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Old 11-24-2018, 12:34 AM   #61
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I enjoyed her caustic observations, though I did wonder if an uneducated servant girl would have the ability to express herself so easily.
I thought the same. Because of the “smart” writing (for lack of a better word), I had difficulty buying into the “was Grace a simpleton or not” question. As a result. I found her fictionalized character to be more cunning than naive, and therefore I tend to think like gmw that Atwood’s opinion is that she was guilty and complicit more than innocent.
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Old 11-24-2018, 03:29 AM   #62
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I certainly didn't think she was a simpleton. She was smart enough to deal with unwanted attentions, even when she was young. I did think she was naive at the time of the murders. She was uncomfortable with the atmosphere in the house, but she wasn't wise enough to get out with Jeremiah, because she thought she should stay. It was certainly not because she was planning on murder.

I think having to survive the prison system for however long it was (I have had to return the book to the library) she would have to have developed cunning. I didn't see her as cunning when she was 16.
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Old 11-24-2018, 09:01 AM   #63
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I think having to survive the prison system for however long it was (I have had to return the book to the library) she would have to have developed cunning. I didn't see her as cunning when she was 16.
I agree; I saw her trenchant comments as arising from her adult self and after much thought and revisiting and reevaluating her memories, because what else is Grace going to do in prison? I kept thinking of a favorite quote from Camus's The Stranger:

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I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored.
Just as one example, by her own report she was entirely obtuse about what was going on with both Mary and Nancy at the time. (Assuming we believe her account; we never know for sure whether Mary lived or was a construct.)
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Old 11-24-2018, 09:10 AM   #64
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For all that Grace may have been unworldly, or apparently innocent at 16, we have this comment from Ch3 that I quoted earlier:
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They said I had a good character; and that was so, because nobody had ever taken advantage of me, although they tried.
How many 16 year old servants of her time could make such a claim? This would seem to testify to some level of cunning, even when she was very young.
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Old 11-24-2018, 10:38 AM   #65
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I think Atwood captures well the fascination society has with women who are believed to have committed murders. Murders committed by men seem almost humdrum, unless they are extraordinary in some way. This dovetails nicely with the themes of religious panic, in which 'fallen' women are fodder for people prone to fevered paroxysms about the imminent downfall of society.
I think both of these points are well taken. I can't remember if it's been mentioned that the setting was during two periods of religious revival North America; the murders took place during one and the campaign to free Grace during the second. Upstate New York as noted in the text was a particular hotbed. Spiritualism in particular would continue to recur, notably and naturally after the American Civil War and the Great War.

One wonders about the nature of Simon's injury and to what extent it was physiological and to what extent psychological? In a way, Alias Grace is the flip side of Handmaid's Tale, a regiment of women, or else it speaks to society's tendency to overreact to the zeitgeist, whatever it be.
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Old 11-24-2018, 10:52 AM   #66
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I didn't intend to imply in any way that Grace was necessarily naive or simple, even as a teenager, just that the clever and sophisticated language she used seemed at odds with an uneducated woman.
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Old 11-24-2018, 11:41 AM   #67
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After reading page 3 of the comments:

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I recently finished a very good novel myself where the protagonist, having come to the end of her resources and committed a murder, waited for the authorities to come and take care of her.
Title please?

Regarding the motifs, I rarely trouble myself about such things, unless a ham-handed author is clearly trying to Make A Point. Here, they seem organic to the story. I didn't realize until I saw a text version of the novel that the chapter titles are all names of quilt patterns--obviously that's meaningful, but is it any more than simply an indication that Atwood is giving us pieces we need to fit together? And of course sewing and quilting are traditionally the province of women.

Trees and water--they simply seem part of the atmosphere, and the water especially had a clear factual basis, what with the ocean crossing and the burial at sea (I think that was factual, can't remember) and the journey after the murders. So I tend to think that Atwood just expanded on what she had to work with in the historical record.
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Old 11-25-2018, 12:53 AM   #68
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I was thinking that the quilting theme went deeper than just being pieces to put together. In ch12 Grace speaks (to herself, to Dr Jordan she lies, which I take as significant) of wanting to make a Tree of Paradise pattern, but adapted to her own preferences. And she explains that it is "Tree" not "Trees" even when there are multiple trees in the quilt.

