International award-winning and best-selling author, Canadian cultural icon, feminist role model, “man-hater,” wife, mother, private citizen and household name ‘ who is Margaret Atwood? Rosemary Sullivan, award-winning literary biographer, has penned The Red Shoes: Margaret Atwood/Starting Out, the first portrait of Canada’s most famous novelist, focusing on her childhood and formative years as a writer and the generation she grew up in.
When Margaret Atwood was a little girl in 1949, she saw a movie called The Red Shoes. It is the story of a beautiful young woman who becomes a famous ballerina, but commits suicide when she cannot satisfy one man, who wants her to devote her entire life to her art, and another who loves her, but subjugates her to become his muse and inspiration. She struggles to choose art, but the choice eventually destroys her.
Margaret Atwood remembers being devastated by this movie but unlike many young girls of her time, she escaped its underlying message. Always sustained by a strong sense of self, Atwood would achieve a meteoric literary career. Yet a nurturing sense of self-confidence is just one fascinating side of our most famous literary figure, as examined in Rosemary Sullivan’s latest biography. The Red Shoes is not a simple biography but a portrait of a complex, intriguing woman and her generation.
The seventies in Canada was the decade of fierce nationalist debate, a period during which Canada’s social imagination was creating a new tradition. Suddenly everyone, from Robertson Davies to Margaret Laurence was talking, and writing, about a Canadian cultural identity. Margaret Atwood was no exception.
For despite her tremendous success that transcends the literary community, catapulting 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 writes the books. Throughout, she weaves the issues of female creativity, authority and autonomy set against the backdrop of a generation of women coming of age during one of the most radically shifting times in contemporary history.