People have the ability to inspire us from beyond the grave, behind the bars of a prison cell, and from far-flung places across the world. We love it when we can talk to inspirational figures face to face (…or face to Zoom), but it’s not always possible.
From a female pirate to a political revolutionary, a government captive to alcoholic writers, here are the people we’d love to interview if we had the chance!
Woolf was a 20th century English writer who was a pioneer in the modernist movement and whose works later became a feminist icon. Firstly, it would be interesting to hear how she developed her feminist and pacifist views in a time when those views were uncommon. It would also be interesting to see how Woolf would respond to the idea of intersectionality, especially considering the amount of classism and racism expressed in her private (and in some cases, not so private) writings.
I would like to interview Cornelia Sorabji, the first woman to study my subject (Law) at Oxford and the first woman to practice law in India. Her activism was integral to opening up the legal profession to women in India and in other areas in the world. I would love to know how she approached her many challenges – what was her first port of call when she was denied access, yet again, to an opportunity due to her gender? It would be fascinating to understand her thought process and how she persevered through the seemingly unending obstacles in her career.
Interviewing Mary Read would be epic. She was one of the only women convicted of piracy during the Golden Age. Read spent most of her life masquerading as a man (at first to impersonate her deceased half-brother to gain his inheritance money, and then to join the military, and finally to join Jack Rackham’s pirate crew). I would love to ask her how she concealed her sex for so long in both the military and on Rackham’s ship, and how the experience has changed how she views the world around her.
I was born and raised in Barbados and, as the first Prime Minister of Barbados, Errol Barrow is a name I can’t remember not knowing. Barrow lived a fascinating life, from flying Douglas Bostons for the RAF in World War II to establishing the Democratic Labour Party in Barbados, going on to be elected Premier of Barbados and, after securing independence from Britain in 1966, becoming the country’s first Prime Minister. Barrow was a fierce politician and staunchly anti-colonialist. He was only 67 when he died in 1987. I wonder what he would say about recent public discourse.
Maud Gonne MacBride was an Irish republican revolutionary and suffragette. Irish women were greatly politically involved in the first half of the 20th century, with men and women being declared equal and given equal political franchise in the Proclamation of the Republic in 1916, years before their English counterparts would be. Maud Gonne worked with other women of the Cumman na mBan, the female counterpart to the Irish Volunteers. These women provided a vital communication network but also supplied weapons and even fought themselves. As a highly politically involved woman in Ireland in the first half of the 20th Century, Maud Gonne could tell some stories from a perspective that is rarely heard in modern history.
Publius Vergilius Maro.
As a Classicist who has studied Vergil for the past two years, I’d love to pick his brains. How did he really feel about Augustus? Is he miffed that the Aeneid was published against his explicit instruction or flattered it has been read and studied for two millennia? Should we interpret his presentation of Dido as feminist? On I could go. Admittedly, it might turn into more of an interrogation than an interview but, if time travel were possible, a chat with Vergil over some vinum would be top of my list.
The imprisonment of Assange was a terrible blow to transparency and political freedom – I wish that people paid more attention to him and his work on WikiLeaks. We live in a world in which spying and mass secrecy are the norm, and yet governments perform a masquerade of accountability through the façade of democracy. WikiLeaks has proved fertile ground for scandal, something that mainstream media is perhaps too good at creating, but whistleblowing is a genuinely valuable political service. We cannot live in a free and open society unless injustice sees the light of day. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and we need a lot more of it!
Slavoj is a Slovenian philosopher-cum YouTube sensation that has wormed his way into the public conscience through his faux impoliteness, pop culture references, and compulsive habits. I was completely uninterested in philosophy and political theory until I started encountering him a few years ago, and it has landed me in a philosophy and politics degree. His oeuvre is an esoteric synthesis of Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegelianism, the gaps patched up through his own brilliance and Marxist theory.
The simplicity with which Hemingway writes has made many a holiday for me. There is something to be said for a story you can pick up unthinkingly and read lying in the sun without poring over details. In such a scenario, Hemingway is ideal. Often setting his plotlines in romanticised locations, like interwar Paris or the Caribbean, he tells tales of drinkers and debauchery upon a tacit background of intellectual culture. Hemingway developed his style during an era of experimentalism in writing, but there is a reason that his has become immensely popular in contrast to the countless other techniques that fell by the wayside. He invests his narratives with a deeply personal touch, that attenuates the hyper-masculine tropes of warfare and extreme sports that superficially often seem the topics of his work. It would be great to sink a couple of pints with him and get to know the troubled but brilliant man a little better.