ABIGAIL DENNIS: So creating that sense of authenticity is very important?
SARAH WATERS: Yes, it is actually, even though I know it’s all an illusion, and we’re all recreating the past in a different way, and it’s always a process … it still feels important to, well, in a sense almost to give a reader that experience, because I think it’s so important to remember that culture and society are such provisional, such temporary things, because we get attached to cultural and social systems in a very negative kind of way.
And if you take a longer view, and just remind people that these things are always in process, they’re not fixed, and gender’s never fixed, and how we feel about women changes all the time, and how we feel about sex and sexuality and class, these things change all the time … historical fiction can dramatically enact that.
Not that I feel like I’ve got an agenda with my writing in that kind of way, but it’s a fundamental thing of mine that history is a process, and in a sense a good historical novel is a celebration of that.
Interview by Abigail Dennis, ‘Ladies in peril’, Neo-Victorian Studies 1:1 (Autumn 2008)