Penelope and the twelve maids
October 28, 2021
Penelope and the Twelve Maids (in English, The Penelopiad) is a short novel written by the Canadian author Margaret Atwood. It was originally published in 2005 as part of the Canongate Books Myth Series (originally Canongate Myth Series), in which a group of contemporary writers rewrite ancient myths. In this book, Penelope relives the events narrated in the Odyssey and reflects on her life in Hades, on Helen of Troy, and on her relationships with her parents. A chorus made up of the twelve maids, whom Odysseus considered traitors, and whom Telemachus hanged, interrupt Penelope's story to give her point of view on the facts. These maids' interludes employ a new genre of discourse each time, including a jump rope song, a lament, an idyll, a ballad, a lecture, a trial, and various types of songs. The novel's central themes include the effects of telling a story from various perspectives, double standards applied to the sexes and social class, and justice. Atwood, in previous works, had taken characters and narrative structures from Greek mythology to make new fictions, as for example in his novel The Robber Bride, in the story "The Elysium Lifestyle Mansions" (present in the book Ovid Metamorphosed, edited by Philip Terry),  in his first collection of poems, Double Persephone,  and in the poems "Circe: Mud Poems" and "Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing". For this novel, she consulted the books The Greek Myths by Robert Graves and the version of the Odyssey translated by E. V. Rieu and revised by D. C. H. Rieu. It was translated into 28 languages and published simultaneously around the world, in thirty-three publishers. In the Canadian market, it ranked # 1 on Maclean's bestseller lists and # 2 on The Globe and Mail, even though it did not make the New York Times list. In 2020, the Salamandra publishing house reissued the book in Spanish, thanks to which several reviews were published in Spanish-speaking media that analyzed it from a feminist perspective. Other critics mentioned that his style was typical of Atwood, or even one of her best works, although others found certain elements, such as the maids chorus, unpleasant.  The National Arts Center of Canada and the Royal Shakespeare Company of the United Kingdom co-produced a theatrical version of this nouvelle. The play was on the billboard at the Swan Theater (in Stratford-upon-Avon) and the National Arts Center (in Ottawa) during the northern summer and fall of 2007. Josette Bushell-Mingo directed the all-female cast. In January 2012, the show moved to Toronto, to the Nightwood Theater, with an all-female cast led by Kelly Thornton and with Megan Follows in the role of Penelope.