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Friday, September 10, 2010

Author Interview with Paula Marantz Cohen

I have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Paula Marantz Cohen, author of the new release What Alice Knew, to The Maiden’s Court today. She has dropped by to answer a few questions about her book and what is coming up next. So without further adieu…


What Alice Knew is very different from your other releases. What was it that led to the leap into historical fiction?

I'd already dabbled in historical fiction in my second novel, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan--where the character believes she is the reincarnation of Shakespeare's Dark Lady of the Sonnets. I'd so enjoyed imagining the mix of fact and fiction in that novel that I felt I would enjoy doing more. My academic background also happens to be in the Victorian era, so I have a great appreciation of that period and, since I've always been interested in the James family, one thing led to another . . .

Jack the Ripper has always been a figure that intrigued me – because he was so brutal and then just disappeared. What is it about this figure that made you want to write this novel?

I wanted to write a detective story with the James siblings and I knew that both Alice and Henry were in London in 1888, the date of the Jack the Ripper murders. Bringing William over would be easy, since he was often coming to England for scientific conferences. And so the conjunction of the Ripper plot and the Jameses seemed a natural one. I should note that I too have always found the Ripper case to be intriguing-- the particular nature of its brutality (which I incorporate into my plot) and felt that it is unsolved. That fit with Henry James's novelistic sense of the incomplete and the ambiguous.

In the story you bring together many historical figures – Henry James, John Singer Sargent, Whistler – how did they become a part of your story web?

Well, I knew that these figures were all in London at the time of my story and that they knew each other. It seemed logical and fun to bring them into the plot. Sargent, who is one of my favorite painters, is particularly crucial to the plot. I should note that Ella Abrams is based on Ena Wertheimer, a great friend and patron of Sargent's. Sargent painted 12 portraits of the Wertheimer family.

What was your favorite part of working on this novel?

I loved the mixing up of fact and fiction, and in some instances, I would forget what was fact and what was fiction. Even now, I sometimes have to stop and think: did I make that up or was that part of the case? Also, in writing a novel, when the pieces start to fit together and the plot seems to work itself out on its own--that's one of the great joys of fiction-writing.

What is next for you – any other works up and coming?

I really don't know. Perhaps another "Jane Austen in . . ."; perhaps something entirely different. I'm concentrating now on writing short, humorous pieces. Check out my "On Shopping" columns on TheSmartSet.com

Thank you Paula for taking the time to answer these questions for us today.

Paula Marantz Cohen is a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University where she teaches courses in literature, film, and creative writing. She is the author of four nonfiction books: The Daughter’s Dilemma: Family Process and the Nineteenth-Century Domestic Novel; The Daughter as Reader: Encounters Between Literature and Life; Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism; and Silent Film and the Triumph of the American Myth (a Choice Outstanding Academic Book). Her novels include Jane Austen in Boca, Much Ado About Jessie Kaplan, Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs (a Book-of-the-Month Club and Doubleday Book Club selection), and the forthcoming What Alice Knew: A Most Curious Tale of Henry James and Jack the Ripper.

Cohen’s essays and stories have appeared in The Yale Review,Raritan, The American Scholar, Boulevard, The Hudson Review, theSouthwest Review, the Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. She is the host of The Drexel InterView, a cable TV show based in Philadelphia, and a co-editor of jml: Journal of Modern Literature.

She holds a B.A. from Yale College and a Ph.D. from Columbia University.

For more information about Paula's works, drop by her website.





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1 comment:

  1. Okay, I commented and then got an error message :/ I believe I just wrote that I'm intrigued with the Jack the Ripper story. I've never read about it, really, just heard things here and there. Sounds interesting!

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