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.
In Chapters I to III, we meet Grace Marks and get a glimpse into her life following the murder conviction. She’s a servant working in the home of the Governor of the Kingston penitentiary. The Governor’s wife treats Grace like a pet that has been naughty and needs a good scolding. A frightening incident one day at the Governor’s home causes Grace to lose control of her emotions and she is sent back to the penitentiary where she is promptly locked up. After a cold and lonely isolation, Grace is visited by Dr. Simon Jordan, an American doctor who has come to determine whether she is truly mad, a criminal or both.
Margaret Atwood really knows how to spin a tale and I find Alias Grace a fascinating story. I can’t help wearing my detective hat as I read the story, carefully searching for clues in everything Grace does and says. I’m impressed with her obvious cunning and ability to hide her true self. I’m already convinced she had a hand in the crime she’s accused of and that she’s playing a game to win the ultimate prize: her freedom. But am I wrong?
The hysterical outburst in the Governor’s home proved to some of Grace’s haters that she is a lunatic and, therefore, guilty of the crime. She was known to doctors to have suffered from many of the symptoms of hysteria, the “disease” attributed to women due to their biological and psychological inferiority during the nineteenth century, In particular, women from the lower class.
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What is initial your impression of Grace Marks? Do you think she’s playing us readers and everyone else in the book like I do?
What is your initial impression of Dr. Jordan? Why do you think he wants to “solve” Grace?
All of the women in the penitentiary with Grace come from or are escaping broken homes or the streets. Grace remarks that most of the women are no madder than the Queen of England. Do you believe these women have been imprisoned because they are simply guilty of being poor and from a lower class?
What do you think of Dr. Jordan’s association game? By giving Grace the apple, do think this is an effective way to earn Grace’s trust or insulting to her intelligence?
Post your thoughts or add a link to your blog in the comment section below. Happy reading!