Transcript: Interview: Margaret Atwood | Oct 28, 1976

Mike McManus appears in a dark television studio with a lit-up sign that reads his name.
He’s in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted gray hair. He’s wearing a black suit, white shirt, and dark burgundy tie.

He says
SHE DELVES INTO
MADNESS, WILDERNESS,
ALIENATION AND ESCAPE.
SHE'S ONE OF OUR
FOREMOST CRITICS,
POETS, AND NOVELISTS.
MY GUEST, MARGARET
ATWOOD, AND OUR SUBJECT:
ON BECOMING A THING.

(music plays)

In animation, the phrase “The education of Mike McManus” flies by, as Mike walks across the studio and joins Margaret Atwood at a small round table.

The opening sequence rolls.
Soft flute music plays.

Portraits of Mike made of dots in different colours flash by as the title flies by: The Education of Mike McManus.

Then, Mike and Margaret appear on screen again.
Margaret is in her late thirties, with shoulder-length curly auburn hair. She’s wearing a pink dress.

Mike says MARGARET ATWOOD, THE
HEROINE OF YOUR NEW BOOK,
“LADY ORACLE,” IS ASTOUNDED
BY THE SUCCESS OF HER BOOK,
IN THE BOOK.
AND I WONDER IF YOUR SUCCESS
HAS BEEN A SURPRISE TO YOU?

Margaret says NOT ANYMORE.
BUT REMEMBER,
I'M OLD.
I'M 36.

Mike says SOMEONE SAID YOU
HAVEN'T EVEN REACHED
THE LUNCHTIME
OF YOUR LIFE.

Margaret says THAT WAS TWO
YEARS AGO.

Mike says OH, I SEE.
IT'S AFTER
LUNCH NOW.

Margaret says YEAH, NOW IT'S
AFTER LUNCH.
I'VE BEEN DOING
THIS FOR 20 YEARS.
I'VE BEEN WRITING
FOR 20 YEARS.
AND I'VE BEEN PUBLISHING
FOR 10, IN BOOK FORM.
SO THAT'S A LONG TIME.

Mike says A LONG TIME.
ABOUT 1973, WHEN
YOUR TWO NOVELS, THEN
“THE EDIBLE WOMAN” AND
“SURFACING,” HAD ACHIEVED
INTERNATIONAL SUCCESS,
AND YOUR BOOK “SURVIVAL.”
WAS TOUCHING SOME KIND OF
NERVE IN THIS COUNTRY,
YOU SAID THAT YOU
HAD BECOME A THING.
WHAT DID YOU
MEAN BY THAT?

Margaret says I THINK THAT WHAT I MEANT -
I DIDN'T MEAN THAT I MYSELF
HAD ACTUALLY BECOME A
THING; IT WAS A METAPHOR.

Mike says YOU'RE GOOD
WITH METAPHORS.

Margaret says I THINK I MEANT
THAT OTHER PEOPLE
WERE TENDING TO
SEE ME AS A THING,
THAT ONCE YOU BECOME
FAMOUS OR WELL KNOWN,
PEOPLE START PROJECTING A
LOT OF IMAGES ONTO YOU
WHICH AREN'T
NECESSARILY YOU;
THAT IS, THEY SET YOU UP AS
A KIND OF TWO-DIMENSIONAL
FIGUREHEAD OF SOME KIND,
POSITIVE OR NEGATIVE,
AND THAT'S HOW
THEY SEE YOU.
AND IT HAPPENS TO A LOT OF
OTHER PEOPLE BESIDES ME.

Mike says THIS REALLY BECAUSE THEY
READ YOU INTO YOUR BOOKS?

Margaret says NO, I THINK IT'S
BECAUSE THEY READ
THEMSELVES
INTO MY BOOKS.
SINCE THEY DON'T KNOW ME,
THEY CAN'T VERY WELL
READ ME INTO THEM.
I THINK WHAT YOU TEND TO
GET IS PEOPLE'S PROJECTIONS
OF THEIR FEARS, OR
THEIR DESIRES.
IF THEY FEAR SUCCESSFUL WOMEN,
THEN YOU BECOME A WITCH.
IF THEY THINK YOU'RE YOUR
MOTHER, YOU KNOW, IF THEY
HAVE A DESIRE FOR THEIR
MOTHER TO COME AND SOLVE
THEIR PROBLEMS, THEN YOU
GET LETTERS FROM PEOPLE
SAYING, SOLVE MY LIFE.
WHICH, OF COURSE,
I CAN'T DO.

Mike says TRUE THAT YOU GET
INVITATIONS FROM MEN
WANTING TO MEET YOU
FOR A DRINK?

Margaret says OH, I HAVE DONE.
NOT PILES OF THEM.

Mike says BECAUSE YOU'RE
THE ONLY WOMAN
THAT REALLY
UNDERSTANDS THEM?

Margaret says I THINK A LOT OF
SECRETARIES GET A LOT
MORE OF THAT THAN I
DO FROM THEIR BOSSES.

