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Being bold about sex


Writing about sex in American Pastoral
Philip Roth Writer
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Well, I'm interested in writing about sex because sex... sex looms so large in people's lives.  And at... at a certain point in their lives, not all the time.  But during... during one lifetime there are intense sexual experiences, more or less. And that's why I guess it showed up in... in Sabbath's Theater and in... to a minor degree really... in American Pastoral. In American Pastoral I... I have a few pages in which I talk about the... the sex life of the main character, Swede Levov, and his wife, Dawn. I didn't have that in the book when I finished the... the first or second or third draft of it. I remember I gave the... that final draft to my friend, Judith Thurman, to... to read. And after she read it, she said, 'What is sex like between them?'  I said, 'I didn't think it was necessary'.  She said, 'It is'.  She was right. So after speaking to her, I went home and asked what is sex like between them and then I thought, well, look, the cliché would be that because he's so proper a person, that it would be quiet and over the period... over a long period of time, inconsequential. So I said, then do the opposite, do the opposite. Make these... make this couple an unlikely passionate married couple. So I wrote those few pages, I think they're okay. 

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Sabbath's Theater, American Pastoral, Swede Levov, Dawn Levov, Judith Thurman

Duration: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013