What was it about the modernist wives that first interested you?
I think I came to the wives through an initial discovery of more neglected modernist women writers—Olive Moore, Anna Kavan, Jane Bowles, maybe I’d add Jean Rhys to that list. I was living in London working in a bookshop and not doing much in terms of trying to write a novel, so I pitched to Chad Post at Dalkey that I write an essay on Kavan. And because I had nothing else to do, I sat in the British Library and read everything by her. And started reading all these other experimental women writers, like Elizabeth Smart—not the Mormon abductee, but the one obsessed with the poet George Barker, an obsession she documents in the amazing By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Not a modernist, I know, but I sat at the British Library and read the communal notebook she kept with Barker and thought about Vivien(ne)’s hand on “The Waste Land” manuscript. I began to be really interested in ideas of literary collaboration.
I returned to the States and started reading the bios of these modernist women like candy. I think it was Jane Bowles’s bio by Millicent Dillon that instigated everything for me. Especially the decades of her not publishing after her initial unbelievably original and amazing novel and story collection—her being stuck writing this fictional notebook, this unfinished novel. I began to meditate on ideas of the unfinished, on women who were scratched out from history, on the unwritten. Even thinking of Jean Rhys working on Wide Sargasso Sea for decades in total anonymity, everyone thinking she was dead, in her crumbling cottage in Cornwall. Her obsessed with recovering the madwoman of Brontë’s legend. I began to be immersed in my own project of recovery. I began keeping my own fictional notebook. . . .