Mike says ALSO, MEN THOUGH WHO
FEEL YOU'VE DESTROYED
THEIR MARRIAGES BY
PROVOKING THEIR WIVES
INTO THE FEMINIST
MOVEMENT?

Margaret says THE BEST REACTION - NO, I
DON'T GET - NOT ANYMORE.
I DON'T GET THAT.
THE BEST REACTION OF
THAT KIND I GOT
WAS SOMEBODY WHO CAME UP TO
ME AT A PARTY WHO SAID,
MY MARRIAGE WAS
SPLITTING UP.
AND I THOUGHT, UH-OH,
HERE WE GO AGAIN,
HE'S GOING TO
BLAME IT ON ME.
AND THEN HE SAID, AND THEN
MY WIFE AND I READ YOUR
BOOK, “POWER OF
POLITICS.”
AND I THOUGHT, UH-OH.
AND HE SAID, AND WE
GOT BACK TOGETHER.

Mike says WOW.
SO YOU'RE ALSO A
HEALER FOR SOME.

Margaret says WELL, I COULDN'T
UNDERSTAND WHY.

Mike says SO PEOPLE SEE
DIFFERENT THINGS.
THEY ALL DON'T REACT
THE SAME TO YOUR BOOKS.

Margaret says FAR FROM IT.

Mike says HOW DOES THAT AFFECT
YOUR OWN PERSONAL LIFE?
ARE YOU ABLE TO BE AS PUBLIC
A PERSON AS YOU ONCE WERE?

Margaret says I WAS NEVER REALLY
THAT PUBLIC A PERSON.
IF YOU LOOK BACK
OVER THE YEARS.
IT'S JUST I'VE BEEN
DOING IT FOR SO LONG.

Mike says RIGHT.

Margaret says FOR INSTANCE, THIS TIME
AROUND, I'VE BEEN
DOING THIS BOOK FOR TWO
YEARS, “LADY ORACLE.”
I SAID I WOULD DO
PUBLICITY FOR THREE WEEKS.
IF YOU TAKE THREE WEEKS
OUT OF TWO YEARS,
THAT'S NOT REALLY
VERY MUCH TIME.

Mike says BUT YOU DON'T HAVE
TO FIGHT HARDER
FOR YOUR PRIVACY
NOW THAN YOU DID?

Margaret says OH, YES, OF
COURSE I DO.
I DON'T LIVE IN
THE CITY ANYMORE.
IT'S HARDER TO
REACH ME BY PHONE.
THINGS LIKE THIS.
BUT THIS HAPPENS
TO ANYBODY.
ANYBODY WHO GETS THEIR
PICTURE IN THE PAPER,
EVEN, WILL USUALLY GET A
FEW WEIRDO PHONE CALLS.

Mike says TRUE THAT YOU'RE GRATEFUL
THAT YOU'RE BEING
ACKNOWLEDGED AS A GOOD
WRITER, AND RATHER SORRY
THAT YOU'VE BECOME A
SUCCESS, OR A CELEBRITY?

Margaret says WELL, THE FACT IS GOOD
WRITING AND BECOMING
A SUCCESS HAVE ABSOLUTELY
NOTHING TO DO WITH EACH OTHER.
THERE ARE A LOT OF WRITERS
WHO ARE VERY GOOD WRITERS
WHO NEVER DO THAT.
THEIR BOOKS ARE NOT POPULAR,
OR THEY DON'T HAVE
A PUBLISHER WHO PUSHES THEM,
OR SOMETHING LIKE THIS.
THERE ARE ALSO A LOT
OF QUITE BAD BOOKS
THAT GET TO BE
VERY WELL KNOWN.

Mike says SO TALENT DOESN'T
NECESSARILY RISE TO THE TOP
IN THE PUBLISHING
BUSINESS?

Margaret says IT MAY RISE TO THE TOP IN
THE MINDS OF OTHER WRITERS.
IF SOMEBODY WRITES A GOOD
BOOK, THERE WILL BE A SELECT
READERSHIP THAT WILL
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THAT PERSON
IS A GOOD WRITER.
BUT IT WON'T NECESSARILY
SELL A WHOLE BUNCH
OF COPIES, AND THE
PERSON WON'T NECESSARILY
BECOME WELL KNOWN.
WHEREAS YOU CAN WRITE
SOMETHING LIKE,
FOR INSTANCE,
“THE HAPPY HOOKER,”
AND A LOT OF PEOPLE
WILL BUY IT.
NOBODY IS SAYING THAT
YOU'RE A GOOD WRITER,
PARTICULARLY, THEY'RE
JUST VERY INTERESTED
IN THE SUBJECT MATTER.

Mike says WE HAVE, IN CANADA,
MARGARET, MOVED,
SOMEWHAT IN THE LAST TEN
YEARS IN THIS FIELD.
THERE IS MORE OPPORTUNITY
FOR CANADIAN LITERARY
FIGURES TO RISE TO THE
TOP THAN THERE WAS
WHEN YOU WERE BEGINNING.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "Margaret Atwood."

