Margaret Atwood

My red skirt is hitched up to my waist though no higher. Below it the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he's doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved. Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed up for. -- Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale

Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood (1939- ) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize with The Handmaid's Tale and Booker Prize winner in 2000 with The Blind Assassin.

The works of Margaret Atwood encompass a wide range of genres, including science fiction and Gothic.

The Handmaid's Tale is set in the near future, in a world that has suffered an unnamed environmental disaster, many couples are infertile, the United States is run by Christian fundamentalists. Handmaidens are are there to service the men, to produce children. Should they fail, they are outcasts, sent to live in a polluted wilderness.

A key passage in the Bible where Jacob's infertile wife Rachel says to him "Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees" (Genesis 29:3135 and 30:124), can be seen to have influenced The Handmaid's Tale:

And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, give me children, else I die.

And Jacob's anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God's stead, who have withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?

And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.

Once a Handmaid is pregnant, she is venerated by her peers and by the Wives. After the baby is born, it is given to the wife of her Commander, and she is reassigned to another household. The Handmaid's reward for giving birth is that she will never be sent to the Colonies, even if she does not conceive again.

Margaret Atwood was writing in the 1980s, she could just as easily have been writing about today's Muslim fundamentalists and the treatment of women in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Handmaid's Tale was dramatised on BBC Radio 4 in 2000.

Like fellow Booker Prize winning author, Arundhati Roy, Margaret Atwood is an activist. Like Arundhati Roy, she donated all her Booker Prize money to environmental causes, and also like Arundhati Roy, is a staunch opponent of nuclear weapons. When France recommenced nuclear tests, she gave up her house in France.

Margaret Atwood has been vice-chairman of the Writers' Union of Canada and president of International PEN (1984-1986), an international group committed to promoting freedom of expression and freeing writers who are political prisoners.

Copies of books by Margaret Atwood have been registered as BookCrossing books.

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(c) Keith Parkins 2007-2008 -- January 2008 rev 1