Mary Gordon & Glenda Jackson Talk Poetry, Theater and the State of Feminism

Boris Kachka in The New York Times:

WomenThe novelist Mary Gordon, known for books like 1981’s “The Company of Women,” about a girl who escapes her sheltered upbringing to embrace rebellion in 1960s America, considers her lifelong admiration of British actor-politician Glenda Jackson a “romance.” Gordon was 16 when she first saw Jackson onstage, in the 1965 Broadway production of “Marat/Sade,” a philosophical investigation of the meaning of protest set during and after the French Revolution.

MG: How would you define yourself as an actor in the British tradition?

GJ: I benefited from that huge change in British theater otherwise known as [playwright] John Osborne. When I left drama school, the director said to me, “Don’t expect to work much before you’re 40, because you’re essentially a character actress.” And that was a very accurate assessment, because the British theater then was still essentially a middle-class world. Then Osborne wrote “Look Back in Anger” (1956), and the whole thing just exploded.

MG: I saw “Stevie” (1977) in the West End in London [starring Jackson as British poet Stevie Smith]. I adore her work, and she is just tough as an old boot. Funny, but looks at the darkest things. As Emily Dickinson said, “Tell the truth but tell it slant.”

GJ: I’m so pleased you said that, because I’m a big fan of Emily Dickinson. The view of both Stevie and Emily Dickinson seems to be that here were these two solitary, depressed, lonely women, but they lived in these fantastic worlds!

MG: They’re great, greater than anybody around at that time. But their forms are small. And so, female gets defined as minor. Some of American women writers’ best work was done in the form of the short story: Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, Jean Stafford. I think what’s funny is around the same time that Emily Dickinson wrote, “I’m nobody! Who are you?” Whitman wrote, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

GJ: [Laughs] Well, we had a program, years I’m going back now. This woman went back to Oxford to speak at her college. There’d been a big upsurge in women going to university, but it was very rare that a woman had a first-class degree. So she asked her old professor why, and this professor — also a woman — said because their examiners are still in the main men, and they like a lot of flash and filigree, whereas women go to endless lengths of attribution and details.

MG: I teach at a women’s college, Barnard, across the street from Columbia, which used to be male for donkey’s years, and I say to my students, “Do not speak into your collar when you tell me your name. There are men across the street saying things of immense stupidity at the top of their lungs!”

More here.