Q&A with Elizabeth Gilbert

I have just been on a webchat with Elizabeth Gilbert over on Mumsnet talking about her book The Signature of All Things.

I thought you might like to see a few things she said about the book. I was really keen to talk to her about her intentions behind the book; whether she intended a feminist theme and how difficult that was to portray.

I asked if it was difficult writing about a strong female character in a time that was dominated by men and religion:

Thank you for this! I’ll tell you the truth…my first instinct with this novel was to write the story of a brilliant woman of ideas who could never make an impact on the world of science because she was a woman, and nobody would listen to her. But as I began to do research on 19th century female botanists, I discovered that many of them had been taken VERY seriously. They were published, they had plants named after them, they co-founded botanical gardens, they engaged in academic arguments with their male peers about taxonomy…in other words, they had voices and they had a certain amount of power. (Not a huge amount of power: They couldn’t be president of a university, or the head of the Royal Society of Fellows. But they were far from invisible) To be sure, all those women had money and class on their side, but they still had some power. When I learned this, it changed the whole story. I made Alma stronger, and made the men in her life respect her more. I think it made for a more honest and complicated tale.

I asked about an all time favourite and one she had read recently:

My all time favorite novel is probably GREAT EXPECTATIONS. But in general, I love 19th century fiction — particularly of the British variety. Especially Dickens, Eliot and Trollope. They are my godfathers. As for the last book I read that rocked my world, I adored THE GOLDFINCH

I was going to ask if she saw herself in any of the characters (someone beat me to it) but she replied to me anyway:

I see myself in all of them. Sometimes I think I am mostly Alma, but other times I think I am entirely Henry (the ambition! the ambition!)…but there are days when I am purely Beatrix (the firmness and discipline) and other days when I am crazier than Retta and dreamier than Ambrose. The only character I don’t identify with so much is Prudence, because her goodness is so out of reach to me. I wish I were so virtuous, but I afraid I’m not such a saint!

A link to my review can be found here.

You can read the full webchat here.

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