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This interview is taken from PN Review 141, Volume 28 Number 1, September - October 2001.

in conversation with Mary-Kay Wilmers Heather Watson

Thursday 1 March 2001

HEATHER WATSON: I'd like to start off with your early development. You have roots in several places: you were born in the United States, but also went to various schools on the Continent before coming to boarding school in Bristol and then going to Oxford. Given the circumstances, I suppose you'd view culture not as something taken for granted?

MARY-KAY WILMERS: That's probably right. I've always had a tendency to look at the menu and feel rather lost. My parents' roots were European (or if you prefer Jewish) and they were both very cosmopolitan in their attitudes as well as multilingual. But my father's family, though they'd come from Germany, were very English in their ways and I found that quite seductive. I'd had an unsettled childhood for family reasons as well as geographically and being English seemed to offer some sort of haven. It ruled out trying too hard and allowed you to be a bit removed from things.

Could you tell me about your literary and intellectual formation?

For many years - and despite what I've just said - I was happier speaking French than English and I've always felt out of step with the English tradition of 'appreciation'. The conviction I acquired early on that I was morally in the wrong for not feeling strongly enough about Shakespeare or Keats has never really gone away. When I still lived on ...


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