Bee Rollat is a former dancer, journalist and producer for the BBC International Service. mother of four, who has ridden the most dangerous track in the world, a participant in the anthology 50 Shades of Feminism, author of workshops for working mothers and head of the Mary Wollstonecraft monument erection committee. In 2010, she published her first book, a nonfiction "Talking about Jane Austen in Baghdad," based on her correspondence with Mae Whitwit, a university teacher from Iraq. Discussing everything that worried them and concerned - from the novels of Austin to modern corruption - Rollat and Whitwit between the lines showed the unknown dimension of the war, and the publication eventually helped the teacher leave Baghdad.
Rollat's second book, Finding Mary, was published in 2015 and immediately made it onto The Independent's list of the best biographies of the year. This is again an unusual approach to non-fiction: Rollat literally repeats the Scandinavian journey of the 18th century writer and social activist Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of Mary Shelley and author of the first feminist manifesto, In Defense of Women's Rights.
In itself, the way of writing a biography through reproducing the experience of her heroine is very interesting - however, this is not the main feature of the book. Mary Wollstonecraft embarked on a perilous journey to help her lover and wrote her Letters from Norway, one of the main books of English romantics, on the road with her baby in her arms. Rollat also embarks on a journey with a baby, and her book not only reveals the image of one of the most independent women of the 18th century, but also tells about the state of affairs with women's rights in different countries. We spoke with the writer, who visited Moscow as part of the Year of Language and Literature of Great Britain and Russia, about her new book, "women's prose" and the relevance of feminism around the world.
"FOR WOMEN'S RIGHTS" AND YOUR BOOK ABOUT MARY WALSTONCRAFT TWO CENTURIES DIVIDED. HAS THE POSITION OF WRITERS CHANGED STRONGLY IN YOUR VIEW DURING THIS TIME?
I would like to say that the difference is significant, but, unfortunately, women still, as if out of guilt, disguise their names, as did the Bronte sisters, and not long before them - Mary Wollstonecraft. They still feel the need to do it because it seems to help sales. And this is despite the fact that now women are more likely to write books, and according to statistics, there are more women reading women than men. And I am invariably confused by the fact that women use initials instead of writing the full female name. But it would seem that things should have changed dramatically over the past couple of centuries.
BUT NOW WE WOULD GET MONEY FOR IT. IT IS ACCEPTED TO THINK THEN WOMEN WRITTEN TO THE SOUL, RATHER AS A HOBBY. IS IT TRUE? COULD A WRITER OF THE XVIII CENTURY EARN AND BE CONSIDERED A PROFESSIONAL?
Mary Wollstonecraft was also a pioneer here. Before her, there were the so-called ladies-writers, for example, Afra Ben: they wrote beautifully, but, being a lady, they were already financially secure. But with Wollstonecraft, it was different: she did not have her own funds, so she had to write to pay the rent. So she wrote articles and reviews, and she also translated. This is exactly what she wanted: one of the foundations of her philosophy is financial independence, so the status of a professional writer was incredibly important to her. She was the first in this. So she brags to her sister in a letter: "I am the first representative of a new species!" And it was so.
THE CONCEPT “WOMEN'S LITERATURE” HAS BEEN USED FOR LONG YEARS IN THE MEANING OF “LITERATURE FOR WOMEN”, NOW THIS IS THE SAME CALL OF THE WORLD OF WRITERS. WHAT DO YOU THINK WOMEN ARE READ MORE BY WOMEN?
Hmm, tough question. First, the audience has simply grown - thanks to the fact that printing has become cheaper.Now the sales market for literature is much larger, the level of literacy has increased many times around the world. So I think that the number of readers of the writers has increased significantly, but at the same time it is not about themselves: it is just that there are more readers and writers in general. Well, I don't really like to single out women writing or reading women into separate categories.
DOES IT MAKE SENSE TO SHARE GENDER LITERATURE AT ALL?
Well, it seems to me that this is all the work of marketers. The book publishing business is now dominated by marketers, and they think a lot about which pictures will attract which viewers. How best to sell each book. And all these categories - women, teenagers, young adult - are all about marketing. I am a writer and my task is to write; I want everyone to read what I write. This is the question of readers and writers. I don’t know of a single writer who would like to specifically fall into a certain category in one way or another.
But it still depends on who you are discussing it with. For example, Martin Amis is very dismissive of women writers - and in a conversation with him I would definitely say: yes, they say, I'm a woman writer. And so I do not identify myself with women writing as a category, therefore, if we are not talking about a defensive reaction, I probably would not use this phrase.
