Magaret Drabble

An Interview with Magaret Drabble
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OKR:

You mention a number of nineteenth-century precedents for your narrative voice; what about earlier novelists who experimented with narrative -- people like Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne in the 18th century?

MD:

Certainly Fielding was a very liberating narrator. Sterne goes too far for me, I think. I don't see novels as game-playing. I don't see them as playing tricks. I don't like novels that have too many tricks in them. Leavis didn't like Sterne either, and I feel that Leavis went too far in reaction against Sterne and Sterne went too far in playing with the text. I do feel that the reader is clever enough to answer some of the rhetorical questions that I ask, and I do ask an enormous number of rhetorical questions; that I now realize. There are quite a lot in The Witch of Exmoor, and there were in The Realms of Gold sort of latent rhetorical questions. Actually, as I've gone on writing novels and gotten more and more replies from the outside world, I'm genuinely asking questions and sometimes people write to me with answers. I find that very interesting, and quite often the next novel will try to accommodate some of the answers to the questions that I've been asked or the answers people have given; all sorts of things go into the next book that have come from the outside.

OKR:

Could you give an example of that? It would be fun to have an example.

MD:

Yes, I'm sure I can. There was the time that someone pointed out that none of my characters could drive a car, so I needed to invent somebody who could drive a car. (That person is Frances Wingate in The Realms of Gold.) On a more serious level, somebody did say to me that I had been condescending to the northern housewife and should give the northern housewife another scene -- which I did in the second part of The Radiant Way Trilogy. I also had an interesting response from somebody about the character in The Witch of Exmoor called Will Paine who's half-Jamaican. He's sent off in the novel to Australia and I think there's something in the text saying "Is this the right thing to do with him?" or "Why has he gone to Australia?" The Australians were very interested in why he had gone to Australia, but somebody wrote me a very wonderful letter saying what he could have done, and then she spelled out that he could have come back and set up a nursery garden or bird sanctuary. And in fact this boy could well have done that. So I was very pleased that she had continued his life and had come back with that answer. And maybe I can include that answer in something else. The The Realms of Gold I wrote the way it was because I was a bit depressed by the writing of The Needle's Eye, which has a very negative, enclosed ending, and I just wanted things to open up. There's a sort of to-ing and fro-ing between the outside world and the inside world.


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