And later (Ch39):
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There is a quilt pattern called Lady of the Lake, which I thought was named for the poem; but I could never find any lady in the pattern, nor any lake. But now I saw that the boat was named for the poem, and the quilt was named for the boat; because it was a pinwheel design, which must have stood for the paddle going around. And I thought that things did make sense, and have a design to them, if you only pondered them long enough. And so perhaps it might be with recent events, which at the moment seemed to me entirely senseless; and finding out the reason for the quilt pattern was a lesson to me, to have faith.
So with quilting we seem to have a confusion of names and patterns, perhaps not unlike this story of the murders. And the patterns, still named the same, will be adapted by the quilter to be and say what the quilter wishes. I assume this is how we are expected to view the story.


There is another quilt-quote from the near the very end (ch53) which I rather like, again because of Grace's rather interesting take on religion:
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The pattern of this quilt is called the Tree of Paradise, and whoever named that pattern said better than she knew, as the Bible does not say Trees. It says there were two different trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge; but I believe there was only the one, and that the Fruit of Life and the Fruit of Good and Evil were the same. And if you ate of it you would die, but if you didn’t eat of it you would die also; although if you did eat of it, you would be less bone-ignorant by the time you got around to your death.
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Old 11-25-2018, 09:56 AM   #69
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Title please?
A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens. She was briefly popular around 1980, IIRC, and I read a few of her books, but I had no memory of this one.

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Trees and water--they simply seem part of the atmosphere, and the water especially had a clear factual basis, what with the ocean crossing and the burial at sea (I think that was factual, can't remember) and the journey after the murders. So I tend to think that Atwood just expanded on what she had to work with in the historical record.
The water came across as unearned to me, or ham-handed as you put it. Sometimes water is just water, which is where I'd have lodged it in the context of this story, with the ocean crossing etc. as fairly mundane. But it seemed to me that Atwood meant more by it, as with Simon's plunging into water in his dream or the woman on the cliffs, except that I don't know what her point is other than a very generic or well-worn one.
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Old 11-25-2018, 09:58 AM   #70
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So with quilting we seem to have a confusion of names and patterns, perhaps not unlike this story of the murders. And the patterns, still named the same, will be adapted by the quilter to be and say what the quilter wishes. I assume this is how we are expected to view the story.
This imagery I think is highly successful and I think you've explicated it perfectly.
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Old 11-25-2018, 11:08 AM   #71
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I was thinking that the quilting theme went deeper than just being pieces to put together. In ch12 Grace speaks (to herself, to Dr Jordan she lies, which I take as significant) of wanting to make a Tree of Paradise pattern, but adapted to her own preferences. And she explains that it is "Tree" not "Trees" even when there are multiple trees in the quilt.

And later (Ch39):

So with quilting we seem to have a confusion of names and patterns, perhaps not unlike this story of the murders. And the patterns, still named the same, will be adapted by the quilter to be and say what the quilter wishes. I assume this is how we are expected to view the story.

There is another quilt-quote from the near the very end (ch53) which I rather like, again because of Grace's rather interesting take on religion:
I don't disagree with you, and I applaud your effort in finding these references, but it still comes down to a lot of pieces that need to be put together to create a coherent whole. Of course, since Grace is the quilter, she controls the process, just as Atwood is controlling the process of presenting the story to the reader in fragments. What Grace creates, what Atwood creates, and what the reader creates may be different quilts from the same pieces.
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Old 11-25-2018, 11:21 AM   #72
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A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens. She was briefly popular around 1980, IIRC, and I read a few of her books, but I had no memory of this one.
Thanks. I read the blurb at Amazon, and it doesn't sound as intriguing as your comment about it.

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The water came across as unearned to me, or ham-handed as you put it. Sometimes water is just water, which is where I'd have lodged it in the context of this story, with the ocean crossing etc. as fairly mundane. But it seemed to me that Atwood meant more by it, as with Simon's plunging into water in his dream or the woman on the cliffs, except that I don't know what her point is other than a very generic or well-worn one.
I don't know; if I were writing a story that had a lot of water in it already because of the historical basis, I think I'd probably keep using it.

