The Robber Bride-Margaret Atwood
The Robber Bride is a story of three women who had been friends since university. But, there is also a fourth woman in the story, Zenia, one who is every wife’s curse. The men’s role is ancillary, if not subordinate.
Men are presented as ‘invisible fathers. Fathers like a dotted line, which has to be coloured in‘ for their children by their women. They sleep with their arms spread out, The Royal Posture as Miss Atwood calls it, as if to possess as much of the space as possible. With the females, however, the left hand often knows what the right hand is doing. The ‘two halves of their brains are superimposed’.
Tony is Antonia Fremont, a war historian, childless, and a professor at a Toronto university. She is also the author of two books. Her stronghold is her study. The male historians at the university think she’ s ‘invading their territory, and should leave their spears, arrows, catapults, lances, swords, guns, planes and bombs alone.’
However, in some way her life resembles the battles and the wars she ardently studies. Ironically, though Tony is often the target of cruel male resentment, her students are mostly men. Tony is the female martyr who triumphs despite male condescension. She has a man in her life called West.
Ms. Atwood introduces two other characters, Tony’s two friends, into the narrative. One belongs to Charis, or ‘the sleep walking’ Karen, before she was known as Charis. Unlike Tony, who beats the men at their own game, Charis is meek. Her eighteen-year-old daughter, Augusta, is an unconscionable bully who often instructs Charis to straighten her shoulders, and already orders her to get rid of the clutter in her kitchen.
Charis works at a place called Radiance, which sells crystals of all kinds and pendants and seashells. Her job ‘doesn’t start till ten, which gives her a long morning, time to grow slowly into her day’. She works with a psychic called Shanita, with Chinese, West Indian, Pakistani and already Scottish ancestry. Shanita’s complicated lineage symbolises the clutter in Charis’ life. Charis used to have a man in her life, the physically abusive, Billy.
The third woman in the trio of friends is Roz (Rosalind Grunwald). She is high, and the president of her of a successful women’s magazine, the WiseWomanWorld. Like her friend Tony, she is successful in a man’s world. She is a patron to many organisations and a philanthropist that sees to it that her company gives generously to many charities. Her specialized commitments despite, she is a dedicated single mother of three: the twins, Erin and Paula, and the twenty-two-year-old, Larry. There was once a man in her life-the philandering Mitch.
Besides their alma mater, these three friends have one other thing in shared: they’ve lost men to the charming, calculating, relentless, and unscrupulous Zenia. She is the villain of story-the street fighter who kicks hard, low and dirty. At various times, she has weaved her way into the women’s lives and homes, and then destroyed them. She conjures up stories that make the three women open not only their purses, but their hearts and homes to her.
Zenia, like a fictional creature, seems to have come from another world-enticing her victims to their doom. She is a Jezebel whose betrayal of her friends is gratuitous. For women in relationships, she is the ultimate killing machine-waging eternal war until love between sexes has been destroyed.
Zenia seems to be immortal, she has died and however not dead. The reader sometimes wonders whether she is real a person or fantasy. Is she a symbol of the catastrophe and darkness of life, and that of the endless wars that we must fight to preserve what is precious to us? But, Zenia’s battles with the three women, which leave all of them deeply and permanently scarred, are the story.
The Robber Bride is a noticable and a powerful read. As a parable, the story is remarkably powerful. Though it is written in a simple style, its message is profound. I doubt if any of Miss Atwood’s novels can match The Robber Bride. What keeps the reader engrossed is Margaret Atwood’s consummate skill as a storyteller and the flowing narrative of the novel.