by Kate on Nov 8, 2012 at 5:54 pm
Today, the paperback edition of The Winter Palace is published. Described by the Daily Telegraph as “A wonderful novel, riven with intrigue and startling details”, The Winter Palace is a novel that describes the rise to power of one of histories most illustrious female rulers, Catherine the Great. The author Eva Stachniak has answered 9 questions for us about her favourite time period in history, her favourite figures from history.
1. If you could go back in time and be any figure from history, who would it be?
Catherine the Great, the heroine of my last novel, still consumes me. I’ve spent so much time with her in the last few years, I’ve read so much about her, and have thought of her so often and with such intensity that there is still no space in me for anyone else. Becoming Catherine, ever just for a few hours, would help me penetrate her mystery, test my own vision of her, my representation of her thoughts and feelings.
I would finally know if she thought herself happy, satisfied with her accomplishments, or if she despaired of what couldn’t be achieved. I would know what she feared the most, and if she—especially toward the end of her life—was able to see the depths of Russia’s future troubles.
2. What year in history would you have liked to live in?
1913, in Paris. I would put on a shimmering flapper gown, a turban with feathers, and head off to see Ballet Russe perform Stravinsky’s “The Rites of Spring,” choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky. I wish I wouldn’t know how the performance would end…
3. You’re having a dinner party and you can invite 5 people from history, who would they be?
Catherine the Great for whom I would order her favourite dishes (boiled beef, cucumbers with honey and potatoes—her pet project, new food she wished to introduce to Russia) and trust her to be a superb conversationalist.
Cleopatra, an equally powerful Queen, equally preoccupied with her political image. I know how careful, the two of them would be, how keen on concealment and cautious explorations of their experience, and how determined not to be out-shined.
Plato, whom I would sit between Catherine and Cleopatra, for both of them would know his work very well, and would welcome him as a conversationalist and mentor. He, too, would find them fascinating, a unique chance to test his vision of a Philosopher Queen from his ideal Republic.
Mark Twain who would be able to bring America into the conversation and who would be trusted to come up with a funny and poignant story when the mood became too serious.
Frederick Chopin who would not refuse to play the piano for us and whose gentle but irresistible spirit would imbue the evening dinner with serene beauty and deep reflection.
4. What castle from the past or present would you like to live in?
Sissinghurst Castle, in Kent. I would like to savour its beautiful garden, with its rich literary associations. It was first laid out by Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicolson in the 1930’s. Spectacular garden rooms surround the remains of an Elizabethan mansion, and the place was a scene of passionate affairs and famous Bloomsbury parties. I would love to write a novel in Vita’s writing room, with its books, brick arches and the spirit of Virginia Woolf hovering over me.
5. Two fellow historical fiction authors you’d like to go on a history themed tour of the world with?
Hilary Mantel who doesn’t shrink from dissecting historical reality whether she writes about Revolutionary France or 17th century England. I admire her ability to live inside her characters, to become them, and not to judge. She is a shape-shifter and she knows the world she invites the reader into inside out.
Kate Grenville, who writes so beautifully about early 19th century Australia in “The Secret River.” She explores the past for its link with the present, probes into the origins of the modern. She makes history both timeless and universal.
6. Who was more dashing and interesting, King Henry VIII of England or King Louis XIV of France?
They were both equally fascinating and exasperating, but I’d cast my vote with Louis XIV. Though spoiled by constant adulation, and far too self-centered, he loved theatre and made room for the wide tree lined Parisian boulevards.
7. Which of the six wives of King Henry VIII is your favourite?
Anne Boleyn, because she was such a riveting character. A strong woman who was not satisfied with a passive role alongside her royal lover and later husband, unrelenting in her grasp of power and influence, spiteful and ruthless, yet ultimately tragic in her defeat. And the mother of one of the most powerful women monarchs…
8. English monarchy or French monarchy?
English. The Parliamentary system constrained the monarchs and their consorts far better. As the result, the English kings and queens, though equally colourful, could wield less harm on their nation.
9. What three novels could you read over and over?
“To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf because it always manages to surprise me with its poetic cadences, reveal something new about loss, creativity, pain and everyday acts of love.
Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, with its crucible of high drama, grand passions, the search for moral truth that spans the extremes of the Russian soul.
Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. It is both funny and profound. It appeals to the child in us and to the adult who has to makes sense of the world it so beautifully portraits. And I can listen to Huck, the narrator, endlessly. His voice is true and strong and it carries the whole novel flawlessly almost until the end.Post A Comment