After reading and loving Hilary Scharper’s upcoming novel, Perdita, I was thrilled at the chance to interview her as part of the Perdita blog tour! Taking place in the lush setting of the Bruce Peninsula, Perdita follows Garth Hellyer, a professor who finds himself devouring the journals of a 134 year old woman named Marged Brice. As Garth reads more and more about Marged’s life, the mysterious figure of a strange girl named Perdita slowly works her way into the story.
1. What inspired you to write the stories of Garth, Marged, and Perdita?
2. I fell in love with the setting in which the story of Perdita takes place. What drew you to the Bruce Peninsula?
The Bruce—as it is called by the locals—is a truly remarkable place. There’s a distinct kind of “wild” there that I particularly love, a sort of unruly, romantic and generous wild. I often feel as if I can go “off-leash” when I’m up there, and this has allowed me to explore the area with many different aspects of myself, including, perhaps most importantly, my imagination.
Perdita also has Marged Brice taking a winter sojourn in late 19th century Toronto. As a result, Marged’s unique inter-connection with nature extends to the city. I’ve recently written on this aspect of what might be called an “urban eco-gothic” for The National Post: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2013/04/05/hilary-scharper-what-would-your-trees-say-about-you/
3. In reading Perdita it’s obvious that your writing was partly influenced by the classics. What classics do you think influenced your storytelling the most? Why?
I’ve spent the last four decades of my life reading “classic literature,” but the novels of the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen were very early influences and certainly among my “first loves.” Some readers have described Perdita as “Jane Eyre on Georgian Bay,” and I’ve been delighted by this. The windswept coastline of Clooties Point, the stark horrors of Lonely Island, and the secluded cemetery where Marged Brice dreams that she feels the hand of small child clasping her own— these scenes were influenced by Emily Bronte’s gothic, moody landscapes. I also wanted to give the story a Jane Austen feel, namely by focusing on a small circle of people, their lives intersecting in an intimate geography of pathways and verdant forests, and in rooms redolent with wood smoke. . . .
4. Throughout the course of your novel, the characters come to realize that the myth of Perdita is connected to Hesiod’s Theogony. Does the figure of Perdita actually appear in Hesiod’s work?
In the story, Perdita as a mythological figure has mysteriously disappeared from Hesiod’s work. In this sense—true to the meaning of her name—she is a figure “lost” to the western tradition. Why she has disappeared is open to interpretation. Was she accidentally dropped in translations of Hesiod’s texts? Was she deliberately removed from the record because she represents something threatening to the powers-that-be? In short, then, Perdita will not be found in Hesiod’s Theogony—or at least not in any version one might find in a bookstore or library.
5. It’s obvious that a lot of research went into bringing the historical and mythological details of this novel to life. Did you come across anything particularly fascinating or surprising during this research process?
My rediscovery of the Prometheus myth turned out to be a fascinating experience. This is the story of how technology (in the form of fire) is stolen from the gods by Prometheus and then given to humans as a “gift.” I explored different versions of the story and was intrigued by how details in the myth changed from author to author. This set me thinking about what aspects of the story might have been dropped or discarded. I found myself wondering if Prometheus stole more than just fire from the gods and that perhaps he gave other “gifts” to the human—gifts that have been forgotten (such the biophilia that is part of Perdita’s “bundle”).