Friday, 8 September 2017

Brookner Interview Discoveries #1: Finding the Art of Fiction

Regular visitors to this blog will know of my devotion to Anita Brookner's interviews. Five are available on the web - the Paris Review interview, the 1990s Independent interview, and three from the 2000s (the Observer, the Independent again, and the last interview in 2009 in the Telegraph). In printed form there are the Olga Kenyon and the John Haffenden interviews, both from the 1980s. The Haffenden exchange remains to my mind the best Anita Brookner interview.

You will conceive of my delight at discovering several fresh interviews on the Guardian/Observer archive website. I propose to cover these over the coming days.

We start with a piece in the Guardian on 27 May 1981, 'Finding the art of fiction', published to coincide with the publication of Brookner's first novel A Start in Life.

As well as giving in remarkably finished form her later familiar responses to questions about her motivations for writing ('Socially she has always had the sensation of being invisible') and her love of Dickens and 'her idol' Stendhal, Brookner also speaks at some length about the art criticism for which she was then best known: David, Delacroix, Ingres, Greuze. For her study of the latter, she 'had to visit almost every French provincial city, usually in the dead of winter. I was young, I thought the discomfort exhilarating'. Her parents, we learn, were against the expedition. The interviewer writes:
They were sure she would be recruited into prostitution. Had she told them very few academics are? 'No such luck,' she replies.
Brookner speaks further of her mother, once a concert singer; she gave it up to marry. When she sang at home friends would exclaim at the choice she had made, and Brookner's father's face would blacken. In her singing her passion showed. The young Anita would start to cry. 'She, and not I, should have been the liberated woman.'

Brookner says she would like to write a biography of Ingres, a passionate happy man. Her students, she says, start by liking Delacroix and come round to Ingres. A biography of Ingres would 'take her to Montauban where she might start French life all over again, and this time, stay there'.

Her lives of Watteau, David and Greuze offer cheer: 'if they got their lives wrong they got their pictures right'.

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