Oxford University Gazette

Encaenia 1998: Speeches by the Public Orator

Miss MARGARET ATWOOD, CC, FRSC

Novelist and Poet

Hanc quam produco paene existimaverim Horatio poetae in mente fuisse cum his verbis suorum temporum scriptores admonebat:

omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci.

nam fabulae quas composuit tanta sunt iucunditate conditae, adeo lectorum animos devinctos tenent, ut quod critici nimis saepe proclamant, id de hac saltem dictum nuda sit veritas: tales enim sunt quales qui semel in manum accepit vix aut ne vix quidem deponere valebit. sed minime velim hanc credatis eorum esse qui ita suavitatem captent ut gravitatem neglegant. quid enim gravius, quid admonitionis severissimae plenius, quam Ancillae illa Historia, quae mulieres ostendit rursus cum Rachel patriarchae uxore dicentes, Habeo famulam: ingredere ad illam, ut habeam ex illa filios. rei publicae formam finxit incolis quidem formidulosam, auditoribus exquisitam. equidem vereor ut impossibile sit quod haec mente fingit, adeo grassatur hodie effrenata illa et dominandi et res incredibiles credendi libido. sed neque semper arcum tendit Apollo, ut aiunt, neque haec semper tam atrocibus historiis lectores suos delectat. in eiusmodi narrationibus plerumque versatur quae virorum cum mulieribus, maritorum cum uxoribus, gaudia molestias lites querimonias continent: cuius generis materies cum semper auditorum animos gratissimo quodam vinculo devinctos habuerit, tum hodie plus difficultatis habet quam umquam habuit, sed ita ut istius modi libri evolvantur vel attentius: adeo mutatae sunt mulierum hodiernarum mentes, adeo animi virorum dubitatione et anxietate vexantur. quae omnia haec ita tractat ut feminis aequitatis studiosis satisfaciat, virile secus non omnino reiciat atque contemnat.

Praesento poetriam narratricem criticam eximiam Margaritam Atwood, Praeclari Ordinis Canadensis Comitem, Societatis Regiae Canadensis Sodalem, ut admittatur honoris causa ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris.

Admission by the Chancellor

Morum observatrix subtilissima, pectoris humani contemplatrix oculatissima, veritatis imitatrix et narratrix lepidissima, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto te ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.

Paraphrase

Our next honorand is a writer whom the poet Horace might have had in mind when he said to the writers of his own day,

Good sense and pleasure, both should be your goals;
Give readers both, and you'll top all the polls.

Her novels are delightful to the reader, whose attention she commands so completely that the old cliché of the reviewers is for once true: once you have picked one up, you can hardly bear to put it down. But it would be quite wrong to imagine that Ms Atwood is one of those writers who go all out for readability and have nothing serious to say. The Handmaid's Tale contains a serious moral, dealing with a society in which women say again, like Rachel the wife of Jacob, `I have a maid; go in unto her, that I may also may have children by her'. That society is a pleasure to read about, though it is terrifying to its inhabitants; and I am by no means sure that what she has imagined could not really happen, the world is so full of the twin desires, to believe impossible things, and to impose them on other people. But her stories are not always so dark; as Apollo, we are told, does not always keep his bow stretched taut. She specialises in stories which concern the complex and difficult relations of men and women, an area which has always had its fascination for readers, but which is nowadays even more problematic than ever. Books on these themes are devoured with ever greater interest, with the dramatic changes in the expectations of women, and the new uncertainties in the minds of men. Ms Atwood's novels and stories are clearly feminist in tone, but she does not refuse her men compassion and understanding.

I present the distinguished poet, novelist, and critic, Margaret Atwood, CC, FRSC, for admission to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

Admission by the Chancellor

Perceptive observer of human behaviour, you are penetrating in your understanding of the hearts of men and women, and delightful in the truthfulness of your representation of the world. Acting on my own authority and that of the whole University, I admit you to the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.

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