World Literature in EnglishCanadian Lit. and Film
The Robber Bride
by Margaret Atwood
  Why Zania? 
"I was sitting around one day thinking to myself, Where have all the Lady Macbeths gone?  Gone to Ophelias, every one, leaving the devilish tour-de-force parts to be played by bass-baritones.
Or, to put it another way: If all women are well behaved by nature--or if we aren't allowed to say otherwise for fear of being accused of antifemaleism--then they are deprived of moral choice, and there isn't much left for them to do in books except run away a lot.  Or to put it another way: Equality means equally bad as well as equally good"
(Atwood qut in Hengen 276; emphases added)

 Plot Summary and Characters 
Allusion of  the title-- to "The Robber Bridegroom" by the Brothers Grimm (remote link), in which an evil man seduces three maidens into his lair and devours them.  (The first allusion to this fairy-tale is on the first page of the novel, when Tony imagines where Zania is from.)  (Leonora Yang's explanation)

But in Atwood's version, the monster is interestly a woman (Zenia), not a man (see Atwood's explanation above.  Do you see her idea as feminist?)  She not only cheats the three female protagonists, but also robs their man from them.  Zenia performs different roles in front of the three women, as if she herself is a mirror, reflecting (evoking) the weak parts in them. 

Two central questions we can ask of the novel are: (See below for questions about our reading.)
  • How are the three  women victimized by Zania and how do their experiences reflect their personalities? 
  • How do they survive their experience of victimzation?   In hatred?  By trying to seek revenge?  Or . .  .?
  • Since Zenia is the central fiction in a novel which is a lot to do with history, it's important to examine the author's view of the inrerelationships between history/reality and fiction.
  • Why does Atwood use the fairy-tale as an intertext?
Tony-- a college military historian/professor with the habits of collecting souvenirs from historical war fields and spelling words backwards.  [West -- Tony's husband and a musician--is actually called Steward, changed to "Stew," to "Wets," and then to "West."] 
Roz-- a business woman running a magazine [Roz's runnaway husband Mitch]
Charis-- a hippie from the 60's, [Billy--Charis's boyfriend]

All the three of them were friends in their college life.  With their different personalities, they view Zenia differently: 

    For Tony,  Zenia is 'a lurking enemy commando.' 
    For Roz, Zenia is 'a cold and treacherous bitch.'
    For Charis, Zenia is a kind of zombie, maybe 'soulless.'"
  Plot Summary   
1. Onset  pp. 1-4  Zenia in history and the "present" of the novel: Oct 23, 1990 
2. The Toxique Tony, Charis and Roz meeting in Toxique, seeing Zenia by accident. (The story told respectively from the three characters' perspectives.)
Chap 2. Tony's house and West
Chap 3. the funeral (which happened 5 years ago); Tony and war and West
Chap 4. West  and Tony's appearance; her office and department
Chap 5. Toronto
  . . . 
3.  Black Enamel  Tony's childhood and her experience with Zenia
4. Weasel Nights
Charis's childhood and her experience with Zenia
5. The Robber Bride Roz's childhood and her experience with Zenia
Chap 39: (Oct 23, 1990) Roz in her office and back home after meeting Zenia.  Roz in the cellar. 
Chap 40: (May 1983) Roz and her husband Mitch
Chap 41:  Roz and Mitch's knowing each other and their marriage.   (May 1983) p. 354 -- meeting Zenia
Chap 42: Roz in the cellar. Roz's childhood with her mother in their rooming house.  Her school's Catholic education.  Roz's missing her father. 
Chap 43: Roz's father back from WWII.  Roz getting to know about anti-Semitism. 
Chap 44: the Father's mistresses and his getting rich.  Roz takes on a Jewish identity.  Roz as a hybrid (388-90).
Chap 45: Roz after marriage, finds out about her father's money.  Roz, WiseWomanWorld and Mitch.  (May 1983) Why she wants to meet Zenia again. 
Chap 46: (May 1983) meeting Zenia.  P. 404  Zenia's stories
Chap 47: Zenia joins WiseWomanWorld.  Mitch抯 betrayal and Zenia抯 disappearance p. 418-. 
Chap 48  Mitch's return.  1986 March Zenia's death and then Mitch's.  Roz's nervous breakdown. 
Chap 49:   (Oct 23, 1990) Roz on the cellar floor and then back up to the living room, comforted by the twins.
6. The Toxique the three women go to meet Zenia respectively, facing her challenges (seduction and denial).  Zenia's death. 
7. Outcome
Leading Questions for Chaps 1-8
    A. History and War
  1. How is history (and his-story) presented from the perspective of Tony?

  2. -- her view of beginning and ending -- "Pick any strand and snip, and history comes unravelled." p. 3; p. 4
    -- her interest of war: feminine perspective + "male" concern

    B. Three kinds of victims and their survival

  3. It's important to know the three characters' differences from each other, so examine:
    C.  Tony and the Robber Bride Is it feminist to present a female villain?
  4. By comparing the three characters, can you guess why Tony is the central consciousness in the novel?
  5. D.  How is Toronto presented through the eyes of Tony?
  References and Relevant Links 
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The "Real Story": Making History in Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride

Recognition and Rejection of Victimization in the Novels of Margaret Atwood   (Richard Culpeper, M.A.)