THE SAME JANE AUSTIN IS BELIEVED TO BE THE AUTHOR OF BEAUTIFUL "FEMALE" PASTORAL NOVELS that distract from the harsh reality - although it is obvious that she is MUCH DIFFICULT AS A WRITER
Of course, she's a satirist! Jane Austen's genius is that she is available to everyone. Many perceive it simply as pleasant reading with a good story about a young girl trying to find a man. Of course, you can read it at this level as well. I studied her work at the university, but not as a literary critic, but from a linguistic point of view, considering the technical perfection of her language. For example, she loves to use “text in text”, very skillfully conveying her thoughts to the reader by putting them in the lips of the characters. This is a very, very masterful use of the language. I think readers might miss this, but I don't think it really matters.
COULD YOU CALL SOME BREAKING MOMENTS THAT CHANGE THE SOCIETY'S VIEW OF WRITERS?
Ha-ha, well, I'm still waiting for everything to change! I'm still waiting!
ON THE OTHER SIDE, IN RECENT YEARS ALL MORE NOBEL PRIZE WINNERS FOR LITERATURE APPEAR, YES AND JUST AUTHORS TO WHICH SOCIETY UNDEFINITELY HEARS - SAME AND TONY MORRISKS
Morrison - yes, absolutely. Of course, these are important changes that make me very happy.
FOR YOUR BOOKS, YOU HAVE CHOSEN THE EPISTOLARY GENRE AND THE TRAVELOGUE GENRE WHICH ARE VERY POPULAR NOW. YOU CAN SAY THIS IS A REVIVE OF GENRE THAT WERE IN FASHION IN THE XVIII CENTURY. YOU INvented THIS AS HOMMAGE TO YOUR FAVORITE EPOCH?
No, no, not at all! I'm not that smart! The first book appeared almost by accident. I didn’t sit in advance and didn’t think: "Oh, I’ll write an epistolary novel with references to Lawrence Stern." It was not at all like this: at first, I corresponded with a friend by e-mail. To help my friend, I needed to redo this correspondence and grind it so that it turned out at least a little like a book. That is, the idea of the book did not arise from the very beginning, but was born as a way to achieve a goal. And with the second book, everything also happened spontaneously, I decided to trust experience: I rushed after the object of my obsession. I walked with a child and a voice recorder, making notes on the go and describing everything that happened to me. Later, when there was someone to sit with the child, I managed to outline everything. So the form in this case followed empiricism.
BUT THIS IS A VERY ARTIFICIAL WAY TO CREATE NON-FICTION! NOT “SHE WAS BORN THERE, I LOVE HER FOR THIS” - YOU ARE REALLY RE-CREATING A REAL JOURNEY
But this is not my conscious choice. Although, apparently, it is worth starting to say that way - it sounds great. Perhaps, I will swindle this wording!
AS ANY TALENTED DOCUMENTALIST YOU, TALKING ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE, TELL A LOT ABOUT YOURSELF. AND YOUR BOOKS ARE VERY PERSONAL - AND THIS SEEMS TO ME ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ACHIEVEMENTS OF WOMEN'S LITERATURE. FACT WE WILL LEARN MORE ABOUT VIRGINIA WOLF FROM HER BOOKS, WHERE IT IS ABOUT Fictional Characters, THAN MARCEL PRUST FROM THE SEVEN VOLUMES OF AN AUTOBIOGRAPHIC NOVEL
It's true, yes.
SO THAT IS THE QUESTION. WHERE SHOULD THE AUTHOR END IN YOUR VIEW? DO YOU HAVE ANY PUBLIC LIMIT?
Hmm, yes, this is a really very uncomfortable situation for me. This whole process has brought me to the point where I feel really uncomfortable. There are two reasons: the first is my journalistic activity, work in the World Service. My main task was to be as objective as possible. No first-person journalism, no adjectives - nothing at all that would indicate the human factor, value judgment. And I used to be very snobbish about first-person journalists - those who know how to get involved in history and make it truly their own. It seemed to me a shameful thing. When the first book came out, my husband teased me with might and main: they say, look, who is now writing this in the first person? What I learned from this experience - especially in Finding Mary - is that you need to do exactly what is truly uncomfortable for you. So in this book I put myself in a bunch of different awkward situations, because the things that I want to hide or clean up are just those rough edges, without which the book is unthinkable.
