For Atwood, her publisher, and Hulu, The Handmaid’s Tale has been a boon. While the 2016 election had elicited a spike in sales of the novel, it was the 2017 TV series that made The Handmaid’s Tale the most-read book on Kindle, as her publisher revealed to NPR that sales had risen by 60% that same year. Likewise, what came to be called “The Handmaid’s Tale Effect” boosted Hulu’s subscription rolls to 17 million.

Atwood, “Consulting Producer” on set of the pilot episode (photo: Hulu)

For class, you’re watching only the first three episodes: the first batch Hulu released on April 26, 2017. What do you discern to be the series’ relationship, intended or not, to the novel? Be specific, citing both texts to support your response.


The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) violates the VCU Course Bulletin’s description for ENGL 347 Contemporary Literature. While there is no dispute whatsoever that Atwood’s most prominent novel is “internationally prominent,” it was not published within “the past thirty years.”

Photo: Kate Canfield, June 2017

However, as we’ve discussed, we will also be reading Atwood’s The Testaments (2019), which shared the Booker Prize with Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other last fall. That novel is a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, and we will devote some attention to whether The Testaments stands on its own.

Meanwhile, your assignment this week is to find, through chapter XV,

  1. one example that is still relevant and
  2. one that is so groaningly, obviously 1980s that it no longer makes sense to you.

As always, be specific, citing the text and explaining your choices. Keep up the good work!

First(,) person(s)

Evaristo’s “fusion fiction” technique, by – among other ways – dispensing with conventional punctuation, enables Girl, Woman, Other to simulate first-person narration by many different women. By contrast, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is narrated from a more conventional first-person point of view by Offred, who observes the sufferings of other Handmaids (and to a lesser extent, of Wives and Marthas) in the chapters not titled “Night.” Despite Atwood’s 35-year head start, Girl, Woman, Other is already, like The Handmaid’s Tale, being hailed as a feminist classic.

This week, locate a passage in each novel that attempts this synechdochic (“synecdoche” is a trope by which the one stands for the many, or vice versa) narrative effect. How and to what extent does it, to your mind, succeed or fail?

All together now?

The stories of the twelve women in Girl, Women, Other intersect in their relationships with Amma and, frequently, each other. Yet each chapter can arguably stand alone. Analogous with Evaristo’s “fusion fiction” fusing prose and verse, the novel, down to its title, keeps its options open. To what extent, however, must the chapters – with their stories of women from their time as girls, others – be read together?

Be sure to provide examples from the text – preferably through chapter four – of motifs, themes, and/or additional (dis)connections from the text in your ~150 words, due at noon February 5. Keep up the awesome discussion!

The National

We learn on the first page of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other that Amma Bonsu’s Last Amazon of Dahomey “opens at the National tonight” – that is, the British National Theatre (1).

Evaristo’s latest novel shared the 2019 Booker Prize with The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s blockbuster sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, published 34 years earlier. The Booker Prize is arguably Britain’s highest-profile literary honor, and possibly the most prestigious one awarded to novels.

You may not have heard of Evaristo, who finally won Britain’s top literary honor for her eighth novel, but she is highly regarded at home. Still, you’ll find much of Girl, Woman, Other to be familiar, while some of it is just as unfamiliar.

This week, your assignment is to discuss one detail in our reading that seems familiar to you and one that seems specific to a British context. As usual, you should refer to the text in your ~150 words, due in one week, by noon, January 29. . . two days before Brexit is due to occur.


You’ve been cast in Fairview! As an actor, you must interpret your character,  and then learn live and breathe as that fictional person. Some actors assemble scrapbooks of their characters, as if they were real people. This week, I have assigned you to characters, using the arbitrary criterion of your surname:

  • Beverly: Adams – Breedlove
  • Dayton: Bruno – Curtis
  • Jasmine: de la Pointe – Gittelsohn
  • Keisha: Gonzalez – Horvath
  • Mack: Jimenez – Marks
  • Suze: Mazyck – Rebraca
  • Bets: Smith – Thompson
  • Jimbo: Trosper – Zerbst

Your task is to imagine your character’s Instagram, which is a social media platform organized around photo sharing. (For example, here’s Jackie Sibblies Drury’s.) For your post, describe your character’s three most recent posts; then name three accounts they’re most proud of following and three they don’t follow but stalk on Instagram. Does anyone verified (i.e., a notable person) follow them?

In addition, what’s on this person’s driver’s license (full name, sex, eyes, height, date of birth — i.e., the barest details by which they are recognized and classified by the state)?

Most importantly, what in the text leads you to these conclusions? Your reading responses are due at noon, Wednesday, January 22. Keep up the spectacular work!

“appears to be”

It was great meeting you all today, as we began Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

Charles Browning and Heather Alicia Simms in *Fairview* at the Soho Repertory Theatre (2018), photo by Julieta Cervantes

The précis of Fairview informs us that “Act One appears to be a comedic family drama.”

As we discussed this morning, the play — from its title to its epigraph to its stage directions to its dialogue — interrogates the gaze, the spectacle, even surveillance. It challenges us to challenge the act of looking and the position of being looked at. For class this morning, regarding the opening stage directions and dialogue, as well as the front matter that is usually regarded as extraneous to the text of the play, your questions were:

  1. Which stage direction is the most challenging to interpret and play out?
  2. How do you propose to make Act One “appear. . . comedic,” to prompt laughter?

Your task now is to extend these questions to the rest of Act One. In your ~150-word responses, try to discuss a part of the text that occurs after what we discussed today, of course incorporating this morning’s discussion as you deem relevant. Your responses should be grounded in the text, preferably quoting and interpreting what you quote. All semester, they will be due at noon Wednesdays; as such, responses to this prompt are due at noon, January 15.