Margaret says THERE WASN'T ANY
OPPORTUNITY
WHEN I WAS BEGINNING,
I MEAN, OF THAT KIND.
IT WAS THE KIND I
WAS TALKING ABOUT,
A SMALL GROUP OF PEOPLE
MIGHT READ YOUR BOOK,
BUT THAT WOULD
BE ABOUT IT.
BOOKS, CANADIAN NOVELS, YOU
COULD COUNT ON THE FINGERS
OF SOMETIMES ONE
HAND, SOMETIMES TWO,
BUT RARELY MORE, THE
NUMBERS OF CANADIAN NOVELS
THAT WERE PUBLISHED
IN A YEAR.
THERE WOULD BE SOMETHING
LIKE TEN OF THEM, IF THAT.
ALL THE BOOKS OF POETRY THAT
WERE PUBLISHED IN A YEAR
WERE REVIEWED IN ONE
PART OF ONE ISSUE
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF
TORONTO QUARTERLY.
YOU COULDN'T
POSSIBLY DO THAT NOW.
THERE IS SIMPLY TOO MUCH
PUBLISHING GOING ON.

Mike says SO WE HAVE MOVED
AHEAD IN THAT AREA.

Margaret says OH, FANTASTIC CHANGES.

Mike says I WAS MENTIONING ABOUT
THAT 1972, '73 PERIOD.
AND THE BOOK “SURVIVAL.”
WONDER IF WE COULD JUST GO
BACK TO IT FOR A MOMENT.
AS YOU LOOK BACK, IT DID
TOUCH A NERVE IN THIS COUNTRY.
COULD YOU JUST ARTICULATE
ITS CENTRAL THESIS?

Margaret says I CAN ARTICULATE THE
THESIS, BUT THAT ISN'T
EXACTLY WHY IT
TOUCHED THE NERVE.
THE THESIS HAD BEEN
ARTICULATED MORE OR LESS
BEFORE BY OTHER PEOPLE.

Mike says IT WASN'T YOU, THEN.

Margaret says THEY'D NEVER
PULLED IT TOGETHER.
BUT WHAT I DID WAS PULL
TOGETHER A NUMBER OF THINGS
THAT PEOPLE HAD BEEN
SAYING HERE AND THERE,
AND I GAVE THEM A SHAPE.
IF YOU LOOK AT THE
FRONT OF THE BOOK,
YOU WILL SEE THERE
ARE A WHOLE BUNCH
OF ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
TO OTHER PEOPLE.
AND ALL THESE PEOPLE MADE
CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE BOOK
IN ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
I SAID IT WAS A KIND
OF COMMUNITY EFFORT,
WHICH IT WAS.
IT WASN'T JUST ME
WHO WROTE THAT BOOK.

Mike says RIGHT.

Margaret says BUT IT PULLED TOGETHER
A NUMBER OF IDEAS
THAT HAD BEEN
FLOATING AROUND.
AND ITS CENTRAL THESIS WAS IF
YOU HAD TO PICK A METAPHOR
FOR A CIVILIZATION, ENGLAND'S
WOULD BE THE ISLAND,
AMERICA'S WOULD
BE THE FRONTIER,
AND CANADA'S WOULD
BE SURVIVAL.
SURVIVAL AGAINST
ALL KINDS OF THINGS:
FIRST THE WILDERNESS,
THE HARSH ENVIRONMENT,
NEXT AGAINST CERTAIN KINDS
OF THINGS IN THE CULTURE.
AND I JUST EXPANDED THIS IN
ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF WAYS.
AND I EXAMINED WHY I
THOUGHT THIS WAS SO.
AND I TIED IT IN TO CANADA'S
ECONOMIC SITUATION,
AND POLITICAL SITUATION.
YOU KNOW, WE STILL
GET A LOT OF TALK
IN POLITICAL SPEECHES
ABOUT WHETHER THIS COUNTRY
IS GOING TO SURVIVE
AS A NATION.
YOU GET THAT
EVERY YEAR.

Mike says RIGHT.

Margaret says OTHER PEOPLE ARE WORRIED
ABOUT WHETHER THEY'RE LOSING
THEIR EMPIRE, OR WHETHER
THEIR POUND IS GOING UP
OR DOWN, BUT WE STILL GET
TALK ABOUT WHETHER THIS
OR THAT IS GOING
TO SURVIVE.
QUEBEC IS VERY
WORRIED ABOUT THAT.
SO I EXAMINE THE
CONSEQUENCES OF ALWAYS
THINKING OF YOURSELF
AS A VICTIM.
THE CONSEQUENCES
AREN'T VERY GOOD.

Mike says RIGHT.
AND YOU SUGGEST IN
THERE THAT PART OF THIS
VICTIMHOOD IS BY
OUR OWN CHOICE.

