#AliasGrace2016 – Female Hysteria


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.

* * *



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!


8 comments on “#AliasGrace2016 – Female Hysteria

  1. TJ @ MyBookStrings
    October 13, 2016

    So far, I feel mostly sorry for Grace, although I think she has the ability to manipulate people, and I don’t think Dr. Jordan is fully aware of that yet. I think that he looks at her mostly as his gateway to fame and success. I’m convinced that he is underestimating her. It will be interesting to see how their relationship will develop.
    I feel that Grace has a cunning streak to her, but so far, I see her mostly as a victim. Historically, women were often called insane and locked away in institutions simply because they did not conform to expectations. There must be something traumatic in her past, for her to act the way she did when she had her outburst. Whether this is something traumatic that was done to her or something she is responsible for will be interesting to see. I’m definitely hooked!


    • ebookclassics
      October 15, 2016

      I wrestle with whether or not I should give Grace my sympathy. Her thoughts keep reminding me that she’s not necessarily to be trusted. But you’re right, her treatment in the institution is horrible.


  2. Naomi
    October 13, 2016

    1. I think Grace is smart and has the system figured out. She knows what she needs to do to get certain results. Even though I’ve read this before, I can’t remember what happens, or whether or not I thought Grace was guilty. I’m not ready to decide yet. 🙂
    2. My initial impression of Dr. Jordan is that he has no idea how smart Grace is. I think he’s hoping she’s going to be easy to figure out.
    3. Absolutely. Or, like TJ said, they don’t conform to expectations.
    4. To gain Grace’s trust, I think it would be a lot better for him to be truthful and frank with her the whole way along.

    So far, I’m loving it as much as I remember!


    • ebookclassics
      October 15, 2016

      Alias Grace really is a good story. I agree Grace knows how the system works and she’s working it as much as she can, playing on the feeble female role by fainting in court, etc. I was really convinced of this when she says, “If I am good enough and quiet enough, perhaps after all they will let me go …”

      Maybe Dr. Jordan isn’t honest with Grace because he doesn’t think she will understand, either because of the female intelligence or lower class thing. But not in a mean-spirited way.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brian Joseph
    October 14, 2016

    I love Margaret Atwood. This book sounds so good. Grace sounds like such an interesting character.

    I look forward to reading your upcoming entries on this work.


    • ebookclassics
      October 15, 2016

      So glad to have you along, Brian! I think you would enjoy this book because of its historical context and all the different themes it explores about nineteenth century society.


  4. Brona
    October 19, 2016

    I really really enjoyed this book when I first read it (golly! nearly 20 yrs ago!) I enjoyed how Atwood teases you with clues, doubts, fact and fiction.

    Hopefully more of it will come back to me as I read your posts, since I wont have to time to reread this with you all.


    • ebookclassics
      October 21, 2016

      So happy to have you following along! I’m also enjoying how Margaret Atwood weaves fact and fiction into the story. Teasing us is a really good way of putting it.

      Liked by 1 person

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