Written by Marie Brennan
We are pleased to share with our readership an exclusive interview with Lady Trent, who graciously consented to answer a few questions one morning during a recent visit to Falchester. For her generosity and toleration, we owe her our thanks.
Lady Trent, why publish your memoirs now? You’re already known the world over—what more could you possibly hope to accomplish?
I hope to be able to write a single line in response to queries about one part or another of my life: “I have discussed that in great detail in my memoirs, and urge you to consult them if you wish to know more.” I do not mean to sound arrogant, but the truth is that it has become exceedingly tedious, repeating myself time and time again in my letters. The notion of being able to direct interested parties to a single authoritative source has become very attractive, especially as I get on in years. My eyesight is not what it once was.
In all your published materials, one thing you’ve never discussed was what has been referenced in the lesser city papers as the “Chiavoran Affair.” Is there anything you’d like to clear up regarding that matter?
“Clear up?” I should say so, if you believe there is any red meat to be found in that incident—as you so patently do. Good heavens, the idea that anybody should still be digging around in the dust-bin of my life in search of entertaining scandal. . . but perhaps I can finally lay this one to rest. (Hope, as they say, springs eternal.)
The affair, if it even merits that name, was entirely one-sided, and largely imaginary at that. I was introduced to Dom Pappino quite properly during the opening supper for the Congresso Internazionale per la Ricerca Draconica, and he behaved like a perfect gentleman. We spoke at some length during the dinner, and more in the coming days, as he was very interested in my presentation on morphological lability—a topic I dare say you don’t understand in the slightest, much less care about, as there is nothing salacious to be found in it.
That ought to have been the end of things, except that after the conclusion of the congress, Dom Pappino followed me back to Scirland. He had business there—an interest in one of the fledgling caeliger enterprises—but yes, he also had an interest in me. What the scandal-sheets failed to grasp was that his motives were intellectual in nature, not carnal. At no point did Dom Pappino attempt to proposition me. His presence at the various social events I attended may have looked suggestive, but if there was any conspiracy involved, it lay in our mutual disinclination to small talk, and preference for the company of a scholarly peer. And as for the report that he was evicted from my back garden late one night, I assure you it is entirely false.
I admit I found his company wearisome after a time, as even I enjoy conversation on topics other than dragons, and Dom Pappino was nothing if not single-minded. But the affair, as I say, was largely imaginary, existing far more in the scandal-sheets than in reality. If this disappoints you, I am afraid I cannot bring myself to apologize.
In the first volume of your memoirs, you describe an unfortunate night-time encounter with Stauleren smugglers. Was it truly your quick wit, as you claim, that persuaded the smugglers to let you go free?
It was my understanding that working at a newspaper required the sort of basic literacy skills imparted in grammar school. Was I in error? Had you attended to your reading, you would know I claimed it was the self-interest of the smugglers which persuaded them to let me go, and not my quick wit at all. As for anything else, I will thank you not to make such insinuations again.
You’re well known for your inappropriate, unladylike behavior, yet somehow you’ve become a role model for a whole generation of young ladies. What do you have to say to the thousands of shocked parents whose daughters are clamoring to follow in your footsteps?
As flattering as it is for you to paint me in such light, I suspect you exaggerate with your “thousands.” Be that as it may, I do acknowledge the situation, and understand why it distresses some.
I would say to those parents that several hundred years ago, it was inappropriate and unladylike for women to sit intermingled with men in an Assembly House—but that standard has changed. So, too, has the standard that said women should never attend the public spectacle of the theatre; now attendance is almost de rigeur, at least for those who wish to be thought socially significant. Once it was unladylike for a married woman to show her hair; then lovely hair on display became the mark of a lady; I could go on, but I believe my point has been made.
The true question is not whether a given behavior would meet with the approval of our forebears, but instead whether that behavior is detrimental to society in general or the individual in particular. I quite understand the concern of a mother or father for their daughter’s safety; my life has not been an easy one, and I bear the scars to prove it. In such instances my advice might better be directed to the young ladies themselves, in the hopes of persuading them that adventurousness and recklessness are different things, and that getting yourself killed will impress no one. But the difficulty of youth is that you believe yourself to be indestructible, and so I can only hope that the young ladies will listen to me and have a care for their own well-being.
Not all of those girls are clamoring to get sick with yellow fever or fall over an icy cliff, though. Some are merely clamoring to attend university (which I never did) or subscribe to one of the scholarly journals. In those cases, I assure the parents that no harm will be done to their daughters’ health, unless perhaps the girls are prone to eyestrain, or become wild as some of our young men do when carousing in university towns. Such perils do not, in my opinion, outweigh the benefit that might be gained from allowing bright young female minds to stretch their wings.
From the Tor/Forge February newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the February Tor/Forge newsletter:
- Cory Doctorow on Aaron Swartz
- Speechless: Writing Dialogue for Characters Who Don’t Speak by Evie Manieri
- Grab Bag Sweepstakes
I have not had the honor of a publisher send me an advance copy of your memoirs, Lady Trent, so forgive me my ignorance for a basic question.
Why do you consider this volume a memoir instead of a more pedantic autobiography?
I could give you an impressive-sounding answer, which is to say that this work is based on my personal notes (an alternate meaning of “memoir”) and furthermore is in places a learned discourse upon the topic of natural history (which is yet another meaning of the word). But it would be more truthful to say that “memoir” sounded genteel, and furthermore fits better upon the book’s dust jacket.
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