Margaret says THIS GETS VERY
COMPLICATED.
THE FACT IS, ONCE YOU
SET UP THE PROCESS,
IT BECOMES CIRCULAR.
WHAT I SAID WAS CANADA
WAS AN ECONOMIC COLONY.
AND OF COURSE, A LOT OF PEOPLE
DIDN'T WANT TO HEAR THAT.
ALTHOUGH, I'M FAR FROM THE
ONLY PERSON WHO HAS SAID IT.
AND IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE TRUE
IF YOU LOOK AT THE NUMBERS.
I ALSO SAID THERE IS A
CONNECTION BETWEEN THE
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL AND
POLITICAL LIFE OF A COUNTRY,
AND THE KIND OF LITERATURE
THAT COUNTRY PRODUCES,
WHICH IS, OF COURSE, SOMETHING
ELSE THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE
DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT.
THEY WANT LITERATURE
TO BE SEPARATE.
THEY WANT IT TO EXIST IN A
LITTLE IVORY TOWER SOMEWHERE,
NOT TO HAVE MUCH TO DO
WITH THE CULTURE AT ALL,
EXCEPT IN THE FORM OF
MENTIONING STREET NAMES,
SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
SO MY THEORY WAS MORE
THAN A LITERARY THEORY.
AND I THINK THAT'S
WHAT BOTHERED PEOPLE.
IF I HAD JUST BEEN TALKING
ABOUT BOOKS, WELL,
OKAY, NO SWEAT, YOU
KNOW, IT'S JUST BOOKS.
BUT I WAS TALKING ABOUT
THE ENTIRE COUNTRY.

Mike says RIGHT.

Margaret says AND ECONOMICS AND POLITICS,
AND WE ALL KNOW THAT GIRLS
AREN'T SUPPOSED TO THINK
ABOUT THOSE THINGS,
MUCH LESS WRITE
ABOUT THEM.

Mike says THE NOTION OF SURVIVAL
IN VICTIMHOOD, YOU SAY
THAT THE LITERARY
PUBLISHING SCENE IN CANADA
HAS CHANGED IN THE
LAST TEN YEARS.
DO YOU FEEL WE'VE MADE ANY
MOVE SINCE “SURVIVAL.”
IN '72, AWAY FROM THIS NOTION
OF SURVIVAL AND VICTIMHOOD,
AND HAVE TAKEN A
MORE POSITIVE STANCE
TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?

Margaret says I THINK THE WRITING
COMMUNITY HAS TAKEN
A MORE POSITIVE STANCE.
BUT IT'S NOT GOING TO
DO ANYBODY ANY GOOD
FOR THEM TO TAKE A
POSITIVE STANCE,
IF THE GOVERNMENT
TAKES A NEGATIVE ONE.

Mike says AND YOU FEEL THEY ARE?

Margaret says THEY CAN HAVE ALL THE SORT
OF POSITIVE MOVEMENTS
THEY WANT, BUT AS LONG AS
THE RESOURCES CONTINUE
TO BE SOLD, AND NOBODY TAKES
SORT OF STRONG STANCE
ON THIS KIND OF
THING, THE COUNTRY
IS GOING TO GO DOWN
THE DRAIN ANYWAY.
IF YOU DON'T OWN THE
GROUND YOU STAND ON,
YOU DON'T OWN, REALLY, YOUR
RIGHT TO HAVE A CULTURE.
YOU'VE GOTTEN RID OF IT.
YOU'VE SOLD IT.

Mike says YOU HAVEN'T MELLOWED
THEN, AT ALL,
IN YOUR CANADIAN
NATIONALISM?

Margaret says WHAT WOULD MELLOWED
CANADIAN NATIONALISM BE LIKE?

Mike says WELL, I SUPPOSE IT NOT
BEING A TOP PRIORITY WITH YOU.
SORT OF GIVING THE BATTLE
TO OTHERS THAT IT'S NOT
AS DEEP A CONCERN
FOR YOU NOW.

Margaret says WELL, WHEN YOU'RE
WRITING A NOVEL,
YOU HAVE TO
WRITE A NOVEL.
THAT'S IT.
BUT I FINISHED THAT
PARTICULAR NOVEL.
I HAVEN'T STARTED ANOTHER
ONE YET, AND I'M APPEARING,
LET'S SEE, IN THE MIDDLE OF
OCTOBER THERE'S A CONFERENCE,
THE ASSOCIATION
OF CANADIAN PUBLISHERS
IS HAVING A CONFERENCE
ON PUBLISHING,
AND I'M ONE OF
THE PANELISTS.
SO OBVIOUSLY, I HAVE-

Mike says DO YOU FIND ANY
RIDICULOUS EXTREMES IN,
SAY, THE LITERARY
NATIONALISM, THE NOTION
OF THE CANADIAN AUTHOR?

Margaret says THERE ARE RIDICULOUS
EXTREMES IN EVERY
POLITICAL MOVEMENT.
THAT DOESN'T MAKE
THE MOVEMENT WRONG.
IT SIMPLY MAKES THE
RIDICULOUS EXTREMES RIDICULOUS.

