. Though political, philosophical, and aesthetic ideas are relegated to the subterrain of the novel's predominantly social and psychological discourse, Atwood's subtle introduction of the impingement of remote Third World realities on the cushioned liberal Canadian consciousness reflects a crucial development in her œuvre. ‘This above all: to refuse to be a victim’, Atwood had written in Surfacing; this early credo effectively surfaces in the collection of poetry True Stories (1981), bearing witness to unspeakable acts of torture, brutality, racism, and despair, and in the bold, incisive novel Bodily Harm (1982), set in the Caribbean, which conflates feminist metaphors of body, gender, and sexuality with a powerful portrayal of the domination and manipulation of the Third World by the First. The powerful The Handmaid's Tale (1986), and the quieter and more intimate Cat's Eye (1989), place Atwood among the finest contemporary writers in the English language. Among her other works are two collections of short stories, Dancing Girls (1977) and Bluebeard's Egg (1983); and a genre-defying collection of short poetic prose texts, Murder in the Dark (1984). A selection of occasional critical prose, Second Words (1982), provides a useful commentary on the author's aesthetic, her influences and working method, and her evolving political perspectives. Poems 1976–1986 appeared in 1992, as did Good Bones, a collection of prose fragments dealing with myth, memory, and imagination. The massive, multivocal, and controversial The Robber Bridegroom (1993) continued Atwood's wry and painful examination, commenced with Cat's Eye, of post-feminist gender politics; here, the life, disappearances and death of the seemingly malignant, destructive, and evil Zenia serve as the catalyst for three women's ultimate recognition of themselves.