Edith Hope, the heroine of Anita Brookner’s Booker Prize–winning Hotel du Lac, writes romance novels of the Harlequin or Barbara Cartland sort. That occupation led Shusha Guppy to ask: “What is the difference between that kind of romantic novel and the genuine article? Is it just the invariably happy ending? Or simply the quality of writing and the mind behind it?” Brookner replied:
“Both. Romance novels are formula novels. I have read some and they seem to be writing about a different species. The true Romantic novel is about delayed happiness. The pilgrimage you go through to get to that imagined happiness. In the genuine Romantic novel there is a confrontation with truth and in the ‘romance’ novel a similar confrontation with a surrogate, plastic version of the truth. Romantic writers are characterized by absolute longing – perhaps for something that is not there and cannot be there. And they go along with all the hurt and embarrassment of identifying the real thing and wanting it. In that sense Edith Hope is not a twentieth-century writer, she belongs to the nineteenth century. What I can’t understand is the radical inauthenticity of some women’s novels which are written to a formula: from the peatbogs of Killarney to the penthouses of Manhattan: orgasms all the way! Pornography for ladies. It is not only untrue artistically, it is untrue and unfeminine. To remain pure a novel has to cast a moral puzzle. Anything else is mere negation.”
Anita Brookner in an interview with Shusha Guppy in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews Eighth Series (Viking , 1988), edited by George Plimpton. Introduction by Joyce Carol Oates. The inteview also appeared in the Fall 1987 issue of the magazine. You can find another quote from it at www.parisreview.com. Search for the site for “Anita Brookner.” On this site you’ll also find the full text or portions of other interviews in this distinguished series.
© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.