Mike says RIGHT.
YOU'VE SAID, I THINK,
CANADIANISM, OR BEING
A CANADIAN SHOULD BE
A DESCRIPTIVE TERM,
RATHER THAN A
MORAL JUDGMENT.

Margaret says I DON'T THINK CANADIANS
ARE INHERENTLY ANY BETTER
THAN ANYBODY ELSE.
I DON'T THINK WE HAVE A
CORNER ON GOOD QUALITIES.
I DON'T THINK OTHER
COUNTRIES HAVE A CORNER
ON BAD QUALITIES.
I THINK A LOT OF THE SORT
OF BAD QUALITIES WE SEE
IN OTHER COUNTRIES ARE
NOT ANYTHING INHERENT
IN THE PEOPLE; THEY
ARE SIMPLY A PRODUCT
OF THAT COUNTRY'S ECONOMIC AND
POLITICAL POSITION AT THE TIME.
YOU KNOW, EMPIRES BEHAVE LIKE
EMPIRES; THEY ALWAYS HAVE.
PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT INTO
EMPIRE BUILDING DON'T BEHAVE
THAT WAY, BUT THAT
DOESN'T MEAN THEY WOULDN'T
IF GIVEN THE CHANCE.

Mike says THE EARLY '60s, MARGARET,
YOU WERE AT HARVARD.
YOU RETURNED FROM THE STATES
WITH WHAT WE UNDERSTAND
IS GROWING NATIONALISM
AND ANTI-AMERICANISM.
THE '60s PERIOD WAS A RATHER
DISAPPOINTING ONE FOR YOU,
AS I UNDERSTAND.
YOU WROTE FOR A
MARKETING RESEARCH FIRM,
AND YOUR FIRST
NOVEL WAS REJECTED.

Margaret says OH, YOU MEAN WHETHER I WAS
SORT OF PUBLISHING BOOKS
AND THINGS LIKE THAT?

Mike says YEAH.
BECAUSE I DON'T THINK YOUR
SUCCESS HAS COME ALL THAT EASY.

Margaret says WELL, YOU EQUATE SUCCESS
WITH LACK OF DISAPPOINTMENT,
AND LACK OF SUCCESS
WITH DISAPPOINTMENT.
I DIDN'T FIND IT
DISAPPOINTING.
I WAS HAVING A
VERY EXCITING TIME.

Mike says WELL, I SUPPOSE I READ THE
FIRST TIME YOUR FIRST BOOK
OF POEMS WAS REJECTED,
YOU WERE DEVASTATED.

Margaret says OH, I WAS DEVASTATED
EVERY YEAR.
I SUBMITTED THE STUFF, YOU
KNOW, OVER A PERIOD OF WHAT,
FIVE YEARS WITHOUT GETTING
ANYTHING ACCEPTED.
BUT DEVASTATION ISN'T THE
SAME AS DISAPPOINTMENT.
IT CERTAINLY
ISN'T BORING.

Mike says ALL RIGHT.
IN 1968, “THE ANIMALS
IN THAT COUNTRY,”
A BOOK OF POETRY THAT
WAS PUBLISHED.
IN 1969, “THE EDIBLE WOMAN.”
WAS THAT BOOK MEANT TO
TROUBLE MORE THAN ENTERTAIN?

Margaret says”EDIBLE WOMAN.”
I DON'T HAVE ASSUMPTIONS
ABOUT WHAT READERS
WILL THINK ABOUT MY BOOKS.
THAT IS, I DON'T AIM THEM
AT READERS EXPECTING
A CERTAIN RESULT.
THAT'S LUCKY BECAUSE I
WOULDN'T GET IT EVEN IF I DID.
I DON'T KNOW.
I THINK IT WAS BOTH.

Mike says BOTH TO TROUBLE
AND TO ENTERTAIN.

Margaret says LIKE “GULLIVER'S TRAVELS.”

Mike says SO IT WASN'T MEANT
TO JUST MAKE US LAUGH?

Margaret says DID YOU JUST LAUGH?

Mike says NO.
BUT THAT MAY NOT HAVE
BEEN WHAT YOU INTENDED.
1972, “SURFACING.”
WOULD YOU SAY IT IS TRUE
THERE ARE CERTAIN THEMES
THAT HAVE COME THROUGH
IN THOSE TWO NOVELS,
AND PERHAPS ARE EVEN
PRESENT HERE IN THE THIRD?

Margaret says MY FAVOURITE THEME
IS THE FOLLOWING:
I WAS IN BELLEVILLE
GIVING A POETRY READING,
AND SOMEBODY FROM
THE AUDIENCE SAID,
I'VE NOTICED A LOT OF
BATHTUBS IN YOUR WORK.
WOULD YOU SAY YOU HAD A
THING ABOUT BATHTUBS?

Mike says WELL, I WAS TALKING MORE
ABOUT THIS NOTION
OF THE INDIVIDUAL
BEING TRAPPED.

Margaret says THAT'S A BATHTUB MOTIF, YES.
IF YOU THINK OF IT, THIS
IRON THING YOU'RE INSIDE.

