Magaret Drabble

An Interview with Magaret Drabble
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OKR:

I know that you've got another novel coming out soon [The Peppered Moth]. Is it more optimistic then?

MD:

It has an optimistic ending -- at least, the last line is quite optimistic. But it was a very, very difficult and painful and miserable novel to write, for very different reasons from The Witch of Exmoor. Actually, I enjoyed writing The Witch of Exmoor because it was quite fun sounding off against all these things that had annoyed or irritated me and I sort of got rid of a lot of irritation. But the new novel is largely about the grandmother/mother/daughter relationship and it is largely about my mother's childhood and some of it is quite depressing for quite a lot of the way.

OKR:

To go back a bit -- it's interesting to hear you single out deconstruction as a bad influence, particularly since in many of your novels, The Realms of Gold for instance, you make a number of intrusive narrative statements that could certainly be taken as deconstructive, or at least postmodern. Do you not see them that way?

MD:

Yes, and nobody noticed at the time of publication, and I'd forgotten they were there until I re-read the text this year. I'd forgotten I'd intervened so much in that narrative because I was still being described as a writer of realist novels when that came out and the label really still attaches to me quite often in a hostile kind of way. But I think I was already doing something quite different there and I've gone on doing it -- sort of moving on from realism. Some people call my work 19th century but you can't write a 19th century novel in the 20th century nor am I even attempting to. But I was very interested in authorial intrusion. I think that the thing I was very pleased with in The Realms of Gold was where at the end I say "invent a better ending if you can" -- which I kind of meant,literally. So I was doing that quite a long time ago. But it seemed to me a natural way to write. I mean, you can find the intervening voice in Thackeray, you can find it in Trollope, you can find it in George Eliot certainly, breaking the narrative and saying here I am as a writer. And then Henry James came along and said you can't do that. But I think that the mainstream of narration has always allowed the narrator to do it, and I think that it was an aberration in a way to say that the narrator had to be totally absent. I think the narrator is part of the story and can intervene whenever he or she wants, but there was a sort of fad in the late 19th century and early 20th century that said you must get rid of the narrator. I call it a fad -- I mean it was a very important movement which said that you must never ever have any consciousness that the book is an artifice. Whereas I think it's fine to say the book is an artifice. In a way that reinforces its power because you're still going to read it, and you're still going to be compelled by something you know to be an artifice.

OKR:

James Joyce and others used the idea that writing a novel is like writing a play. That you're supposed to disappear from the process as though that were somehow possible.

MD:

And it's not possible. I think that the idea that the narrator can entirely disappear into the work is ridiculous. I mean, of course there are some works like that -- in a way Virginia Woolf does that, she disappears--but it is also interesting that Virginia Woolf kept the most powerful diaries which supplement what we know about what she thought and her diaries have been of quite valid fascination to readers; they're important literary documents. So it's as though she put into the novels one distillation of what she could do as a writer, but we would have much the less did we not have the letters and the diaries and the polemics that she herself couldn't integrate into her fiction. She couldn't write as one person and write as a whole person. She could write as a novelist, she could write as a letter writer, and as a diarist she was extremely unkind about some of the people to whom she was writing her correspondence, so she was a very fragmented person. But I suppose I've always liked the idea of wholeness.

OKR:

In insisting on the -- well, you used the word "wholeness" -- of the narrative voice are you talking in part about the ability of the writer to tell the story as he or she sees fit rather than insisting on the premises of the text itself, as something that somehow controls the author and makes the author write it the way it wants to come out?

MD:

All I can say is that when I'm writing there seems to be a perpetual interaction between those two impulses. At times I feel the text is telling and at times I feel I'm telling the text, and it sort of pulses in and out while I'm writing.


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