A Conversation with Michele Roberts, about Novels, History and Autobiography

Article excerpt

Abstract

Michele Roberts is a contemporary feminist writer born in England in 1949. Brought up with two languages and cultures, she was educated at a religious school and she later lived in a convent for a long time. The conversation presented below took place in London in August 2010. The purpose of this interview was to talk with Michele Roberts about her writing and the link between her novels and her memoir. The contemporary and feminist writer talked about Virginia Woolf, Marion Milner, about personal and public spheres, about exploring when writing and about being an artist, among other topics. The conversation is thus presented in full as it happened.

Keywords: memoir, Michele Roberts, novels, women's writing

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Michele Roberts is a contemporary feminist writer born in Hertfordshire, England in 1949. She was brought up with two languages and cultures and she was educated at a religious school. Half-English and half-French, Roberts also lived in a convent for a long time, and these facts have influenced her works. Daughter of an English Protestant father and a French Catholic mother, Roberts has always combined her personal inner feelings with the political outer thoughts in her narration. Not only were her parents relevant in her upbringing but also her grandmother. As the novelist has commented on various occasions, the figure of her grandmother gave her freedom and inspiration at the time of writing. Her grandmother introduced Roberts in the art of storytelling and thus in the process of imagining, dreaming and inventing (The Book of Mrs Noah). In relation to her family, Roberts has also revealed how her battle with her mother--that body of authority who wants to have power over her daughter and makes her behave according to the morality required by society--has been depicted in her works of fiction (A Piece of the Night). On the other hand, not only the relationship between mother and daughter, but also the union between father and daughter, and her wish to be accepted by the male body, are reflected in novels like Impossible Saints.

Roberts attended Oxford University where she read a Bachelor of Arts in English. It was during these years at university that Michele Roberts became a member of the "Women's Liberation Movement," which she has always supported by writing articles in magazines like Spare Rib and City Limits. Michele Roberts has not only been a feminist activist, but she has also performed other professions such as a librarian in Bangkok, a cook, and a creative writing professor at the University of Norwich. Although she lives between France and England, Roberts has also resided in Thailand, Italia, and USA.

Through exploring, reading and writing, and through the revision of stories Michele Roberts has fought against the stereotypes marked by society, and against the doctrines defended by the Catholic Church, although she recognises that this religious culture has given her both stories and a productive language. Roberts has always fought back against authoritarianism, against Catholicism, and it is by means of her novels how the feminist writer creates new women who are liberated from religious, social and political margins. In this line, there are many depictions of the body and sex in Roberts's heroines. For Roberts, the female protagonist is rescued in order that she can verbally and sexually express herself being triumphant before the Fathers of the Church. For that reason, Roberts subversively finishes with the binaries between good and bad women in novels such as The Wild Girl, for instance, in which not only being a woman is fully depicted and celebrated but also, the sexual union with the man.

Michele Roberts's production is quite varied. The contemporary author has written novels, short stories, poetry, articles and essays. This conversation, however, did especially focus on her works of fiction. Her first novel was written when the author was 29 years old, A Piece of the Night (1978), and it shows biographical data about the search of her persona and her sexuality. …