Friday, May 13, 2016

Carrie Brown

Carrie Brown's latest novel is The Stargazer's Sister.

From her Q & A with Deborah Kalb:

Q: Why did you decide to write a novel about Caroline Herschel, and what did you see as the right balance between the historic and the fictional?

A: My introduction to the Herschels, born 12 years apart in the late 1700s in what is now northern Germany, came in the most glancing way: a three-minute radio broadcast from the program StarDate, produced by the McDonald Observatory in Austin, Texas.

I happened to catch the program one morning driving my kids to school and learned that William had been assisted throughout his extraordinary career as an astronomer by his younger sister, Caroline: she was less than five feet tall, her face scarred by smallpox, and she had little formal education.

When she was 22 years old, William rescued her from what likely would have been the sad fate of a spinster daughter at her mother’s beck and call and brought her to England to help him.

That three-minute radio program, with its poignant information about Caroline – standing at her brother’s side night after night, even in the coldest weather, feeding him from her hand, so that he would not be required to move his eye from the eyepiece of the telescope -- was for me the equivalent of what Nabokov called the “divine detail,” or what Henry James called the “rich principle of the note.”

Out of such details a whole world -- no matter how far vanished -- might be built or restored.

As the writer Thomas Mallon has said, in the term “historical fiction,” nouns always trump adjectives.

I set out with The Stargazer’s Sister to write a novel, not a biography – I’d be no good at the latter, frankly; I enjoy the imaginative exercise and freedom of a novel -- and in writing the story I made various changes, large and small, to the historical record, trying to tell the story artfully. (V.S. Naipaul famously said, “It’s all in the art; you get no credit for living.”)

Still, though, despite changing dates, conflating or inventing secondary characters, omitting events and imagining others, I wanted to stay close to what felt to me like the heart of Caroline’s life, which was that serving as her brother’s assistant was the best thing that could ever have happened to her … but that it was not without emotional complications for her.

Sometimes I made changes to the historical record for purposes of narrative design, an impulse to shape the material for purposes other than historical accuracy.

Yet for all the changes – omissions and inventions – I...[read on]
Learn more about the book and author at Carrie Brown's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last First Day.

The Page 69 Test: The Last First Day.

Writers Read: Carrie Brown (October 2013).

--Marshal Zeringue