Photo by Joyce Ravid
March 20, 1961 |
'Madame Bovary' advanced slowly, as slowly as it would have to have, given an author who held himself accountable to each word, that it be the right word, of which there could be only one.
I can't work out much about myself or what I see in the world around me unless I do it through writing.
Lives that are so conspicuous have a claustrophobic feeling. Once you're in charge of running a country, you're under scrutiny all the time. That's a trap.
A lot of writers dwell on their relationships with their mothers, but only a few are worth reading.
Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, I've never had the sense I was 'making up' a character. It feels more like watching people reveal themselves, ever more deeply, more intimately.
I got history solidly under my belt, reading Russian history and biographies. I couldn't change the facts. I could only play with how the people might have responded to the facts of their lives.
It's hard for me not to have a great deal of compassion for the last Romanov family because, really, I don't know if a politically savvy ruler would have been able to make the situation turn out much differently.
I have at last admitted that not only was I angry with my mother, but, in fact, I wanted to destroy her as a child. And I was so concerned to be a woman who was different from my mother that I had this vast architecture of rules.
How much of a book review is about the reviewer? Sometimes it's mostly about the reviewer!
In terms of going back and forth between fiction and nonfiction – in which I'll include memoir, biography, and true crime – is that one relieves the other.
I'm always sorry to finish a book, to let go of characters I love, people I've struggled to understand for years, people who evolve before me.
I work in a small study on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn – it's about 75 square feet, 11 taken up by book shelves along one wall.
I am perfectly capable of writing things about myself that one doesn't discuss in polite company, but I was raised by people who said you don't discuss politics, you don't discuss religion, and you certainly don't discuss people's sex lives.
I reread 'Nicholas and Alexandra' in my early twenties, and I never forgot the story.
Because the kind of nonfiction I write has a plot, the events and transactions that make up a life, nonfiction offers me a break from plotting.
I think in terms of the parents that I had, I sort of drew a bad hand, or bad karma; who knows? And I did have a family that was complicated, with some quite eccentric members. So there was a lot of grist there.
We know the seductive alchemy of art. To transform private anguish into a narrative of truth, if not beauty; to make sense where there was none; to bring order out of chaos – these are the promises art makes.
One of the things I find exciting about Joan of Arc is how clearly the story of her life reveals the creation of myth, a process in which every one of us is involved – every one of us who tells stories and all those who listen, each informing the other.
I like vampires, tuberculosis, anything to do with blood. Then I read a biography of Rasputin and found out he'd had this daughter who had become a famous lion tamer and been billed as the daughter of the mad monk who was able to hypnotize animals with her eyes. It gave me a vision.
I'll never have so compelling a figure within my embrace as Joan of Arc; there will never be a book whose last chapter is so very hard to get right.
I've always been interested in the intersection between our rational and our unconscious lives.
Like all holy figures whose earthly existence separates them from the broad mass of humanity, a saint is a story, and Joan of Arc's is like no other.
The power of 'Madame Bovary' stems from Flaubert's determination to render each object of his scrutiny exactly as it looks, or sounds or smells or feels or tastes.
Shorter work – personal essays and book reviews – allow me to take a break from working on a book, which is good for the book and for its author.
I admire writers who succeed at what I consider the first demand of art: that the artist vivisect himself without pity, without hesitation, determined to reveal whatever he might find.
The least likely of military leaders, Joan of Arc changed the course of the Hundred Years' War and of history.
I remember seeing my father only twice as a child for brief visits. As I grew up, I invented a father who was larger than life – stronger, smarter, more handsome, and even holier than other men.
The Russian revolution is one of history's car wrecks. We do know the ending, but we continue to watch. It expresses aspects of human nature we find unacceptable.
I was raised by maternal grandparents who were born in 1890 and 1899, respectively. They were British subjects; George V was the cousin of the tsar. The Romanovs were very real in their household.
By the time Joan of Arc was 16 and had proclaimed herself the virgin warrior sent by God to deliver France from her enemies, the English, she had been receiving the counsel of angels for three years.
Rasputin's daughter understands the revolution. She would have been an outsider, a spectator in the royal family and to the revolution.
I'm not an investigative journalist; I don't track crime or police blotters.
Looking at the Obamas, they have a lot to manage with their children and having Michelle go out and have everybody comment on what she was wearing, what it means. I think you have to create a pretty large private world to live in.
Having grown up so familiar with creating a pleasing facade, I now end up compelled to reveal things inside and say, 'Okay, now you really see me. Do you still love me?' And then it's never enough; it always has to be total self-revelation.
For years, the place I really lived – the world I watched, the one I thought and wrote about – was 15th-century France.
I used to enjoy reading true crime, but I've discovered that I don't have the journalism nose for blood.
I was the good girl who never needed disciplining, who made straight A's. I applied and was accepted to Stanford University.
How many artists subscribe to the notion that creative success depends on input from the fickle muse or her modern avatar, mental illness? Probably very few.
It is my conviction that secrets are more costly in the long run than honesty.
I don't care what people think about me. I care what people think about my work. As a young woman, I was so eager to please that I served others' happiness and even their values before my own.
When I was eleven, my mother gave me Robert K. Massie's 'Nicholas and Alexandra.' It was the first 'grownup' book I read, and I loved it.
Joan of Arc was born 600 years ago. Six centuries is a long time to continue to mark the birth of a girl who, according to her family and friends, knew little more than spinning and watching over her father's flocks.