As a reader, I didn't especially notice it as something important--just water, as you say.
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Old 11-25-2018, 12:28 PM   #73
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... it's tempting to suggest that the entire book served no real purpose. There are no valid/useful conclusions we can draw from a fictionalised version of the events, but equally the author has been constrained in what she can say through the characters because she has tried to remain bound by the real events. There was nowhere she could go with this, and so it went nowhere.

That is a bit harsh and unfair ... probably. But I do wish she had picked one side of the fence or the other - fiction or non-fiction. The compromise, while it seemed well executed to me, was never going to be satisfying.
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If you take this to its logical extreme, does any work of fiction serve a real purpose? (I'm considering this book to be fiction because that's what it is, though based on facts, rather than being a biography of Grace Marks.) For me, a work of fiction that isn't light-hearted fluff purely for entertainment, is an examination of the human condition.

I think it is reasonable to say that Atwood took the bare known facts and imagined a scenario that wasn't too far-fetched where Grace might or might not have been an active participant in one or both murders. She considered why Grace might have acted as she did if she was innocent of committing the murders, and I think the scenario is plausible. She was young, she was afraid, she couldn't see what to do to stop McDermott, and so on.

But Atwood also wrote in a way that we simply do not know for certain whether Grace was innocent or guilty, and I rather liked that.
I agree with Bookpossum. We can't ever know all there is to know about any actual events; fictionalizing them is a way to provide a possible interpretation, and it's one reason that I often tend to prefer a fictionalized account--I want a plausible explanation and I want to understand how things might have happened. No one's ever going to know for sure if Grace was a murderer; why should there be certainty about Atwood's fictional creation? I didn't really want some last-minute confession from Grace if she was guilty, and if she was innocent, well, that's what she'd been saying all along.

I've read a few novels based on actual murders, and whether names are changed or not, the more I know about the actual case, the less tolerant I am of an author's interpretation that disregards the apparent facts--and my own existing prejudices (e.g., Little Deaths, based on the Alice Crimmins case). Of course, the most famous did-she-or-didn't-she is probably Lizzie Borden. No matter how many novels I read about her (e.g., See What I Have Done), and no matter if the author comes down on the side of guilt or innocence, who knows?

It's the WHY that's most important, whether it's why someone committed a murder or why someone was falsely accused of that murder. I think that's what Atwood explores here, though there are no easy answers.
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Old 11-25-2018, 05:25 PM   #74
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I agree Catlady - it’s the why that is really interesting. So if Grace wasn’t a scheming murderess, why didn’t she escape with Jeremiah, why didn’t she seek help and protection from neighbours or the butcher, why not get away from McDermott on the boat or in the place they went to on the other side of the lake.

In asking those questions, it makes me think of the way people say of a woman in an abusive relationship “Why didn’t she just leave?” And of course it’s never as simple as that. So it is plausible that Grace stayed with McDermott because of fear, rather than because of shared guilt.

I have just been given See What I Have Done, so I shall be interested to read it in counterpoint to this book.
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Old 11-25-2018, 08:26 PM   #75
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[...] It's the WHY that's most important, whether it's why someone committed a murder or why someone was falsely accused of that murder. I think that's what Atwood explores here, though there are no easy answers.
I fail to understand why a fictionalised motive is any better or worse, or more or less important, than a fictionalised conclusion. Once any part of the story is fictionalised then - unless the author makes very clear which parts are fiction and fact - the reader is left not knowing where the lines were drawn and may as well be reading a totally fictional story.

As far as I am concerned I've read a work of fiction inspired by what happened to Grace Marks. Interesting for its added realism, maybe (although for me this turned out not to be true), but otherwise little different to reading any other fictional work.

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[...] In asking those questions, it makes me think of the way people say of a woman in an abusive relationship “Why didn’t she just leave?” And of course it’s never as simple as that. So it is plausible that Grace stayed with McDermott because of fear, rather than because of shared guilt. [...]
I think this is an interesting perspective, and one I don't think Atwood explored particularly well. Perhaps in a more fictional work the freedom would have existed to express this more clearly.
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