The accidental symbolist
Photo: James Royall
Wednesday 20th February, 2008 | Posted by Caroline Graty
Though Esther Freud, speaking with John Tydeman at Connecting Conversations (25 January 2008), was interested in psychoanalytic interpretations of her novel Love Falls, her own perspective remained firmly that of the writer.
Freud saw the layers of meaning added by a psychoanalytic reading of her work as a by-product of her chief interest – creating characters and using them to explore situations. Take, for example, the passage in Love Falls in which Lara, a committed vegetarian, eats steak. Freud wrote the passage in order to investigate ‘the sheer embarrassment of being 17’, and of being too young to stick to one’s principles in the face of an awkward social situation. Tydeman, on the other hand, saw it a symbol of abandonment to sensuality, or a passage into adulthood. Freud is comfortable with these interpretations, but they weren’t her first intention. ‘It is only when you read the reviews that you see what people are seeing and the different levels of what you’re saying. It is… often a surprise, but actually something that you’ve known all the time without being able to voice it.’
A bit like the process of psychoanalysis, in fact, and an echo of Andrew Motion’s comments at a previous Connecting Conversations about the purpose of poetry; to remind us ‘of something we’d forgotten we knew, rather than to discover something we didn’t know before we started off.’
An audience member asked Freud about the pressure of being Sigmund Freud's great-granddaughter. Could she feel analysts looking over her shoulder as she wrote? Did she ever throw in a character to distract them while she got on with the story? Freud replied that she became so deeply immersed in her characters, in crafting sentences and ensuring the right pace and tone, that such measures weren’t necessary. ‘I’m passionate about making a book that works. That’s what drives me, not what people will think about it in an analytical way.’