“There’s a good and a bad side to that,” she told me.“If I did have those things, then I would be able to put myself in that fetishistic situation, and the writing would flow into me, because of the magical objects.“But it was before the age of drop hanging, and she didn’t die.
The other dedicatee of “The Handmaid’s Tale” was Perry Miller, the scholar of American intellectual history; Atwood studied under him at Harvard, in the early sixties, extending her knowledge of Puritanism well beyond fireside tales.
Having embraced the heritage of Half-Hanged Mary—and having, at seventy-seven, reached an age at which sardonic independent-mindedness is permissible, and even expected—Atwood is winningly game to play the role of the wise elder who might have a spell up her sleeve.
They proceeded to Australia, for the Adelaide Literary Festival, then returned to Canada, via Fiji and Hawaii. ^^Home is a mansion in the Annex neighborhood of Toronto, near the university. (The whimsical name is an anagram of “Atwood,” but sometimes there are postal inquiries as to the existence of a Mr.
She and Gibson have lived there for more than thirty years, and a basement office serves as the headquarters of Atwood’s company, O. Toad.) Atwood does not drive, and, for exercise as well as for efficiency, she likes to walk around her neighborhood; she often encounters en route some friend of a half-century’s standing, and they will stop and discuss the past and future surgeries of loved ones—the inevitable discourse of the septuagenarian.
Margaret Atwood was in her twenties, an aunt shared with her a family legend about a possible seventeenth-century forebear: Mary Webster, whose neighbors, in the Puritan town of Hadley, Massachusetts, had accused her of witchcraft.
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“The townspeople didn’t like her, so they strung her up,” Atwood said recently.
“When all else fails, you do have a surface you can write on,” she said.
Atwood travels frequently, and has often spent months at a time living in foreign countries, sometimes under conditions that a less flexible artist might find impossibly distracting.
She started writing “The Handmaid’s Tale” on a clunky rented typewriter while on a fellowship in West Berlin, in 1984.
(Orwell was on her mind.) She spent a winter in the remote English village of Blakeney, in Norfolk, where her only means of calling North America was a telephone kiosk that was usually used for storing potatoes, and where the stone-floored cottage in which she wrote was so cold that she developed chilblains on her toes.