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Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Author Margaret Atwood meets with members of The Globe and Mail's editorial board to talk about culture and upcoming federal election. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

At the editorial board

Margaret Atwood, uncensored Add to ...

Mr. Geiger: As a writer of dystopias, if there were a Harper majority, do you have a vision of what Canada would look like?

Ms. Atwood: I think it would force a unite the Centre movement. And the centre would probably include the righter portion of the NDP, the Liberals, the lefter portion or the orphan Tories, who have nobody to vote for, and a number of Greens.

I just think people would finally say, 5 parties is untenable. And how that would arrange itself I'm not sure.

A lot of origins of parties disappear. The issues that the party congealed around in the first place go. And then other issues come on stream.

And if you go back into the 19th century it is a bit like the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, in which people move around a chair. The Liberals of the 19th century were big free traders. It was the Tories who were up against that, and they were against it up until Mulroney.

The Mulroney Tories then became the Liberals of the 19th century.

Mr. Owen: Is the utopia genre possible these days?

Ms. Atwood: Very difficult.

Mr. Owen: I think it is very difficult, they always were somewhat difficult.

Ms. Atwood: Not in the late 19th century.

Mr. Owen: But were they good ones?

Ms. Atwood: What do we mean by we say good when we're talking about genres? Were they readable? Did they have good ideas? Some of them are on the wacky end of the scale.

To that I propose [Edward]Bulwer-Lytton The Coming Race, in which people fall through a hole in the ground and find themselves in a big underground cavern in which the women are bigger and more powerful than the men which means the women have to be very nice to the men because everybody's got wings and if they're not nice to the men, the men fly away.

Which is a lot like the introduction to Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, in which she says that unless you provide a nice home and good food your husband's going to go to the club all the time.

Mr. Owen: Instead, her husband was her agent, a very effective agent; he was on her case all the time.

Ms. Atwood: Alas she died early. Anyway, she's well worth reading.

Utopias - depends what you are looking for. And since this is the subject of my unfinished Harvard thesis, I can tell you what I was looking for.

I was looking for a genre which was not exactly a utopia/dystopia, but it contained an element of supernaturalism. So you would have a book like She, very influential in the first part of the 19th century, by the way.

Or a book like The Crystal Age- W.H. Hudson. Quite weird.

He trips over a tree root and sleeps for a thousand years or however long it takes and he wakes up cover in little roots which I always thought was quite cute. And he finds himself in a pre-Raphaelite utopia, in which everyone lives in big-stained-glass-decorated, weaving-adorned country houses in pastoral settings. The catch is that no one has sex except a doomed couple who are head of the household called The Mother and The Father. And nobody else even has any interest in sex.

Mr. Owen: And this is a utopia?

Ms. Atwood: Yes, because it solved the over population problem which was very much on the minds of the Victorians. And therefore the crowding, the vice, the disease all of those things that were very present for them.

So the tragedy of this book is that the hero has not been deprived of his sexual interest and he falls in love with one of these neutral women who doesn't understand what he is talking about.

Ms. Traves: Is that what this election is missing? Sex appeal? I'm not being facetious.

The one that could best be turned into a Harlequin romance or a Harlequin non-fiction would be The Helena [Guergis]Affair. So it would be a book called Smeared.

I'm not joking. It would actually make a great story. Because whatever you think of her husband, what happened to her was not right. Maybe there are reasons for not telling the general public about what the cocaine sniffing off of prostitutes chests charges were, but there was no reason for not telling her. Once you are not telling a person what they are accused of, you write off an Inquisition and its really wrong.

Mr. Owen: How would you vote in Simcoe-Grey?

Ms. Atwood: I'd vote for her. I would. Partly because it makes a better ending.

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