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#AliasGrace2016 – Gender Bias and Public Judgment

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Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (1998) is a fictionalized account of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery in 1853. Grace Marks and James McDermott, two servants in the Kinnear household were convicted of the crime. The crime was widely publicized and a national sensation in Canada, as Grace was a very young and attractive girl. McDermott was hanged while Marks was sent first to an asylum and later jailed at Kingston Penitentiary. Thirty years later, she was pardoned and moved to New York State where she disappeared forever.

READING SCHEDULE

October 1- 7, 2016 ~ Chapters I – III

October 8 – 14 ~ Chapters IV – VI

October 15 – 21 ~ Chapters VII – IX

October 22 – 28 ~ Chapters X – XII

October 29 – November 5 ~ Chapters XII – XV

Since some of you are probably just starting to sink your teeth into the story, we’ll start our read-along with a general discussion about gender bias and public judgment.

* * *

alias-graceLethal Lolitas, femme fatales and the like, we’re all too familiar with how the media and public can become obsessed with young women who kill. Whether for money or love, the more sex and wackiness involved in the case the greater the frenzy. Somewhere along the way the search for the truth becomes muddled and that’s one of the central themes in Alias Grace.

While the industrial revolution created opportunities for women to join the workforce, Victorian society still expected women to be virtuous, passive and obedient. It was okay for women of lower classes to become servants or seamstresses, but that was merely to pass the time until they married and had children. A woman like Grace Marks who breaks all of these social rules was shocking, and she was viewed as a deviant and unnatural. How dare she not conform to the weaker nature of women?

Grace is completely aware of how she has been condemned as a monster and seems indifferent to telling her side of the story, thinking, “The newspaper journalists like to believe the worst; they can sell more papers that way, as one of them told me himself; for even upstanding and respectable people dearly love to read ill of others.”

The author has strong feelings on this subject. “Here you have this divided opinion,” Margaret Atwood said in an interview with David Wiley, “and then you get people writing about her, projecting onto her all of the received opinions about women, about criminality, about servants, about insanity, sexuality. All of these things just get projected onto her. So I was interested in that. I was interested in the process of public opinion and how it’s formed, how people read into situations their own concerns. How each person, even people who are witnesses, have their own version.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

What are you most looking forward to about Alias Grace? The complex mystery? Exploring issues related to identity, gender, social class and relationships? Margaret Atwood’s writing?

How do you feel about authors fictionalizing true events?

How important to you is knowing whether Grace Marks is guilty or innocent?

If Grace committed the same crime today as a 16 year-old teenager, do you think the media and public would react in a similar manner as they did in 1853?

Do you think women who have killed are judged differently than men?

Post your thoughts or add a link to your blog in the comment section below. Happy reading!

 

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2 comments on “#AliasGrace2016 – Gender Bias and Public Judgment

  1. Naomi
    October 1, 2016

    1. The story, the history, and the writing.
    2. I love reading fictionalized versions of true events, but I prefer it when it’s pretty clear what parts are fact and what parts are fiction.
    3. I wish I knew… but it won’t stop me from reading the story.
    4. I think any teen that kills today gets more privacy (until what age? I can’t remember). But I also think more people would look towards the parents and wonder what went wrong with their kid. In 1853, Grace Marks probably wasn’t considered still a child like she would be today.
    5. I think people tend to be more surprised when a woman kills than when a man kills. It could be, too, that different reasons for killing might be projected onto women than men. But I really don’t know much about it – your questions are making me curious, though!

    Like

    • ebookclassics
      October 9, 2016

      When I was younger, I really enjoyed watching fictionalized versions of true events like made for TV movies, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything. Nothing comes to mind anyway.

      I completely forgot about the Youth Criminal Justice Act. You’re right, it protects the identity of kids until 16 or 17 I think.

      Liked by 1 person

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