” The reason they want to see me is that I am a celebrated murderess. Or that is what has been written down. ” [III 3, 22]
“…namely that, as a lunatic, Grace Marks was a sham—a view previously arrived at by myself, although the authorities of that time refused to act upon it . . . led me to deduce that she was not in fact insane, as she pretended, but was attempting to pull the wool over my eyes . . . To speak plainly, her madness was a fraud and an imposture, adopted by her in order that she might indulge herself and be indulged . . . ” [IV 9, 71]
In 1830s, Grace Marks and her impoverished family made the passing from Ireland to Canada. Her mother never saw land after Ireland petered out of the horizon and was buried in the sea. Fleeing a father who “had a mouth on him as foul as a running sewer” [V 13, 108], Grace finds a job working as a housemaid in Toronto. In 1843, at age 16, Grace Marks has been convicted for her complicity in the vicious murders of her employer, Thomas Kinnear, and Nancy Montgomery, his housekeeper and mistress.
Why should she be expected to produce nothing but the pure, entire and unblemished truth? Anyone in her position would select and rearrange, to give a positive impression. [IX 37, 322]
Able pleading of the defense attorney spares her from death sentence. But her deplorable mental faculty, which, unbeknownst to anyone, is caused by grief of the loss her mother and later her best friend, has subjected her to the asylum. Reformers and spiritualists then engage in Dr. Simon Jordan to help seek a pardon for Grace. By method of suggestion and association of ideas, he hopes to re-establish the chain of thought in her, and thus to demystify the events leading to the fatal moment of her history.
They held it against me as well that I was at first calm and in good spirits, with full and clear eyes, which they took for callousness; but if I’d been weeping and crying, they would have said it showed my guilt; for they’d already decided I was guilty . . . [XI 43, 354]
Indeed, Grace Marks doesn’t even have a case before the inquest. Media have pronounced her guilty—and once people make their minds up that she has done a crime, then anything she does is taken as a proof of it. It doesn’t matter she is convicted as an accessory, nor that all could be proven against her is that she’d known of James McDermott’s murderous intentions in advance.
He is talking to people in Toronto, trying to find out if I am guilty . . . He doesn’t understand yet that guilt comes to you not from the things you’ve done, but from the things that others have done to you. [XII 46, 379]
In adopting historical facts of the most enigmatic woman of the 19th century, Atwood has not only written a complex literary discourse with psychological terrain through Grace Marks’s polyphony of voices. Although the true character of the historical Grace Marks remains an enigma, Alias Grace is an achievement in the investigation of humanity. It affords insight of male and female sensuality, religious hysteria, and political intrigues. The novel is full of revelations that conceal and fabrications that reveal.
465 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]