Now 78, Atwood has acquired near-symbolic status: somewhere between a soothsayer, a standard-bearer, an internet celebrity, and a diagnostician of the body politicby Andrew Dickson / May 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
When the American comedian Michelle Wolf launched her blitzkrieg on the Trump administration at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in April, few emerged unscathed, least of all the president. But Wolf made a special target of Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, sitting a few seats away from her on stage. “I have to say I’m a little star-struck: I loved you as Aunt Lydia in The Handmaid’s Tale,” Wolf cooed, to the sound of hundreds of journalists holding their breath. “Mike Pence,” she said, addressing the vice president, “if you haven’t seen it, you would love it.”
It would probably have been more surprising if the evening had passed without a reference to Margaret Atwood’s dystopia: the age of Trump seems to have become the age of Atwood. The television adaptation of her 1985 novel about women-hating Christian fundamentalists taking over the US, broadcast here on Channel 4 and now in its second series, has become a lightning rod for the #MeToo movement and millennial anti-Trump sentiment.
Sales of the book rose by 200 per cent after the 2016 election. On the Women’s March just after the inauguration, protestors dressed up in the scarlet robes and snow-white bonnets worn by the Handmaids and waved placards reading “Make Atwood Fiction Again.”
A concurrent television adaptation of her 1996 historical novel Alias Grace is even more timely: it focuses on the true story of a 19th-century immigrant woman accused of murder, trapped in a broken legal system.
Yet Atwood’s willingness to speak out on issues of the moment can also upset her fans. Earlier this year, she wrote an article in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s most-read newspaper, entitled “Am I a bad feminist?” in which she refused to renounce an earlier statement comparing the #MeToo movement to the Salem witch trials and insisted that men accused of sexual harassment should be given a fair hearing. Social media erupted; many accused the author of betraying feminist principles. On Twitter, Atwood coolly responded by drawing attention to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Canadian academic and critic Aritha van Herk tells me: “She doesn’t have perfect judgment… but she does want to ask hard questions about power and process. She’s always done that.”