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Playing a role


Reproducing violence on the page
Philip Roth Writer
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There is some physical violence in my books, very little I think. There's... more frequently, there's verbal or rhetorical violence, when people take... take extreme positions with each other and are... and are angry and are flooded with anger and rage. I... I have always liked to have characters in... strong opposition with each other, whether that's because I'm interested in... in that or not, I don't know. I've been in opposition with some people in my life and mostly I haven't, you know. So it isn't as though it's a prevailing theme in my... in my life. But it excites my verbal energy when I'm writing. So anything that excites my verbal energy I will... I will grasp hold of and then the job is, okay, it just can't excite your verbal energy, because then it's just an exercise or it's fake, but make it real. So I try to make it real.

And in Everyman, for instance, the main character goes... takes his girlfriend off to Paris for a weekend – he's an advertising man, he has an excuse – while his wife is at home. His wife learns about this. When he comes home, she gives it to him. I remember I loved writing that... that page. I wanted to see what it was like and what you say when you find yourself in that position, that the wife did, who had trusted her husband. And it was great fun.

Now it doesn't read as comedy but I was learning what it's like... I was playing a part, I was playing a role. And that happens over and over again.

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: Everyman

Duration: 3 minutes, 8 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013