Alias Grace And Canadian History


Due Thursday, November 30



The MissionTo use and assess Margaret Atwood's novel Alias Grace as an historical source.

Recommended Length

4-5 pages double-spaced

(19% of Final Grade)


Introduction Alias Grace is Margaret Atwood's 1996 novel based upon a real-life 1843 murder case.  Two Irish immigrants, James McDermott and the sixteen-year-old Grace Marks, were convicted of the gruesome murder of their employer and his mistress.  Grace's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, and she would spend the next three decades in the Kingston Penitentiary and the Toronto Lunatic Asylum.  Atwood sets much of her story in 1859, after Marks has already been incarcerated for several years, and centres much of the plot around the developing relationship between Marks and a young doctor, Simon Jordan.

Atwood, a descendant of United Empire Loyalists, has long been a student of history.  "I myself would have been much more interested in Canadian history," she writes of her youth, "if I had known that our dull prime minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, had believed that the spirit of his mother was inhabiting his dog, which he always consulted on public policy."  Atwood learned of the 1843 trial through her research on frontierswoman Susanna Moodie, the subject of a 1970 series of award-winning poems, The Journals of Susanna Moodie.  Moodie had visited Grace in both the penitentiary and the asylum, and had provided an account of these encounters in her second book, Life in the Clearings (1853).

The OptionsPick one of the three research options for your essay.

1)  The Alias Grace Option: Write your paper based upon a close reading of Margaret Atwood's novel.

2)  The Hybrid Option: Choose this option if you are writing on a topic which combines an Alias Grace reading with some supplementary internet of published source material.  Demonstrate in your essay that you have read Atwood's novel.

3)  The Substitute Option: Write an essay that substitutes extensive readings in the primary source material written by Susanna Moodie and/or her sister Catharine Parr Traill (egs. Roughing It in the Bush, Life in the Clearings, etc).

Some Possible TopicsListed below are some possible topics for your paper.  These are only a few suggestions and you are encouraged to design your own theme.

Some Possible Extra Sources Listed below are a few potentially-relevant supplementary sources:

Discussion Questions