Isabel Allende’s literary work has been always a place to denounce and fight against injustice. This fact has been demonstrated, once more, in her recent novel Violeta. Isabel Allende told us—at the international press conference with presence across Europe, Latin America and US (Spain, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina USA, Colombia, Mexico and Peru) in front of 129 media representatives— that she began to write Violeta in January 2020, just before COVID-19. From her view, starting just before the pandemic crisis was the perfect time frame, and consequently, she found herself able to link this current pandemic to the Spanish influenza of 1918. During the press conference she also confessed that her mother was an inspiration to her and her memories helped her to build the main character of her novel, Violeta.
Isabel used to exchanged letters with her mother every day, but although her mother was daring, beautiful and sometimes ironic, unlike Violeta, she was not actually an independent woman. ‘There is no feminism’, she claims, ‘without economic independence’. In this sense, Violeta has a vision of the future along with independence and love which are her roadmaps; and that’s likely the reason behind her success.
The novel is impregnated with personal experiences of Isabel herself, and the character of Miss Taylor was born from a tutor that her mother had, like Teresa Rivas, inspired by a family friend who lived with another woman, ‘nobody thought they were lesbians because at that time’—she denounces again—’women were thought to be less sexual and promiscuous than men’. Nobody talked about it and silence functioned as an stigma.
The novel’s development was build spontaneously, in the same way as The House of the Spirits, and practically, it wrote itself, without annotations, without a map. Allende affirms that she is an spontaneous writer who lets herself be carried away by the story, by the characters, by her emotions; she doesn’t know what is going to happen next, but she trusts, after forty years of writing, that the story, the plot, will come to pass. As in every book, there are always crossroads where the writer has to make decisions and be consistent with them, but the universe or life will eventually collude to send you exactly what the story needs. Starting a book is like entering into a dark place with a candle. Step by step the corners become illuminated and the story, the characters, the plot at some point show up. Isabel explains that she lets the novel unfold organically without having a prior plan. The moment she enjoys the most about this process is when she feels her characters are running away from her and they want to fly alone; from Isabel’s perspective, if that doesn’t happen, it means that the novel hasn’t taken off and it’s not ready yet. Following her, the novel takes off when unexpected events take place.
Allende, a committed supporter of feminism since the 1980s—having her own foundation—, creates strong characters who empower themselves and fight tooth and nail for their freedom and independence. That is how Violeta, the protagonist, acts through her life’s journey as well. Violeta is as strong as Allende herself.
During the conference, Isabel was also asked about her views in relation to women’s situation today and how to inspire new generations, ‘much progress has been made on this side of the world about women’s situation’, she answers, ‘but we cannot speak globally. There are still eight-year-old girls who are married to forty-five-year-old men in arranged marriages, subjected to domestic violence, being beaten or suffering, girls and women who are “cannon fodder” in wars, in occupation, in refugee camps, brothels, in economic crises. Still there is much work to do.’, and she then concludes, ‘Alone we are very vulnerable, together we are invincible’.
Isabel is not afraid of exposure, but her mother used to warn her, ‘don’t tell everything, keep something for yourself.’ However, Isabel believes, after exposing herself in many book, that one is only vulnerable if we keep secrets, not if we tell them. Secrets are the real danger and not the humanity that its confession entails.
Allende told La Ninfa Eco during the press conference that she wouldn’t have been a writer if she hadn’t suffered exile and she likely wouldn’t become a journalist—a profession that she loves because it brought her closer to people while placed her in the world. Becoming a writer was the only way she found to keep denouncing, to return to a solid ground and to be able to look around her. For her, a real home is where her family is, but she carries Chile under her skin—an ‘invented’ Chile, because it does not represent the actual Chile. Isabel told us that she feels like a foreigner as she does not identifies with the current home country which does not match what she has experienced in her childhood.
Isabel lives in the nostalgia of a Chile that she no longer finds but she tries to rescue it in her novels. She never mentions a specific place in them, as she does in Violeta, in order to avoid being objective with history and to enable it to be a place anywhere.
Isabel Allende told us that she is keeping another novel in her drawer, and that she lives happily with her husband and their two dogs in a small house in California because ‘when you get old, you want to simplify things.’ On her bedside table rests The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason.
Finally, she confessed being a hopeless romantic. Love is the engine of life, of her novels, of her world, of her beloved Chile. Without love, there is no life. Without love, Violeta wouldn’t exist.