The Red Shoes
Margaret Atwood Starting OutBook - 1998
Margaret Atwood remembers being devastated by this movie, but unlike many young girls of her time, she escaped its underlying message. Sustained by a strong sense of herself, Margaret Atwood achieved a stratospheric literary career. How did a young girl, in those pre-feminist days, create the instinctive capacity to believe in herself? As pre-eminent biographer Rosemary Sullivan says: "The answer has to do with the mystery of self-confidence".
Self-confidence is just one fascinating side of our most famous literary export, examined by Rosemary Sullivan in The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood/Starting Out. Not a biography, but a portrait of a woman and her generation -- this is the unfolding of an enigma. For despite her tremendous success that transcends the literary community, catapulting her into the realm of a "household name", Margaret Atwood has remained very much a private person with a public persona. Rosemary Sullivan reveals the discrepancy between Atwood's cool, acerbic public image and the down-to-earth, straight-dealing and generous woman who actually
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Margaret made a distinction: personally, art was a vocation, a gift, which required all her imagination and commitment. But publicly, it was also a profession, with rights and responsibilities. Ironically, the romantic notion of the artist confronting demons alone in an attic freed society of any responsibility for art. The artist suffered, by definition, and was placeless in a culture where he or she had no social role. Margaret was beginning to see the artist as completely different from the romantic cliche. The artist was meant to actively shape society, and not be its victim. When the artist actually spoke out, though, society often felt threatened.
"I'm interested," [Margaret Atwood] would say, "in edges, undertows, permutations, in taking things that might be viewed as eccentric or marginal and pulling them into the center." She would become someone who was always looking for a space to stand - on the borderline between city and bush, between reason and feeling, between fear and empathy. She was someone who learned from that wild world what she would call "the gaping moment" - "a sense of the hole in the sky." She would say that, for her, the city world was the fearful place where she had to learn the mysterious codes of behaviour that everyone else took for granted.
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