Monday, September 12, 2011

Helen Humphreys on why she chose to reconstruct a historical footnote

I had a piece in the National Post's Saturday Books section about Helen Humphreys and her hew novel The Reinvention of Love. I plan to write about the book here sometime in the next few weeks, but until then, here's a bit of my feature.
When Helen Humphreys stumbled across Charles Sainte-Beuve, it was a complete accident. She was reading something else, and then there he was, mentioned in a passing reference to his affair with Adèle Hugo, wife of Victor Hugo. It wasn’t much, but Humphreys’ interest was piqued and she started to research Sainte-Beuve’s life and his love for Adèle.  
After nearly five years of writing and researching and rewriting, Humphreys’s novel The Reinvention of Love tells the story of Sainte-Beuve and Adèle.  
Unlike Humphreys’ previous novels, which stay in a specific moment, The Reinvention of Love is set over several decades in 19th-century Paris, and recreates not only the affair, but also what came after, allowing it to billow out from France to the Channel Islands and then to Nova Scotia.  
This is not the first book to be written about the affair: In 1834, Sainte-Beuve himself published his autobiographical novel Volupté, and although his novel was written shortly after the affair ended, and all the memories and emotions were still fresh, Humphreys describes Sainte-Beuve as feeling that his time with Adèle was less real after having written about it.  
“When you write about something it becomes a story,” Humphreys says. “When you’re in the midst of your life, in the chaos and the swirl of all of the things that are happening simultaneously, there’s a reality to that experience that is not present when you write about something, because the moment you put something in order, you’ve essentially made it a narrative, fiction. That takes it away from you; that removes it a little bit from yourself.”
Read the rest on The Afterword...

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