Literate Housewife: I want to thank Iris Anthony for visiting with us today and discuss her novel, The Ruins of Lace in more depth. I reviewed her book Wednesday and I was excited to learn more about some of the things about the book that fascinated me the most.
Iris Anthony: Thank you so much for hosting me today! I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk about my book in more detail with you.
LH: What sticks in my mind about your book is that poor dog. I would love to know how you decided to add those sections and where you discovered the practice.
IA: When I first came across a mention of lace smuggling, one of the things that haunted me was the use of dogs in the smuggling networks. As the story began to take shape, the dog’s voice was the first to come to me; his was one of the stories I most wanted to tell. I didn’t include those chapters from his point-of-view as a novelty or a literary stunt. On the contrary, I think his story is integral to the novel.
The dog is so important, so essential, exactly because he doesn’t have a voice. Like most victims of abuse, he can’t tell anyone what’s happening. There’s a line of his that didn’t make it into the final version of the manuscript but it was this: Hunger was my enemy. I knew that now. It made me do things I did not want to do. Even as an innocent victim, the dog knew he shouldn’t accept what was happening to him, but his hunger makes him a participant in the vast corruption that was seventeenth-century Europe. The dog’s POV shows how greed can corrupt us all. Even the most well-intentioned. Even those that vow to cling to their principles.
It’s ironic that I ended up writing a portion of the novel from a dog’s point of view. As a child I can distinctly remember swearing off books about dogs. Or horses for that matter. They were just too sad. I also remember discovering first-person point-of-view when I read I, Jean de Paraja in elementary school. And I read stories like archy and mehitabel and Charlotte’s Web which assigned distinct voices to animals. I can’t say there was any one book I read that made me think, ‘That’s what I want to do: write from a dog’s perspective!’ But I’m sure all those creative childhood books influenced me.
LH: Women tend to punish ourselves more harshly than anyone else would when we feel guilty. Lisette is an example and that tears my heart out.
IA: It tears my heart out too. Society—and it was the same back then—has many ways in which to show women we’re not worthy. There are so many ways we tell ourselves we just don’t measure up. And even if we manage to dodge those, we seem to have an endless capacity for inventing more. I’ve often wondered, if we could just truly believe in our worth, what a different world ours would be. If we didn’t feel as if we had to prove ourselves, if we didn’t direct our attention internally so often in self-examination and self-flagellation, imagine how much more time and effort we could put into doing some real good in the world instead of immobilizing ourselves with guilt and shame.
There are so many roles given women to play; so many things we’re supposed to be and so many ways in which we’re supposed to act that there are simply that many more opportunities for us to fail. Our society doesn’t have nearly the fascination with men being able to ‘do it all’ perfectly as it does with women. There’s an enormous pressure to conform to an ideal and I think we often interpret our failures to do so as character flaws instead of personal preferences or legitimate character traits.
Historically, there’s always been so much emphasis on ‘looking’ perfect. Perhaps we feel we ought to be perfect on the inside as well. It’s the ultimate of betrayals then, when we realize that we aren’t. One of the novelist’s assumptions is that all characters (all people) act rationally even when they appear not to be doing so. The only reason, then, that we would heap such guilt and shame upon ourselves is because it must be less painful than the alternative: admitting the truth. If we punish ourselves more than we ought to it’s because we’re saying we could do better, we should do better, that if we just tried harder we could become that Ideal Woman. Admitting the truth means realizing that we’re just not that woman and can never hope to be. The question then becomes, If we’re not this person everyone says we ought to be…then who exactly are we? And what then should we be doing with our lives? As liberating as it can be to ask that question of yourself, finding the answers can be scary. I think many times it’s easier to just keep trying to become that perfect woman.
LH: Thank you so much for the interesting discussion!
Have you read The Ruins of Lace? Would you like to? Here is your chance. One lucky reader who leaves a comment here about what we’ve discussed will win a copy of Iris Anthony’s fabulous book. I will draw the winner on Wednesday, October 24th. Good luck!