When you write, I feel as if you are drawing on me, drawing on my skin with the feather end of an old-fashioned goose pen. As if hundreds of butterflies have settled all over my face, and are softly opening and closing their wings. But underneath that is another feeling, a feeling of being wide-eyed awake and watchful. It’s like being wakened suddenly in the middle of the night, by a hand over your face, and you sit up with your heart going fast, and no one is there. And underneath that is another feeling still, a feeling of being torn open, not like a body of flesh, it is not painful as such, but like a peach. And not even torn open, but too ripe and splitting of its own accord. And inside the peach, there’s a stone
by Marlene Goldman
In her introduction to this collection, Julia Creet asserts that “migration is a condition of memory,” and cites Pierre Nora’s lament that
“we create sites of memory because we not longer have ‘real environments of memory’: stable geographic, generation environments in which memory resides . . .”
Margaret Atwood’s historical novel Alias Grace is based on the life of a notorious Canadian woman who immigrated from Ireland and who was convicted of murder at the age of sixteen.
Fiction has played a profound role in shaping our understanding of both normal and pathological memory. In her study of conceptual art and memory, Luiza Nader observes that the work of the artist under consideration
“raised the problem of the relation between memory (with its vicissitudes like transference, repressions, and displacements) and history” (*).
I would suggest that Atwood’s novel adds a significant dimension to this collection’s engagement with the issues of migration, memory, trauma, testimony, and fiction because of its reflexive engagement with fiction making and, more precisely, owing to the novel’s insistence that even in the case of traumatic testimony, the vicissitudes of memory and artistic fabrication play a profound role.
I said that I remembered some of the things I did. But there are other things they said I did, which I said I could not remember at all.
Did he say, I saw you outside at night, in your nightgown, in the moonlight?
Did he say, Who were you looking for? Was it a man? Did he say, I pay good wages but I want good service in return?
Did he say, do not worry, I will not tell your mistress, it will be our secret?
In 1843, a 16-year-old Canadian housemaid named Grace Marks was tried for the murder of her employer and his mistress. The sensationalistic trial made headlines throughout the world, and the jury delivered a guilty verdict. Yet opinion remained fiercely divided about Marks—was she a spurned woman who had taken out her rage on two innocent victims, or was she an unwilling victim herself, caught up in a crime she was too young to understand?
Then I thought about widows — about widow’s humps, and widow’s walks, and the widow’s mite in the Bible, which we servants were always being urged to give to the poor out of our wages; and also I thought about how the men would wink and nod when a young and rich widow was mentioned, and how a widow was a respectable thing to be if old and poor, but not otherwise; which is quite strange when you come to consider it.
The winter quilts were of deeper colours than the summer ones, with reds and oranges and blues and purples; and some of them had silks and velvets and brocade pieces in them.
Over the years in prison, when I have been by myself, as I am a good deal of the time, I have closed my eyes and turned my head towards the sun, and I have seen a red and an orange that were like the brightness of those quilts; and when we’d hung a half-dozen of them up on the line, all in a row, I thought that they looked like flags, hung out by an army as it goes to war.