Monday, 3 September 2007

"Alias Grace" by Margaret Atwood: attitudes towards women

Contextual attitudes towards women

Societal expectations“There were only forty women in the Penitentiary. This speaks of the superior moral training of the feebler sex” Susanna Moodie (Opening pages)

1859 “The Woman Question” discussed by characters. (“The emancipation of this or that”) 24

Grace is “a celebrated murderess” (Stories in the press and public views of Grace, see 25. A list of items on her notoriety.

“Red hair of an ogre” G “ A wild beast”.
Her “red hair” also brings forth comments from the keepers: “a little fire, they say it comes with the redness of the hair. But is it red where it most counts . . .” (The keepers hold most of the cliched notions of red-haired women as they make sexual comments about Grace) 277-8

Dr. Jordan
While referring briefly to Verringer’s supposed appearance before he meets him:

“At least he isn’t a woman, and thus not obliged to wear corsets and deform himself with tight lacing. For the widely held view of women are weak-spined and jelly-like by nature, and would slump to the floor like melted cheese if not roped in” 83

Grace to Nancy on the need to have a bit of flesh on her: “as it did not do to be all skin and bones, and that the young ladies nowadays were starving themselves because of fashion” 315 (Nancy is also pregnant when she fears being “too plump”.

On Simon’s imagination, fantasies and animalism (When Mrs Humphries first collapses and is lifted by Simon to his bed) He is “aroused by the sight of Mrs Humphries, “ a helpless woman extended extended upon his tumbled bed” in a semi state of dress.

“He has always been curious about these manifestations of the imagination as he has been able to observe them in himself. Where do they come from? If they occur in him, they must occur as well in the majority of men. . . he cannot always control such pictures. The difference between a civilized man and a barbarous fiend – a madman, say – lies, perhaps, merely in a thin veneer of willed self restraint. “ 163

Contextual views of seduced single women (Nancy and Mary Whitney. Predatory men mostly escaped moral censure.)
Note also the view of “fallen” women by men at the time and even by women themselves of their being fair game for seducers for as Grace says, “once the horse was out of the stable it was no good shutting the barn door, and a woman once on her back was like a turtle in the same plight, she could scarcely turn herself right side up again, and was fair game for all”. 296

Mary Whitney and fell victim to the sexual advances of their employers. Servant girls were particularly vulnerable to this. Even Simon’s fantasies and dreams from his youth were bound up with his sexual curiosity of the servant women who lived in his house.

The third person’s representation of Simon’s view of women as he tries extricate himself from Mrs Humphries:“Women help each other; caring for the afflicted is their sphere. They make beef tea and jellies. They knit comforting shawls. They pat and soothe.” 164

In the market as Simon buys groceries he realises that as a man of his class he is out of place and is unsure of what to buy Mrs Humphries. He feels that “the women of the poorer classes” are “laughing behind his back”. 164

Simon is aware of his insincerity as he speaks with Mrs Humphries after going out for supplies:

“’Think nothing of it. I could not let you starve.’ His voice is heartier than he intends, the voice of a jolly and insincere uncle who can scarcely wait to bestow the expected quarter-dollar on the grovelling poor-relation niece, pinch her cheek, and then make his getaway to the opera.” Simon silently curses and envies Major Humphrey’s freedom from Mrs H. 166.

Mrs Humphries hints that she has her body and will trade that:“Women like me have few skills that they can sell”. 166 (The whole scene here is melodramatic and it is “slightly dampened” by “the trace of butter that remains upon” Mrs Humphries’ mouth”. 167

Dupont (Jeremiah the Peddlar) when talking about the mind.
To Simon: “But will you go as far as to admit that women in general have a more fragile nervous organization, and consequently a greater suggestibility?” 350 (Men’s views on women or can they be applied to several characters including Grace and Mrs Humphries?)

Dupont on women acting and role-playing
‘I myself, says Dr. Dupont, “tend to place prostitution in the same class as the homicidal and religious manias; all may be considered, perhaps, as an impulse to play-act which has run out of control. Such things have been observed in the theatre, among actors who claim that they become the character they are acting. Female opera singers are especially prone to it. There’s a Lucia on record who actually did kill her lover.’ 349-50)

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I teach Film, Media and English Lit.