RL. Meg never seems to realise the independence she longs for in those stories. Is this a pessimistic point of view?
MM. Well, no, I don’t think so. They were realistic in the sense that they drew on my own experiences at the time. I think it’s true that I wrote them, or one of them at least, partly as a way of hitting back at Wilson, but I was attempting to be truthful about what had happened, without trying to generalise from my own position. So realistic, and unromantic, yes, but not pessimistic.
RL. The one hope for many of your heroines seems to be their critical self-honesty. Does this conscience represent anything more than an individual solution to broader social problems?
MM. The self-honesty part's at the core of everything I’ve written! Can’t you tell? Far from being subjective, I think truth and honesty are principles to be defended in all aspects of life, political and personal. Take Solzhenitsyn - I have real doubts about some of his views, but I’ve nothing but admiration for his courage, standing up to the full force of the Soviet system. As for my characters, those early heroines are thoughtful, observant, doubting, never really inclined to delusion or fantasy. In many ways, with their cherished intellectual honour and curious consciences, they’re very conventional heroines.
RL. But for some of your characters, like Polly Grabbe in ‘The Cicerone’ and Lakey in ‘The Group’, wealth and privilege offer greater freedom and control. With these characters, were you pointing to class differences in the way women negotiate relationships with a male world?
MM. Well, I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms - but yes, this could well be the case. It’s pretty obvious that wealth, beauty and intelligence allow a character like Lakey the kind of independence denied to her college friends, though it’s difficult to think of Polly as representative of an alternative life-style for women - she was essentially a comic character whose reversal of roles was just as crude and spiteful as in some traditional relationships.