“In my old age I’ve become haunted by my parents.”
Writer, professor & critic Marina Warner joins the show to talk about her new book about her parents, Esmond and Ilia: An Unreliable Memoir (New York Review Books). She gets into the memory of her father’s Cairo bookshop getting burned down in a riot, the huge cache of letters and documents her mother left behind and what it taught her about her mother’s life & deep sadness, how this book transitioned from novel to memoir and what novelistic aspects it retained, and why she disagrees with the standard memoir’s notion of an integral self. We also talk about transformations from Ovid to COVID, her upcoming work on the concept of sanctuary and her interest in refugees, what it means to be at home in the world and how to give refugees a sense of attachment through imagination, why fairy tales and myth need to be reinterpretable and not fixed in meaning, how it felt to have one of her books cribbed by WG Sebald, how the myrrh bush captured her imagination, and why I think she should watch Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Plus, we discuss the loss of Carmen Callil and the need to champion women writers, her role as the first woman president of the Royal Society of Literature from 2017 to 2021 and the RSL’s recent unwillingness to hold an event in support of Salman Rushdie, and a lot more. Give it a listen! And go read Esmond and Ilia: An Unreliable Memoir!
“My mother would be reading Vogue, and sewing, and making beautiful dresses on one side of the fireplace, and my father would be reading the Times Literary Supplement and the latest biography on the other side of the fireplace. I was the joint of these two.”
“One of the things that runs through everything I try to do is that we need to think of the extraordinary creative faculty we have, and let it flourish more than we do.”
“The Holy House of Loreto is a symbol of the very deep human desire to take something with you of the earth of your home.”
About our Guest
Marina Warner’s studies of religion, mythology, and fairy tales include Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary, From the Beast to the Blonde, and Stranger Magic (National Book Critics Circle Award for Literary Criticism; Truman Capote Award). She is also the author of Forms of Enchantment: Writings on Art and Artists. A Fellow of the British Academy, Warner is also a professor of English and creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London. In 2015 she was given the Holberg Prize and in 2017 she was elected president of the Royal Society of Literature. Her most recent book is Esmond and Ilia: An Unreliable Memoir.
Follow Marina on Twitter.
Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Marina’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Candid photo of Marina by me; fancier photo by Dan Welldon. It’s on my instagram.