Rachel Vorona Cote: How Much is Too Much in Writing?
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review
This week on The Maris Review, Rachel Vorona Cote joins Maris Kreizman for a special live interview at the Strand Bookstore to discuss her new book, Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today, out now from Grand Central.
How much do you give of yourself in nonfiction:
Maris Kreizman: How did you decide how much was too much of yourself to give away?
Rachel Vorona Cote: I didn’t want it to be a memoir. That I was pretty certain about. But I also knew that this topic was so personal to me, that I was so invested in it that it would be probably—impossible or maybe even disingenuous—to keep myself out of it. So then the question became what anecdotes, what stories, and what parts of myself could I include that were in service of a larger argument? I wanted to be really rigorous about that. This is something that I’m really kind of trying to put into practice when I write whatever I’m writing, whether it’s an essay or whether it’s a book. I think memoir and personal testimony is really, really important, but that’s one kind of project. At least for what I’m doing with this book, I was more interested in using myself as a case study.
On literature as a coping mechanism:
Maris Kreizman: Tell me about writing about literature as a coping mechanism.
Rachel Vorona Cote: Because I am very emotional, and I have a very hard time getting a handle on it, often what I’ll turn to is the exercises of intellectualizing. If I can intellectualize this, then maybe I feel as if I’m controlling it somehow. It’s all a delusion because I’m not controlling anything. But I think that’s what it’s about for me, that when I write about literature I’m often writing about something that’s resonant in a way, but I’m stepping away from myself, which can often be a relief, and I am indulging in rigorous, academic practice in order to try and get away from my feelings a little bit.
On how to connect the past with what’s going on now:
Rachel Vorona Cote: When one spends a fair amount of time reading, eventually connections are going to arise. But I guess once you have a sense of certain trends, certain tropes, and certain themes that tend to be revisited over and over, you start to see the way they’ve traveled over the course of a century or two. All of a sudden, you look at Ramona Quimby and you think about the way she would demand to be loved and you think about little Jane Eyre getting, in that very satisfying moment where she just tells her aunt you’re a monster because, you know, I’m just like this little orphan… What was that John Mulaney quote? “I am very small and I have no money, so you can imagine the kind of stress that I am under.” Like that’s more or less Jane saying, Oh, thank you. You hate me and you make my life miserable.
Rachel Vorona Cote publishes frequently in such outlets as the New Republic, Longreads, Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, and Literary Hub. She was previously a contributing writer at Jezebel. Rachel was ABD in a doctoral program in English at the University of Maryland, studying and teaching the literature of the Victorian period. Her debut collection is called Too Much: How Victorian Constraints Still Bind Women Today.