Lindas Book Obsession Interviews Mary Sharratt Author of “Ecstasy”.
What was your motivation or inspiration in writing your novel?
As a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan, Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.
Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!
But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma reallywas as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with. Once I sat down and did the research, an entirely new picture of Alma emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.
What are your goals for the reader to take away after reading “Ecstasy”?
I hope my readers will be as moved by Alma’s story as I am. I think the time has truly come for a more nuanced and feminist appraisal of Alma’s life and work, and I hope ECSTASY challenges some of the commonly held misperceptions about her.
Alma has been traditionally viewed through a very male-centered lens. Only within the last decade or so have more nuanced biographies about her emerged and only in German! ECSTASY is currently the only book available in English, to my knowledge, that takes her seriously as a composer and as a woman who had something to say and give to the world besides just inspiring genius men.
Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to stop composing as a condition of their marriage. Deeply in love and in awe of his genius, she reluctantly agreed, even though this broke her heart. In this regard, her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of love? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of domesticity?
What Alma’s story reveals is how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers.
Fortunately Alma does eventually triumph and take back her power.
What do you enjoy doing in your downtown?
I live in a small town so there’s no downtown to speak of, I’m afraid. I’m usually off riding my horse down country lanes.
Riding my beautiful Welsh mare Miss Boo aka Queen Boudicca. I also love hiking and reading.
Can you share with us what you are writing about now?
Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelationsis the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.
What is a typical day like in the life of Author MARY Sharratt?
I meditate and then write in the morning and early afternoon. Late afternoon I head to the boarding stable to take care of Miss Boo. Shoveling manure every day helps me keep our modern politics in perspective. Plus I love being outdoors and in the company of animals.
How would you like readers to connect with you?
I love for people to check out my website: www.marysharratt.com. I also love connecting with people on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/Mary-Sharratt-960515374037848/ ) and I am very open to Skyping with book groups. I am particularly grateful for reader reviews on Amazon.com.