FM: You two decided to write the novel as a birthday present for a friend?
JL: He was actually our graduate student mentor at Yale, John Demos. When an academic retires, his graduate students usually hold a conference to celebrate his work. Jane and I decided that for our piece of the conference we were going to write character sketches that were a send-up of 18th-century genre fiction. It took us a week to write these character sketches, and it was fun. So we kept going, and before we knew it we’d batted back and forth 100 pages….
Part of the conceit of the novel is that it was supposed to be written as if it were written in 1764, and so there’s a lens through which the characters see the world that’s not entirely bearable for a contemporary reader. Most modern readers aren’t out there reading “Clarissa.”
I love the idea of two historians getting carried away with writing a novel, as if such things had a life of their own. And as a side note to Lepore: I’m a huge fan of Samuel Richardson and epistolary novels, so I suppose I’m a rarity among contemporary readers. Go figure.
(H/T Cliopatria for the interview link)