Excerpt from Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Elizabeth Costello

by J M Coetzee

Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee X
Elizabeth Costello by J M Coetzee
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2003, 240 pages
    Oct 2004, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

'Is that what you are doing in your books, would you say: making up Australia?'

'Yes, I suppose so. But that is not so easy nowadays. There is more resistance, a weight of Australias made up by many other people, that you have to push against. That is what we mean by tradition, the beginnings of a tradition.'

'I'd like to get on to The House on Eccles Street, which is the book you are best known for in this country, a path-breaking book, and the figure of Molly Bloom. Critics have concentrated on the way you have claimed or reclaimed Molly from Joyce, made her your own. I wonder if you would comment on your intentions in this book, particularly in challenging Joyce, one of the father figures of modern literature, on his own territory

Another clear opening, and this time she takes it.

'Yes, she is an engaging person, isn't she, Molly Bloom - Joyce's Molly, I mean. She leaves her trace across the pages of Ulysses as a bitch on heat leaves her smell. Seductive you can't call it: it is cruder than that. Men pick up the scent and sniff and circle around and snarl at each other, even when Molly isn't on the scene.

'No, I don't see myself as challenging Joyce. But certain books are so prodigally inventive that there is plenty of material left over at the end, material that almost invites you to take it over and use it to build something of your own.'

'But, Elizabeth Costello, you have taken Molly out of the house - if I can continue with your metaphor - taken her out of the house on Eccles Street where her husband and her lover and in a certain sense her author have confined her, where they have turned her into a kind of queen bee, unable to fly, you have taken her and turned her loose on the streets of Dublin. Wouldn't you see that as a challenge to Joyce on your part, a response?'

'Queen bee, bitch…Let's revise the figure and call her a lioness, rather, stalking the streets, smelling the smells, seeing the sights. Looking for prey, even. Yes, I wanted to liberate her from that house, and particularly from that bedroom, with the bed with the creaking springs, and turn her loose - as you say - on Dublin.'

'If you see Molly - Joyce's Molly - as a prisoner in the house on Eccles Street, do you see women in general as prisoners of marriage and domesticity?'

'You can't mean women today. But yes, to an extent Molly is a prisoner of marriage, the kind of marriage that was on offer in Ireland in 1904. Her husband Leopold is a prisoner too. If she is shut into the conjugal home, he is shut out. So we have Odysseus trying to get in and Penelope trying to get out. That is the comedy, the comic myth, which Joyce and I in our different ways were paying our respects to.'

Because both women are wearing headphones, addressing the microphone rather than each other, it is hard for him to see how they are getting on together. But he is impressed, as ever, by the persona his mother manages to project: of genial common sense, lack of malice, yet of sharp-wittedness too.

'I want to tell you,' the interviewer continues (a cool voice, he thinks: a cool woman, capable, not a lightweight at all), 'what an impact The House on Eccles Street made on me when I first read it in the 1970s. I was a student, I had studied Joyce's book, I had absorbed the famous Molly Bloom chapter and the critical orthodoxy that came with it, namely that here Joyce had released the authentic voice of the feminine, the sensual reality of woman, and so forth. And then I read your book and realised that Molly didn't have to be limited in the way Joyce had made her to be, that she could equally well be an intelligent woman with an interest in music and a circle of friends of her own and a daughter with whom she shared confidences - it was a revelation, as I say. And I began to wonder about other women whom we think of as having been given a voice by male writers, in the name of their liberation, yet in the end only to further and to serve a male philosophy. I am thinking of D. H. Lawrence's women in particular, but if you go further back they might include Tess of the D' Urbervilles and Anna Karenina, to name only two. It is a huge question, but I wonder if you have anything to say about it - not just about Marion Bloom and the others but about the project of reclaiming women's lives in general.'

From Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee. Copyright J.M. Coetzee 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Ensemble
    The Ensemble
    by Aja Gabel
    In May 1994, the members of the Van Ness String Quartet are completing their final graduate recital ...
  • Book Jacket: The Electric Woman
    The Electric Woman
    by Tessa Fontaine
    In 2010, author Tessa Fontaine's mother had a near-fatal hemorrhagic stroke, leaving her with a...
  • Book Jacket: The Female Persuasion
    The Female Persuasion
    by Meg Wolitzer
    A college freshman struggling for identity. A 1960s feminist icon attempting to maintain her ...
  • Book Jacket: A Lucky Man
    A Lucky Man
    by Jamel Brinkley
    If his debut collection of short stories, A Lucky Man is any indicator, Jamel Brinkley is poised on ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Harbor of Spies by Robin Lloyd

A captivating thriller-at-sea set in Spanish colonial Havana in the 1860s.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Anatomy of a Miracle
    by Jonathan Miles

    A stunning novel that offers an exploration of faith, science and the meaning of life.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Comedown

The Comedown by Rebekah Frumkin

A blistering dark comedy that explores delineating lines of race, class, religion, and time.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Wouldn't T H W A T-F P

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.