Jeffrey Eugenides

For anyone who’s ever been scared of what it takes to actually write a novel, Jeffrey Eugenides had more reason to be scared — he said it took him two to three years “to understand how to write ‘Middlesex.'” A lot of that was finding the right voice for a narrator who is a hermaphrodite or, in the preferred term, intersex. A first-person perspective, he ultimately decided, made sense for a character who changes gender in the middle of the book. It would be unnerving to go from she to he — or worst of all, use the s/he. But he also wanted to have a more omniscient view so, he said, “I broke the cardinal rule of writers” and created a first person narrator with wider knowledge.
He got an interesting question from the audience, about whether he read “Orlando” by Virginia Woolf before starting his book. Yes, he had read “Orlando,” he said, but his reading in intersex characters went back much further, to high school Latin class and Ovid, who tells about how Zeus and Hera got into an argument about whether men or women have a better time in bed and settle the question by calling in Tiresias, who had been both a man and a woman. (Tiresias sided with Zeus — that women have a better time — and thus earned Hera’s wrath. So she blinded him, which Zeus tried to compensate for by giving him the gift of prophecy.)
While acknowledging those earlier treatments, Eugenides said he wanted ot have a more realistic take on the subject in his novel. And, he said, “a novelist’s job is to have a hermaphroditic imagination.”

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