As the family secrets of Middlesex unfold, you get to know Cal and her family on a very intimate level. Now, it's time to get to know the man behind Middlesex a little better. Drop in for a conversation with Jeffrey Eugenides!
How did you come up with the idea for Middlesex? What kind of research did you have to do?
It's difficult to pinpoint the moment when Middlesex took root in my imagination. As far back as 1976, in a high school Latin class, I was introduced to the figure of Tiresias, who'd lived as both a male and a female. We were reading Ovid's Metamorphoses and we came to the part where Zeus and his wife, Hera, have an argument as to which sex has a better time in bed. Zeus, somewhat surprisingly, says that women enjoy themselves more. Hera claims men do. To adjudicate this matter, they ask Tiresias, who replies: "If the pleasures of love be as ten, then three times three belongs to woman. The rest belongs to man."
This was important information for a 15-year-old boy. (I knew, then and there, not to expect much in life. "Might as well become a writer," I thought to myself.)
I also remember being struck by the marvelous utility of this figure, Tiresias. Here was a guy who knew what it was like to be a woman. How amazing! And how useful, from a literary standpoint. If the novelist's job is to go into the minds of both women and men, if we value most of all the writers who are best able to do this (namely, Shakespeare and Tolstoy ), then telling a story from the point of view of Tiresias (or someone like him) might gain the writer a measure of that longed-for omniscience.
All this is the soil from which Middlesex would one day grow.
A Conversation with Jeffrey Eugenides continues...