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An Occasional Post


It's day three of Marthe Jocelyn's blog tour, and hooray, it's my turn. In her intriguing new book, SCRIBBLING WOMEN (Tundra), Marthe asks a lot of questions and ends with even more. Since I myself am an excessively curious person (intrusive, some say), it seemed appropriate to ask Marthe a few questions of my own. (Inspired by the book, I yearned to ask dozens, but I am a reasonable person.)

Marthe looks at the lives and writings of eleven unusual women from all a huge variety of times and places. The first, Sei Shonagon (965-1010), is known for “The Pillow Book,” and the last, Doris Pilkington Garimara (1937-), wrote Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence. In between we meet a horse thief (Margaret Catchpole), an explorer (Mary Kingsley), a journalist (Nellie Bly), and a slave turned abolitionist (Harriet Ann Jacobs). These are fascinating stories, each carefully researched and engaging. I wanted more.

Now, here’s Marthe.

LEDA: First, congratulations on the publication of your latest book!

Do you yourself keep--or have you kept-- a journal? And what about the effect the digital age will have on future researchers like you?

MARTHE: I have kept a diary for only brief periods in my life, but I always carry a notebook with me, which I suppose could be called a writer’s journal though it is scraps and jottings and lists rather than anything close to literary. I think the digital age is a DISASTER for future researchers!

Email is the downfall of letter-writing, blogging is the downfall of diaries. All the “primary source materials” now look alike! It seems to me supremely optimistic that any of the words tapped out online will be accessible in two or three hundred years.

LEDA. Ugh. But I’m afraid I must agree. My next question is an obvious one: which one of these fascinating women would you most like to have dinner with and why? (It’s clear that this comes down to eating hippopotamus or swan. I am a vegetarian.)

MARTHE: ‘Have dinner with” doesn’t mean that she has to cook for me, right?So picking Mary Kingsley does not mean that I have to eat python or rotted hippopotamus? Menu aside, I think Mary would make the most entertaining table companion. Her breadth of knowledge staggers me, particularly from a woman who spent the first thirty years of her life feeding consommé to an invalid mother. From the distinctions among West African tribes, to varieties of fish, to fashions, hairstyles, politics, terrain,twin-killings, cuisine, cannibalism, courting rituals, warfare, trading,mosquitoes... the list is endless. We might argue, however, on the topic of women’s suffrage. She believed that women could not be depended on to vote with any sense.

LEDA: Odd, isn’t it? We will have to find someone to blame for this character flaw.

I loved the ways in which you linked piece to piece. Can you talk a little bit about your ability to find those connections?

MARTHE: I made a drawing at one point, one of those ‘brainstorming’ pictures with each of the women’s names inside a bubble and the links between them done in different lines; zigzags, for instance, to indicate being as eamstress (Shonagon, Jacobs, Blackjack), crosshatching for sailing (Catchpole, Russell, Bly, Kingsley) or dots for a connection with rabbits (Catchpole, Beeton, Pilkington-Garimara). And so on. The page was soon covered in crazy lines in every direction, all the women haphazardly interlaced with each other.

Did I unconsciously choose the women who had qualities or pastimes that clicked with my own interests? Or was I imposing the similarities afterward? I wanted to use the drawing for my endpapers, but I guess it was considered a little too playful.

LEDA: Must discuss this with publisher.

The final list of things you want to know more about is entrancing. My favorite is ‘the first dentist in Australia.’ Have you found the answers to any of your questions?

MARTHE: The short answer is no. But more important than me pursuing new avenues of curiosity is the hope that the readers of the book will have burning questions of their own when they finish reading, and will go off to find answers for themselves.

LEDA: My own final burning question: what question do you wish someone would ask you?

MARTHE: How about, “We’d like to give you a contract for another book about extraordinary girls and women. Are you interested?” And I would answer,“Yes, please.”

LEDA: I’m with you on that one. Thanks, Marthe, and good luck!

And I close with my own favorite quote from SCRIBBLING WOMEN:
“I adored writing and used to pray for bad weather, so that I need not go out but could stay in and write.” Daisy Ashford. P. 119.

For more info about Marthe and SCRIBBLING WOMEN, and to visit the other blogs and learn more about the book, go here: www.marthejocelyn.com

And not only that: Tundra is holding a contest. The prize? A complete set of Marthe's books!!! I know: it's amazing. Click on "Scribbling Women" at the top of this post to enter.
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