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Alias Grace > Question #3: Historical Places in the novel

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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Oct 19, 2016 10:09AM) (new)

Atwood describes many historical places in the novel, both in Toronto and Kingston. As you are reading, do you recognize any of them? And does this change your view/reading of the novel?

Kate (arwen_kenobi) | 100 comments Mod
I definitely felt thrown back to Kingston pretty quickly. The penitentiary is such a looming fixture and with it being a museum now I'd be curious to take a look inside there. I had a class at Queen's that was in the education building right across the street so you were always walking past it or staring at it while you were waiting for the bus. I recognized other places in both Kingston and Toronto but that looming figure of the penitentiary seems to be what has stuck out the most for me.

I'm not sure about changing how I read the novel, though. Knowing the places and having the impression that I did certainly helped enhance the experience.

Sylvia Valevicius | 81 comments My first child was born in Kingston over 50 years ago, and as a young woman, I was familiar with the university as my husband was in the medical school there at Queen's but I didn't have much sense of the penitentiary until much later , through general knowledge, not personal experience. Still I enjoyed reading Atwood's descriptions in AG.
I also loved picturing the old roads of Yonge St in Toronto, and imagined the long horse & buggy trip all the way up to Richmond Hill.
Furthermore, a friend & I would visit Lewiston, on the USA side, some years ago, so it was fun to imagine the hotel where Grace & McDermott escaped to -plus my oldest & dearest friend is married to a Mc Dermott -infamous as that may be, haha. It was all interesting to me these names & locales.

message 4: by Wendy (new) - added it

Wendy (wrintou) | 2 comments I thought the description of Kingston was very well done. I'm there regularly and I walked along with Simon as he travelled to the minister's house or along the lakeshore. The journey down the St Lawrence, when Grace and her family travelled from Ireland, was also well done. I can imagine what it was like as she passed Quebec City and saw Toronto for the first time.

Jennifer Patrick | 57 comments Mod
I enjoyed the descriptions of Toronto and Kingston. I almost want to go back to reading the book so I can clearly envision what those places are. I am with Kate in that I now want to go to Kingston and see the penitentiary/now museum.

Allison | 396 comments I loved imagining the grand houses along Front Street, which here were described as overlooking the lake (which itself was described as more like a sea or an ocean)...there is so much now between Front St. and the Lake that it was challenging to imagine how it once was. I'd love to see some pictures of this part of town from 100 years ago.

Like Sylvia, I also had fun imagining the "14 mile" trip up to Richmond Hill ... Yonge Street perhaps? I am currently living in Aurora, which is just north of Richmond Hill, so when Grace takes the job at the Kinnear estate, I am tempted to try to discover where exactly in Richmond Hill that was and do a drive by!

To add to the sense of time and place, a few of the sections in the novel open with quotes from various sources -- one of which was the Newmarket Era newspaper (much to my delight!). Again, being in Aurora, this puts me directly between Newmarket and Richmond Hill ... so this really added to the immediacy of the locale -- I can totally relate to the history, architecture (historic houses in Aurora and area) and the landscape of the place (rolling hills of this area, also called the Oak Ridges Moraine).

Sylvia Valevicius | 81 comments Love hearing this Allison -you living so nearby this nefarious farmhouse or Estate of the deceased -rather fun when we consider it in fictional terms -which is really what it is now, thanks to Ms. Atwood.
I never really thought of myself as a fan of historical fiction, but it's growing on me, and I too would be curious to visit the penitentiary in Kingston as some others have mentioned. Certainly surprised myself enjoying this Atwood novel. Maybe we could do a field trip( half-kidding) as some of us went to Plum Johnson's house together-'They Left Us Everything '

Allison | 396 comments FYI...The following excerpt is from a historical website associated with the Richmond Hill Public Library:

Thomas Kinnear was a gentleman farmer who lived on Yonge Street north of Richmond Hill village. A journalist of the time wrote that Kinnear was possessed of "considerable means" and that he lived a life of "careless ease and self-indulgence" with his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery, a very attractive woman. Although this common-law relationship prevented Tom and Nancy from being part of the local social circle, they lived quite happily by themselves, and with their maid and manservant.

Then on July 18, 1843, Kinnear and Montgomery were killed by the jealous manservant in what was widely regarded as Upper Canada's most notorious murder case.

Tom and Nancy were subsequently buried in the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Cemetery - but in the far southwest or "Potter's Field" section, some distance from the community's more respected citizens. Nancy's body lies at Kinnear's feet in the only grave in the entire cemetery that lies along a north-south line.


I suppose the house no longer exists...but we could do a field trip to the graveyard. :)

Sylvia Valevicius | 81 comments So intriguing-thanks for that info Allison!

message 10: by Darrell (new)

Darrell | 55 comments I also liked hearing downtown Toronto being described and picturing in my mind how much it's changed since back then. Also, like Allison wrote, the trip up to 'the country' in Richmond Hill seems so bizarre compared to what it is nowadays. What a completely different world they lived in. Even thinking how much Toronto has changed since the 1980s or 90s is pretty crazy, I can only imagine what someone from that time would think of the city now.

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