Mike says THERE IS SOMETHING, THOUGH,
ABOUT THE ARTIFICIALITY,
THE LACK OF CONTACT
WITH OUR REAL SELVES,
THE PLAYING OF ROLES, THE
LOSS OF IDENTITY, ALIENATION.
THESE THINGS ARE
IMPORTANT IN YOUR NOVELS.

Margaret says THEY ARE NOT INDIGENOUS
TO ME, THOUGH.

Mike says NO.

Margaret says LOTS OF PEOPLE WRITE
ABOUT THESE THINGS.
AND I THINK THEY ARE
SIMPLY FACTORS
CREATED BY THE SOCIETY.
THE KINDS OF SOCIETY WE LIVE
IN PRODUCES THESE THINGS
FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE.
I DON'T THINK HUMAN BEINGS
WERE MEANT TO LIVE IN LARGE,
IMPERSONAL STRUCTURES.
I THINK THEY WERE MEANT
TO LIVE IN SMALL,
PERSONAL STRUCTURES.
AND YOU TAKE PEOPLE OUT OF THEIR
SMALL PERSONAL STRUCTURES,
AND PUT THEM INTO A CITY WHERE
THEY DON'T KNOW ANYBODY,
OF COURSE THEY BECOME
ALIENATED.

Mike says THERE IS THE NOTION OF SOME
KIND OF TRANSFORMATION
IN BOTH OF THOSE
FIRST TWO NOVELS.

Margaret agrees.

Mike says A KIND OF STEP.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY
ABOUT “LADY ORACLE”?
WHAT WOULD YOU HOPE?

Margaret says IT'S QUITE A DIFFERENT BOOK
IN THE WAY IT WAS MADE.
THAT IS, “EDIBLE WOMAN.”
COVERS A PERIOD
OF ABOUT EIGHT MONTHS.
“SURFACING” COVERS A
PERIOD OF ABOUT TWO WEEKS.
BUT “LADY ORACLE” GOES FROM
THE HEROINE'S BEGINNINGS
UP UNTIL - GOES THROUGH
HER ENTIRE LIFE.
AND FOR THIS REASON, THERE
ARE A LOT OF CHARACTERS IN IT,
AND IT'S LONGER.

Mike says LONGER.

Margaret says IT'S LONGER.
AND IT'S ALSO MUCH MORE
COMPLICATED, NATURALLY,
IN TERMS OF PLOT.
IT'S VERY HARD TO
DESCRIBE THE PLOT
IN A COUPLE OF SENTENCES.
WHEREAS YOU COULD DO
THAT WITH “EDIBLE WOMAN.”
OR “SURFACING.”

Mike says THE MOST CHALLENGING NOVEL
THAT YOU'VE TRIED OF THE THREE?

Margaret says OH, BOY.
I DON'T KNOW.
I THINK THE MOST
CHALLENGING NOVEL I TRIED
WAS ONE I NEVER FINISHED.
OBVIOUSLY, IT WAS TOO
CHALLENGING FOR ME.
BUT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN
ABOUT 2,000 PAGES
BY THE TIME I
FINISHED WITH IT.
IT HAD NINE CHARACTERS
AND FIVE SECTIONS,
AND EACH OF THE CHARACTERS WAS
SUPPOSED TO HAVE ONE SECTION
WITHIN THE FIVE SECTIONS.
NINE FIVES ARE-

Mike says 45.

Margaret says 45 SECTIONS ALTOGETHER,
AND IT JUST DIDN'T WORK OUT.

Mike says YOU MENTIONED WHILE WE WERE
IN THEME THAT YOU HOPE
THE READER WOULD REMEMBER
THAT FIRST AND FOREMOST,
OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT,
“LADY ORACLE” IS A FUN BOOK,
OR A FUNNY BOOK.

Margaret says IT IS, YES.
A LOT OF PEOPLE TRY TO GO
SYMBOL HUNTING IMMEDIATELY,
AND TRY TO GET SORT OF
THE SERIOUS MEANINGS
OUT OF ALL OF IT.
AND THERE ARE A
FEW, YOU KNOW?
BUT SOME OF THE SCENES JUST
EXIST ON THEIR OWN FACE VALUE.
SO I WOULD SAY ONE OUGHTN'T
TO BE INTIMIDATED BY IT.
IT IS, AS ONE OF MY FRIENDS
SAID TO ME, “A GOOD READ.”

Mike says A GOOD READ.
IN ALL THREE NOVELS THUS
FAR, ARE THE HEROINES VICTIMS?

Margaret says OH, I DON'T KNOW.

Mike says CONSISTENT WITH YOUR THEME
ABOUT CANADIAN LITERATURE?

