Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why We Need A Novel About George Sand--An Interview With Anna Faktorovich

After I posted my review of The Romances of George Sand here  on Book Babe, author Anna Faktorovich said she would be interested in an interview that presents her perspective on why she chose to write a novel about George Sand.  Below are my questions and her responses.

Shomeret:  Welcome to Book Babe, Anna.  Here's my first question. Why did you select the title The Romances of George Sand?

Anna: This title in part reflects the initial idea I had of writing a series of more standard romance novels, where each of the novels in the series would have discussed one of George Sand’s main romances, including the ones with Chopin and Musset. I quickly got away from this concept because as I studied the details of the biographical romances, it seemed to me that Sand was anti-romantic, or even asexual, and that a standard romance novel could not describe her sexual and emotional experiences. I considered a few alternatives, and decided on writing a single historical and biographical novel where I discuss all of the romances, explaining how Sand and other powerful women frequently fail to find positive romantic relationships. For this new concept, the title made even more sense to me, both sarcastically and literally, as the novel was focusing on both the various “romantic” relationships that Sand had across her life, and it was focusing on the romance novels or “romances” that Sand wrote, and how she became a novelist in the French Romantic Movement. You mentioned in your review that the novel isn’t very romantic, and that’s where the sarcasm in the title comes in; if the sex is bad and the relationship is volatile and negative, is it still a romance?  

Shomeret: Why did you decide to write this book as historical fiction rather than a biography?

Anna:  I have published several academic titles, and a few more are forthcoming. I enjoy writing non-fiction, and frequently bring in the writers’ biographies into my literary criticism, but it was time for me to try a different genre, and to step into historical fiction. In addition, there were already a couple of good biographies of George Sand’s life, and another one would have been repetitive. At the same time, while there were good biographies out in libraries, most of the movies, like Impromptu and Children of the Century, about George Sand are based more on the fictional romantic ideals in her novels than on the reality of her relationships with men and women. It was clear to me that I had to be as exact as possible about the events in Sand’s life, but also had to animate the biography with fictionalized actions and dramatic events that expanded the dry details available in biographies, so that readers would be entertained. Biography frequently cannot make educated guesses about what must have happened. A biographer can only report evidence of what must have happened. Those “maybe” theories are the mysteries that I wanted to solve with this novel. These theories included if George’s second child, Solange, had a different father from her first, Maurice, and who this father might have been. Another mystery is if Sand had a lesbian love affair with Marie Dorval. As a biographer, I would have had to state that there wasn’t enough evidence to make conclusions, but as a fiction writer, I could fill in the gaps with research, but without dryly explaining what my conclusions were based on. Trust me, the size of this response would’ve been nothing compared with the mumbo-jumbo I would’ve had to insert after each word of this novel to explain how I arrived at my conclusions.

Shomeret:  What do you consider to be the strengths of fiction as opposed to non-fiction?

Anna:  Of course, the main strength of fiction is that it has a lot more readers than non-fiction. Statistically an enormous quantity of historical romances is purchased annually, and only a tiny amount of biographies sell. Thus, if I want to work as a professional writer, writing fiction is the only fiscally viable route available.

Shomeret: How much in this novel is fictional speculation?

Anna:  Most of the sexual encounters, all of the filled in conclusions about what must have happened, and all of my own reflections on various subjects are fictional speculations. How much of it is fiction? One of the top Oxford George Sand scholars, Belinda Jack, gave me a positive blurb for the book earlier today. She mentioned that it was an exciting read, and did not comment on the percentage of the book that was fiction vs. biography because the two are finely intertwined and they are just a kind of new genre I’ve crafted: fictionalized biography. Instead of fiction about a historical character, or biography that reports the facts, I’m offering what I believe Sand’s life was like, even if I cannot prove every detail with citations. Perhaps one day a critic will calculate the exact percentage split; I didn’t keep track of the numbers.

Shomeret: Tell us about your research on the life of George Sand.

Anna:  I began reading George Sand’s novels as an undergraduate, and I believe I’ve read all of them. I’ve also read the bulk of other novels from the Romantic Movement. Thus I’ve read a lot about and by most of the novelists, and historical characters that Sand encounters before starting this project. I also studied the British 19th century culture, history and literature as part of my graduate studies and for academic books I’ve published, and some of that information crossed over into this novel. Before starting this novel, I read closely Sand’s autobiography (over 1,000 pages), and a biography of her life, in addition to short stories, various articles, primary sources, and other information I found online and at my local university library. Basically, you can trust almost all of what’s in this book as if it’s a biography, but you should read the biography and autobiography I cite if you want to know with certainty what is fact and what is fiction (in case you are writing a book on the subject or the like).  

Shomeret: Why do you think George Sand is an important figure?

Anna: George Sand is a central figure in the history of female authorship because she was pretty much the only woman in the French Romantic Movement, and this movement has had a major influence on modern romance novels. Female authors, including Virginia Woolf, have discussed the difficulty women have of finding a feminine voice, or in figuring out if their writing should differ from the style male authors use. Thus, many feminist critics look back at key historical female authors like Sand to understand the roots for what is considered feminine writing today. If critics and those who just enjoy reading Sand will be putting her on a pedestal, it is important to understand exactly who she was, the type of life she lived, and what shaped her literary style.

Shomeret:  What statement do you think your novel makes about George Sand?

Anna:  I hope it says that Sand was a revolutionary, socialist, communist, estate operator, doctor, legal aid, theorist, reporter, scientist, pharmacist, and a long list of other things before she was merely a lover, and that she certainly wasn’t a silly romantic desperate to find a man to love her.
Shomeret:   Thank you, Anna Faktorovich, for giving us your reasons for writing The Romances of George Sand and good luck with your future work.  Anyone interested in finding out more should contact her at Anaphora Literary Press


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