Reading the Gothic in the First Seven Novels of Margaret Atwood

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Contains a thorough reading of Margaret Atwood’s works (The Edible Woman; Survival; Surfacing; Lady Oracle; Selected Poems; Life Before Man; Second Words; Bluebeard’s Egg; Bodily Harm; Murder in the Dark; The Handmaid’s Tale; Selected Poems II; and Cat’s Eye) through both a Gothic lens and a feminist perspective.


"Dr. Colette Tennant’s fine study of Atwood’s Gothic imagination demonstrates the centrality of that aesthetic to the intertextual complexities linking Atwood’s fictions to earlier eras as well as to the cumulative power of her cautionary message for the modern female readership that is her primary audience. In tracing how Margaret Atwood’s feminist Gothic transforms a literary mode built around female helplessness into a vehicle for female empowerment, Dr. Tennant has made a valuable contribution to the scholarly conversation around modern Gothic studies generally and Atwood studies specifically.

Dr. Tennant examines four key Gothic conventions at work across Atwood’s oeuvre: a haunted psychic landscape that mirrors an equally damaged external world; an eroticized and empiricized male threat that embodies the escalating stakes in the struggle over continuing patriarchal primacy; a predatory universe rife with grotesque distortions of human appetite and their violent enactments; and looming transformative?potentially cataclysmic?change both individually and socially. Dr. Tennant cogently argues that the traumatizing journey toward self-discovery facing an Atwood heroine puts the trappings of Gothicism to new feminist uses which are not bounded by the storylines themselves, however. Rather, it is Tennant’s striking contention that Atwood, for all her ambivalence with the feminist label, nonetheless quite seriously assumes responsibility for “teach[ing]” her readers to refuse to be victims. . . .” Accordingly, Atwood renders the interpretive process itself part of the transformative effort her fictions attempt so as to enable female readers to “name the monsters” threatening women on so many fronts in modern life, and by so doing, become collaborators with Atwood in their own Gothic reinvention. Yet the process is neither clean nor coherent: the reader is reminded in myriad ways to beware of naïve responses to the stories rendered. If Atwood’s heroines must learn the hard lesson that passive acquiescence to preordained identities or destinies must be repudiated, at whatever cost, her readers face an equally direct challenge: no passive escapism permitted here.

Using Gothic terror to destablize easy assumptions about both life and about narrative, Dr. Tennant shows, Atwood’s fiction demands that her audience actively identify the dangers lurking in the stories she tells and imaginatively devise their own routes away from them. In making her case, Dr. Tennant’s analysis extends from the earliest of Atwood’s writings, including The Edible Woman, to her most recent fictions The Blind Assassin and Oryx and Crake. Along the way, she also attends to Atwood’s poetry, making this a truly comprehensive study of one of the world’s major living writers." - Professor Barbara Seidman, Linfield College

“Is it possible to write a book that is deeply academic, highly enjoyable and intensely readable? If you said “no”, then you haven’t read “Reading the Gothic in Margaret Atwood’s Novels” by Salem Scholar Colette Tennant….Tennant’s point is that Atwood, a writer of dense, fascinating and very strange novels, has in a sense, turned the Gothic on its ear. ….If you like Atwood’s books, you’ll find this book equally fascinating….it’s meant mainly for libraries. But this is a really good book. If you are fond of Atwood, you soon will find a feeling growing in you that you must have Tennant’s book. Rest assured: You’ll find it’s worth more than its actual price.” – Statesman Journal, Feb 29, 2004, Salem Oregon

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Preface by Barbara Hill Rigney
1. Atwood’s Gothic Settings – A Necessary Haunting
2. The Shadow Males in Atwood’s Gothic
3. Violence and Violation in Atwood’s Gothic
4. Gothic Transformations
5. Afterword

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