Margaret says OF COURSE, I DID THAT
THEME AFTER I HAD WRITTEN
“EDIBLE WOMAN.”
AND “SURFACING.”
AND SOME PEOPLE GET THEIR
CHRONOLOGY MIXED UP AND
THINK THAT I DID IT FIRST,
AND THEN WROTE THE BOOKS
IN ORDER TO ILLUSTRATE
THE THEME, WHICH IS,
OF COURSE, NOT TRUE.
AND I DON'T THINK THAT THE
HEROINE IN THE CURRENT NOVEL
IS A VICTIM, PER SE.
I THINK SHE'S A CLOWN.
BY A CLOWN, I MEAN
SOMEONE WHO HAS CHOSEN
TO USE THE MASK OF A CLOWN
BECAUSE IT'S MORE CONVENIENT.
SO I DON'T KNOW,
YOU KNOW?
ANY KIND OF SCHEME YOU
MAKE FOR ANYTHING,
ANY CRITICISM IS
VERY SIMPLISTIC.
AND NOTHING EVER
REALLY FITS IT.
IT'S LIKE A BLACKBOARD
DIAGRAM WHEN YOU'RE TEACHING.
WHEN YOU DRAW A LITTLE
DIAGRAM, EVERYBODY KNOWS
THE DIAGRAM ISN'T EQUIVALENT
TO THE REAL THING.
AND YOU DON'T WANT TO SORT
OF START CHOPPING OFF ARMS
AND LEGS TO MAKE THEM
FIT YOUR STRUCTURE.

Mike says DOES “LADY ORACLE” MARK
ANY SORT OF REAL DEPARTURE
FOR YOU OTHER THAN THE
FACT IT IS MORE COMPLEX,
A MORE FULLY DRAWN BOOK?

Margaret says I THINK IT'S
MORE OF A NOVEL.
I THINK IT'S A MORE
NOVELY KIND OF NOVEL,
IF YOU KNOW
WHAT I MEAN.
AND NEXT TIME I WOULD
TRY TO WRITE ONE
THAT IS EVEN
MORE OF A NOVEL.

Mike says WE HAVEN'T THE TIME TO GO
INTO YOUR WORK AS A POET.
YOU'RE LISTED AS ONE
OF THE BEST IN CANADA.
THERE IS SOME
SUGGESTION OF-

Margaret says WHERE IS THE DIRECTORY?

Mike says THE DIRECTORY?
OH, THE CRITICS.

She laughs.

Margaret says DO YOU THINK
THAT'S ACCURATE?
DO YOU BELIEVE THEM?

Mike says OH YEAH.

Margaret says YOU BELIEVE CRITICISM.

Mike says A LOT OF CRITICISM.
I FIND THERE ARE CERTAIN
OF PATTERNS EMERGE.
THEY'VE SUGGESTED, OR SOME
OF THEM HAVE SUGGESTED
THERE IS A CRUELTY
IN YOUR WORK.
DO YOU THINK
THAT'S VALID?
WE TALKED ABOUT
POWER POLITICS.

Margaret says IS THERE CRUELTY
IN LIFE?

Mike says YES.

Margaret says WHY SHOULD THERE NOT
BE ANY IN MY WORK?

Mike says OKAY.
HOW ABOUT ANOTHER
CRITIC THAT SAID
ABOUT “LADY ORACLE.”
THAT HE LOVED THE BOOK
AND WAS LAVISHING HIS
PRAISE ON IT, BUT SAID-

Margaret says HE FOUND IT COLD.

Mike says HE JUST SAID MIRTH
AND JOY AND WARMTH
WERE THINGS HAVEN'T
APPEARED IN YOUR WORK YET.
AND WHEN THEY DO, WHEN
THIS ICE JAM BREAKS,
WE ARE GOING TO HAVE
AN EVEN GREATER NOVEL.

Margaret says WELL, I THINK THAT
WAS A MALE CRITIC.
AND HE MISSED THE REALLY
WARM RELATIONSHIP
IN THE BOOK WHICH IS, OF
COURSE, BETWEEN THE HEROINE
AND HER AUNT.
HE WAS THINKING
ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS
BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN.
AND THAT WAS THE ONLY WAY HE
WAS DEFINING RELATIONSHIPS.
AND OF COURSE, THE REAL SORT
OF SAVING RELATIONSHIP
IN HER LIFE, SHE HAS A
FAIRLY DREADFUL MOTHER,
BUT SHE HAS THIS VERY GOOD
RELATIONSHIP WITH HER AUNT.

Mike says HE MISSED THAT.

Margaret says MISSED IT.

Mike says YEAH.
WHILE YOU HAVE REFLECTED
THE CRUELTY OF LIFE,
DO YOU THINK THERE IS ANY
VALIDITY TO THE SUGGESTION
THAT YOU, PERHAPS, HAVEN'T
REFLECTED MIRTH, JOY AND WARMTH?

