Recently, I had the pleasure of exchanging emails with Serendipitious, a long-time reader. She asked if she could interview me and we agreed that we'd post our exchange in a series here on my website. What follows are Serendipitous's questions in bold and my answers in italics.
Gabriel Emerson is a complicated man: brilliant, demanding, tightly controlled, and secretive. I’m curious about the changes we see in him during the course of the story. Was he truly transformed by his journey? Or did it reawaken an essential goodness that had been subsumed by the dark parts of his life?
I think it was a little of both. On the one hand, he wanted something more and better out of his life. On the other, he needed motivation and a goal to help him change. The loss of Grace, although it happens off stage, affects several of the characters. Her death reminds Gabriel of his own mortality.
I think Grace’s memory also moved him to be kinder to Julia, even before he realized who Julia is. Glimpses of Gabriel’s inner qualities – generosity, the desire to share knowledge and inspire students, even tenderness – allow the reader to see he isn’t as corrosive as he appears at first glance. Is Gabriel’s arrogant behavior also a defense mechanism? Perhaps he’s protecting himself from being vulnerable.
Gabriel’s arrogance could be a defense mechanism, but it’s also related to his pride. He’s accomplished a lot in his short life and he’s proud of himself. When he believes he isn’t being given the honour that should be due to him, he lets people know it.
Julia undoes Gabriel at almost every turn, starting with that first day in his seminar. In response, he treats her in a condescending manner and explicitly provokes her. Maybe it’s because he’s unaccustomed to falling in love and he can’t abide the loss of control. I’ve also wondered if he made a choice, in line with his own moral code, to alienate her so he doesn’t corrupt her. Your thoughts?
Gabriel's deepest flaws are his arrogance and pride. "Gabriel's Inferno" begins with him asking Julia a question and because she’s so wrapped up in taking notes, she doesn’t hear it. He thinks she’s ignoring him and immediately takes offense. So his first impression of her is that she doesn’t take him seriously, and that pricks his pride. A comedy of errors occurs with the note she left him and of course, he becomes even more enraged. This sets the stage for their future interactions.
It seems that wounded pride would be a big issue for Gabriel – and it would make him rather prickly. Does this keep him from acknowledging his growing affection for Julia? He sends her mixed messages in the earlier chapters.
I think that’s correct – his pride is wounded and he’s also cognizant of his own failures. He doesn’t think he’s deserving of happiness, for example...
I'd like to thank Serendipitous for interviewing me and for agreeing to share our conversation with you. I'll be posting more questions and answers in the days to come.
All the best and thanks for reading,