Valerie Martin is the author of three collections of short fiction, most recently The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories, and eight novels, including Trespass; Italian Fever; The Great Divorce; Mary Reilly, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story told from the viewpoint of a housemaid, which was filmed with Julia Roberts and John Malkovich; and the Orange Prize–winning Property. She is also the author of a nonfiction work about St. Francis of Assisi: Salvation: Scenes from the Life of St. Francis. She resides in upstate New York.
Question: Is love necessarily territorial?
Valerie Martin: I think it can not be territorial, but it takes a long time. Yeah that’s a really interesting question because I think something like a marriage can start out as a very . . . a situation in which two people hardly know each other, and they are naturally going to be a bit territorial.
I have a young woman friend who has difficulty in relationships because she really cannot stand to have anybody put anything in her refrigerator or move anything in her refrigerator. So that’s a really open, overt territoriality.
But I think most people have these little limits around them and when you fall in love, you’re willing to break those down a bit. It depends on how far you’re willing to go.
Bad things can happen when one side of the relationship is more territorial than the other; and the other is very willing to give everything up, and the other is very willing to take everything. Well you can wind up with some quite uneven and unhappy situations.
But I do think it is possible for people to become so committed to one another’s prospering and to one another’s flowering that they can get past this.
The Italian way of saying “I love you” is not “I need you” or “I want you”. It is, “I wish you well.” It’s a surprising thing to say. If you say it to somebody; it’s a very intimate thing to say. You would not say it to a relative. We would only say it to a lover. “I wish you well.” And I really like that notion that that’s what love is.
Valerie Martin: I don’t think it happens as often as we might think. I think longstanding relationships can have this element, but sometimes the relationships can have really bad periods.
Let’s think about the Clintons. Have they arrived there yet? They have certainly been through the back and forth of it. I don’t want to judge their relationship; wouldn’t want to be in it.
But a relationship of longstanding that’s been tested and tested and yet endures has got something in it, I think. It may be pathology, but it could be something worth having.
February 11, 2008