Grace Marks is an Irish young woman growing up in Canada. Grace survived a harrowing voyage from Ireland to Canada and she has survived extreme poverty with her inept and sometimes abusive father. She works as a maid in wealthy families, cleaning and cooking. Eventually, she comes to work for Thomas Kinnear. She is accused of murdering Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, and is sent to the Kingston Penitentiary. Many years after her conviction, Grace is visited by Dr. Simon Jordan, a young doctor specializing in the new field of psychiatry. Jordan slowly draws memories from Grace, tracing her difficult life and bringing her to the day of Kinnear's death.
This report prepared by A. Antonow
Grace Marks was a sixteen year old housemaid in 1843 when she was convicted, along with a manservant, of killing her employers. Margaret Atwood has chosen to tell Grace's story in fictional form although the major characters and events are as they happened. Atwood portrays the Victorian prison system and asylum life in detail, including issues Grace has with the warders who escort her to her work in the Governor's house, other prisoners who see her receiving preferential treatment, and the governor's family. Simon Jordan is a doctor who is using the new science of psychology. He meets with Grace and listens to her story drawing her out about her life and her crime.
This report prepared by Penny
Alias Grace, like all of Margaret Atwood's works, is not simple, but it yields great rewards. Atwood based the story on the life of Grace Marks, a Canadian servant girl convicted in 1842 at the age of sixteen for conspiring with a fellow servant, James McDermott (rumored to be her lover) to murder her employer and his housekeeper. Acquaintances and the press offered widely divergent portrayals of Grace: a poor innocent swept up into McDermott's evildoings; a temptress who incited McDermott to murder; a jealous coquette covetous of the housekeeper's questionable, preferential relationship with their employer; a madwoman incapable of remorse or reason.
Atwood tells Grace's story through Grace's first-person account of her life, trial records, press articles, and poems, and through the third-person story of Dr. Simon Jordan, a young physician interested in mental illness who interviews Grace in an effort to establish what really happened. A parallel plot involves Jordan's increasing obsession with Grace and the social, professional, and psychological dangers into which it leads him. Alias Grace is a bit like the movie Rashomon and its subsequent imitators; multiple narratives relate the same story (or pieces of it), and yet they can differ widely in their accounts, creating a whole that doesn't always add up, but is intriguing and engaging nonetheless.
This report prepared by A. J. Bell