Margaret says HOW CAN I SAY THAT?
WHAT YOU'RE ASKING ME ABOUT IS
ONE MAN'S REACTION TO ONE BOOK.
AND I THINK IT TENDS TO BE
THAT PEOPLE REACT WITH MORE
SHOCK TO STRONG
STATEMENTS BY WOMEN
THAN THEY DO BY STRONG
STATEMENTS BY MEN.
MORDECAI RICHLER, FOR
INSTANCE, WRITES THESE BOOKS
WITH ALL THESE
EPILEPTICS AND CRIPPLES,
AND ALL THESE
THINGS IN THEM.
NOBODY EVER
CALLS HIM CRUEL.
THEY SAY, PENETRATING SATIRE,
OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
BUT THEY DON'T
CALL HIM CRUEL.
AND I ASK YOU WHY NOT?
I THINK THERE ARE A
LOT OF MALE WRITERS
WHO ARE FAR MORE CRUEL THAN I AM
IN THEIR GENERAL OUTLOOK,
AND WHAT THEY DO
IN THEIR BOOKS.
PEOPLE DON'T THINK OF THEM
AS CRUEL BECAUSE THEY THINK
THIS KIND OF THING IS AN
ATTRIBUTE OF BEING MALE.
AND I THINK THE DIFFICULTY
IS THAT WHEN A WOMAN
SAYS ANYTHING THAT ISN'T
JUST, HAVE A COOKIE, DEAR,
OR, LOOK AT THE
BEAUTIFUL SUNSET,
PEOPLE ARE SHOCKED BY IT.
THEY STILL ARE.

Mike says YEAH.
MARGARET, ABOUT YOU
AND YOUR CHARACTERS
AND YOUR OWN LIFE, THEM
BEING A REFLECTION AT ALL
OF YOUR OWN LIFE, YOU'VE
BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING,
WELL, I FIRST OF ALL THINK THAT
YOU'VE SAID THAT'S NOT TRUE.

Margaret says DON'T BELIEVE
EVERYTHING YOU READ.

Mike says RIGHT.
CHARACTERS HAVE A TENDENCY
TO BE THE FLIPSIDE OF A COIN.

Margaret says I DID SAY THAT.

Mike says TO BE WHAT YOU'RE
AFRAID OF BECOMING.
TRUTH IN THAT?

Margaret says OH, YEAH.
YEAH, I THINK SO.
I DID SAY THAT.
SOME OF THE THINGS THAT
PEOPLE QUOTE TO ME
I NEVER SAID AT ALL.

Mike says SO REALLY, SOMETIMES YOU
PORTRAY A CHARACTER
AS UNTIDY, AND DISORGANIZED
AND DISORDERLY BECAUSE
YOU'RE THE EXACT OPPOSITE
IN FEAR THAT IF YOU LET
YOURSELF GO THAT'S
WHAT YOU MIGHT BECOME?

Margaret says OH, I KNOW I
MIGHT BECOME THAT.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I ALREADY
AM TO A CERTAIN EXTENT.
YOU SHOULD SEE MY OFFICE.
AND I THINK IT'S NOT
NECESSARILY JUST A FLIPSIDE.
I THINK EVERYBODY HAS - I
GUESS, I REALLY BELIEVE
EVERYBODY HAS WITHIN THEM ALL
POSSIBLE HUMAN QUALITIES.
AND IT'S JUST A QUESTION OF
WHAT KIND OF CIRCUMSTANCES
YOU FIND YOURSELF IN,
AS TO WHAT COMES OUT.

Mike says ARE WE CLOSER TO MARGARET
ATWOOD, THE PERSON -
MAY BE A SILLY QUESTION -
WHEN YOU WRITE POETRY,
THAN WHEN YOU
WRITE A NOVEL?

Margaret says I HAVE NO IDEA.
I DON'T HAVE A CONCEPT OF
MYSELF AS A SORT OF HARD,
CLOSED, FINISHED PRODUCT.
AND I DON'T SPEND A LOT
OF TIME THINKING ABOUT
WHO IS MARGARET ATWOOD.
OTHER PEOPLE MAY SPEND
TIME THINKING ABOUT THAT.
I WOULD PREFER TO SPEND
MY TIME THINKING ABOUT
WHO THEY ARE,
THAN WHO I AM.
AND WHEN I WRITE A
CHARACTER, OF COURSE,
I'M THINKING ABOUT
WHO THE CHARACTER IS.
BUT IF YOU GET INTO
THE TRAP OF SAYING,
IS THIS ME, IS THIS NOT ME,
YOU'RE NOT WRITING A NOVEL.
YOU'RE WRITING SOME
KIND OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY
OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT.
AND I WOULD JUST RATHER
WRITE THE CHARACTER,
AND FORGET ABOUT MYSELF
WHILE I'M DOING IT.

Mike says GOING TO GET INTO
MORE PLAYWRITING?

Margaret says MORE?

Mike says YOU'VE DONE
ONE, HAVEN'T YOU?

She giggles.
The lighting dims down as the title of the show appears on screen.

Margaret says I DID A TELEVISION PLAY.
I DON'T THINK I'LL
EVER WRITE A PLAY, NO.

Theme music plays as the end credits roll.

Guest, Margaret Atwood.

Producer and Director, Susan Murgatroyd.

Executive Producer, Mike McManus.

A learning opportunity by TVOntario.

Watch: Interview: Margaret Atwood