Be a dragonfly on our wall.
Daisy Miller & Four Meetings
Sierra: I remember immediately thinking ‘We should do James!’ because he is this American who is an international figure, and I thought that was sort of a bridge between you and me. So I remember reading Daisy Miller and taking it to you, and being like: ‘What do you think? What do you think?’
Serafim: Yeah and I think what struck me about Daisy Miller, and then Four Meetings after that, is that although they were written by a male writer and even told from the perspective of male characters, the centers of both stories are women: Daisy Miller and Caroline Spencer. It felt right to give these women your voice.
And I was immediately drawn to the way both stories feel very applicable to today’s culture. Because you have what appears to be a period divide between classes. But on the other hand, you look around now and things haven’t changed that much. You can very easily have a situation today where it’s less ‘Where are you seen and with whom?’ and more what you put on your social media. So it’s very current in that way.
Was it easy for you to relate to these characters? Did you draw on people you knew to play them or did you pick up on some types from movies and TV?
Sierra: I could imagine how someone might stereotypically cast or play Daisy Miller, where she’d be blond—you know, of course she would speak in a certain way. I felt like there was this tendency— I mean, in theory, you read books to relate to people, to imagine you’re that person, to leap a divide. But often with certain kinds of characters, the exact opposite happens and a wall springs up between you. Because I would tend to look at someone like Daisy Miller and I might think: ‘Oh, no, no, no, she’s nothing like me, I’m nothing like that.’ And I wanted to see what would happen if I thought: ‘What if we have a shared emotional core?’ So I just spoke from that. And when I was speaking as her, I just sort of instinctively latched onto the thing I could most connect with. It literally felt like it was coming from the center of my solar plexus. And…it felt right? I mean, the listener decides.
And, I did the same thing with other characters as well and this is, of course, the magic of audiobooks. It’s one of the last few remaining art forms where someone is asked to conjure up many characters in themselves. And it is strange—you discover you have a lot more in common on a basic emotional level. Maybe it’s just everyone’s reptilian brain is similar, I don’t know.
It’s sort of a transcendental experience.
Serafim: Would you say that Caroline Spencer and Daisy Miller have more in common than the two male protagonists in the two novellas?
Sierra: I would say it’s hard not to see the men as being surrogates for James a little bit.
Serafim: Yeah, I had the same experience. It’s almost like they easily could have been the same character where I think Daisy Miller and Caroline Spencer could not be further away from each other.
Sierra: I’m just trying to think what they have in common now… Yes, it’s obvious they are very different but what qualities do they share?
Serafim: I think Daisy Miller has basically that nerve and a sort of naughtiness, this desire to be different, stick out, prove something to the world. That is very appealing in a way that we’re sort of used to looking at people through the lens of their own insecurity. Although she definitely seems vulnerable in some ways, she is very much a bird in a cage that can’t wait to get out of the cage. Whereas Caroline Spencer – I think she is much more of a reserved person with dreams and desires and hopes that are very limited in her own self-realization. She’s obviously thinking of other people before she thinks of herself. And that is the very reason why she struggles to fulfill her dream.
Sierra: Just listening to you describe them, I can’t help but think that the one thing they have in common is they’re both very stubbornly romantic. And I think that James might have been trying to say something about the American character—also through the male characters.
I mean the books are international, they’re about Americans traveling to Europe, living lives in Europe but I think James—and I’m actually really curious to know if you have this experience because I certainly—when I was living overseas, in Beirut, in my case—I really felt very American and I looked back on the United States from a certain vantage point, which I hadn’t enjoyed from inside the country and I’m curious for you, having lived outside of Russia now for more than 10 years, to what extent do you feel more Russian and to what extent do you look back and have a greater grasp on the Russian character than you would have when you were just growing up there?
Serafim: It definitely makes you feel more connected to your roots when you are away from it and especially when you’re recognizing some of these traits in other people who could be from the same culture as you are; when both of you are removed, it’s more pronounced. But I personally never felt very Russian just due to my own family history. We were raised with the idea that eventually we want to immigrate so if I ever have felt this, I try to either mask it or to not get too attached to this feeling. But it’s very interesting what you’re saying about the Americanism of both Caroline Spencer and Daisy Miller because, although Henry James is American of course—the books don’t read necessarily like American literature, they have this international feel. And yet both stories are about the Americanism of people whose very features are coming into the spotlight when they are not at home.