Of course, you need to be very careful when writing about real people and events, because you don't want to make anyone angry, hurt someone, or misrepresent a person. So I needed to be very, very attentive, while remaining honest. To be kind and think about others, but about myself - I had to write about myself honestly, and from the point of view of my intention it was worth it.
FROM THE CORRESPONDENCE, YOU CUT SOMETHING KNOWINGLY?
In the book on Iraq, yes. There were things that were not subject to publication. For example, May didn't want to talk about her period in public. That is, we discussed a lot about menstruation, and when it came to publication, she said: “This is taboo, by no means; it needs to be removed. " Well, the book was bought by Penguin, and when I began to read the edits and say, they say, there are very awkward moments here, they told me: "Yes, great, leave them in the text!" That is, they understood that it was important, and this was the beginning of my training in working with uncomfortable topics: uncomfortable means good. If this is downright "embarrassing", then be sure to do it!
YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE INSTALLATION OF A MONUMENT TO MARY WALSTONCRAFT. WHY IS THE AVAILABILITY OF A STATUE IMPORTANT TO YOU IN THE DIGITAL AGE?
Haha, there is a real controversy about monuments in the UK because there are now several campaigns to support the installation of statues - say, a monument to Sylvia Pankhurst and a few other people. It makes me very happy! You know that the game is worth the candle when people start to freak out, and this morning some kind of Jonathan from the art scene wrote in The Guardian that all these statues are stupidity, and the very concept of "heroes" is this is nonsense, and that this is all a kind of old-fashioned Victorian madness. That to erect monuments to people is, they say, just delirium. And his objections on an artistic level seem very interesting to me, because the traditional brass figure of a man on a pedestal, perhaps, really belongs to another era.
On the other hand, it seems to me that icons and heroes are forever, especially those who are constantly neglected. And this is incredibly important. So I already started arguing with this article online, because if you disagree with an art form, it's one thing, but it seems to me that you can't deny the idea of heroes; it cannot be said that women do not deserve to be given their due in the public sphere.Because they deserve it one hundred percent - after all, they have been neglected for so long! Less than one tenth of the statues on the streets of London are memorials to women. I think Moscow is probably better with this? I agree that this is a somewhat old-fashioned concept - at least I am interested in this idea. But the thought he symbolizes is so important that it is worth it.
I had a little skirmish with Germaine Greer, which I love very much and which I endlessly admire. We went with her to some event and decided to take one taxi for two. In the process, I found out her email address and at home I immediately wrote her a letter: "Can you support our campaign?" And she said, "No, because it will be a bad statue." Bad statue! And I understand her, because she doesn't want people to associate with some kind of crap. A Convincing Argument () But I disagree that women don't deserve to be given credit for their truly great accomplishments. They definitely deserve monuments.
YOU LIVE IN INDIA NOW. ARE THERE AN ACTIVISTS OR WRITERS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO TELL THE WORLD ABOUT?
Oh, there are wonderful journalists there. When my book came out in India, at the presentation, someone asked me who could be called modern Wollstonecraft in India. And there is one woman that I absolutely admire: she, too, is on the path of Wollstonecraft, because Wollstonecraft paid a lot of attention to the issues of the judicial system. I think Wollstonecraft would like to become a lawyer because she watched the industrial revolution begin, which was changing people's lives globally, and instead of just talking about it, she would really like to change something.
So, in India there is a judge named Leila Seth. She is about 90 years old, she is tiny, wears traditional clothes, and she is incredibly strong. She was part of a three-man committee that was investigating the gang rape on a bus in Delhi, when a judicial investigation was carried out into the rape laws. She also wrote about her experience - she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child. She changed the rape legislation in India and she writes amazingly about it all. Judge Leila Seth herself admits that the changes they have made are not enough: for example, sexual abuse in marriage is still legal (that is, the rape of a wife by a husband in India is not considered rape). She really wants to change this law, but the changes that she has already achieved are very significant. I think she is the perfect face of Indian feminism.
YOU HAVE THE MOST VERY CLEAR FEMINISTS AND FOUR CHILDREN. WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO STILL BELIEVE THAT ONE IS CONTRADICT TO ANOTHER?
Um, what's the problem? It's just prejudice. I usually smile politely to a direct question and confirm, "Yes, I'm a feminist." It’s good not to live up to expectations, and Wollstonecraft did it all the time.
Photos: Bee rowlatt