I didn’t want any phase of my life to be gone forever, to be over and done with. I preferred beginnings to endings in books, as well – it was exciting not to know what was lying in store for me on the unread pages – but, perversely, I couldn’t resist sneaking a look at the final chapter of any book I was reading.
“My Last Duchess,” a story in Margaret Atwood‘s Moral Disorder, strikes me as an unusually successful discussion between literary Canadians. Reading a story about the classroom contemplation of Robert Browning‘s poem is an odd experience, for someone who has had exactly the same sorts of classroom discussions about poems by the author of the story. I am pretty sure “Disembarking at Quebec” was even tested on my grade 12 literature exam, though the memory of that test is almost entirely overshadowed by that of the far more challenging advanced placement literature test. (I remember the sight reading passage was the description of a wolfish Satan jumping into paradise (PL: IV, 172-192))
For those who are not Canadian, it is worth mentioning that Atwood is a kind of national literary representative. Along with Timothy Findley, she is probably the person who first comes to mind for most people, when they consider the content of Canadian literature. As such, it is interesting to see the author humanized: taking on the form of a young Canadian as they probably first experience her work, writing down lists of contrasting elements in a poem to rattle off for ten or twelve marks on a governmental exam sheet.