LIANE HANSEN, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
In 1996, Carol Gilligan was named one of Time magazine's 25 most influential Americans. Her pioneering work in gender studies and psychology changed the way society views women. After her revolutionary book "In a Different Voice" was published in 1982, women finally began to be included in research studies in education and medicine among other disciplines. Gilligan became the first chair of Harvard University's Gender Studies Program. She's currently a professor at New York University and she's written her first novel, "Kyra," which will be publish this Tuesday.
Carol Gilligan is in our New York bureau. Welcome.
Dr. CAROL GILLIGAN (Psychology, New York University; Author, "Kyra"): Thank you, Liane.
HANSEN: Give us a brief thumbnail biography. Who's Kyra?
Dr. GILLIGAN: Kyra is an architect. She's an urban designer. She's a woman who grow up in Cyprus and she's - at the time the novel opens, she's living in Cambridge in Boston and she has this opportunity to design a new city on one of the islands off the coast of Massachusetts.
HANSEN: There is another character that plays an important part in the plot - Andreas. Who is he?
Dr. GILLIGAN: Andreas is a theater director, an opera director who does these very inventive productions of operas, and he also has come out of Europe. And both these people are embarked in trying to make changes in the world. They are creative, artistic people and neither intends to fall in love. So that's where the novel starts, is when they meet each other.
HANSEN: And fall in love.
Dr. GILLIGAN: And fall in love, yes.
HANSEN: And leave.
Dr. GILLIGAN: Yes. Well, they fall in love with each other, which is such a huge risk for both of them because they've both come out of a history, where his wife has disappeared in Budapest, she was presumably arrested and killed, and her husband had been shot. So for the two of them, to fall in love in again is - it's a huge risk for them. And at a certain point, Andreas abruptly leaves and goes back to Budapest and then Kyra is left with the question: was it real, what happened between them?
HANSEN: What was the inspiration for your plot?
Dr. GILLIGAN: I was reading the New York Times book review one Sunday and a review of a new translation of Virgil's "Aeneid." And the reviewer singled out this passage in the underworld, where Aeneas goes in search of his father and comes upon Dido. And he says to her I could not believe I would hurt you so terribly by going. And I thought how come he didn't know that? How could such a sensitive, intelligent man not know the effects of his action on someone he loved, and then, for the woman involved how crazy-making that kind of experience is when what she's experienced, what she's known in her body is suddenly called into question.
Was it true? Was it real? I thought how would this play out in a contemporary situation, because, you know, I knew from - when I started that Kyra was not going to kill herself. I mean, she wasn't going to do what Virgil's Dido does. And being a modern woman, I thought, she's going to end up in therapy, you know?
HANSEN: With Kyra and Andreas both being affected by, in Andreas' case, the disappearance of his wife during the Hungarian protests while the Soviets were still in Hungary. And for Kyra to lose her husband it was during the conflicts in Cyprus, and her husband was shot by her half brother. So both of them have lost a spouse - two difficult and dramatic circumstances. So in some respects they're both on the same place and they're both afraid of getting involved in a relationship because they were afraid about how it's going to end. Was the idea, to a certain extent - by putting them both in the same place to explore how a man and how a woman would react differently to that situation?
Dr. GILLIGAN: Oh, if I took out the word differently it would be exactly it. I was interested in how a man and a woman - how do these two people would respond to being, in some sense, captive of that kind of terrible past and so many people's lives in this time have been shattered by similar kinds of losses and violence. And how do they go on from that point and take the risk of loving again and learn to trust? Those were the question. How do you get out of that kind of old story? That's the question that interested me.
HANSEN: A lot of opera occurs, mainly because Andreas is conductor and he works with the opera. And he Kyra play this little game where they go to some of the main plots of, you know, both Shakespeare and opera and they play this what-if game, you know?
Dr. GILLIGAN: Oh, right, the game of change the ending.
HANSEN: Change the ending. That somehow works into their own relationship. They don't see it but it sort of, what would happen if?
Dr. GILLIGAN: Do you want to know what are the oddest things - it's that when I wrote that, I had no idea of how in a way it's a little microcosm of the whole novel. And it's only recently that I thought, yeah, that's exactly what they're trying to do. You know, they've come out of this terrible history and they don't want to repeat it but that means you have to find the place where you can move in a different direction, and that's really what they struggle with with one another, and it's also what they're both doing in their work.
HANSEN: You've made it clear that this is - book was written by the fiction writer Carol Gilligan, not the academic Carol Gilligan. But I wonder how do you think the academic Carol Gilligan…
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: …would react to what this fiction writer Carol Gilligan has done?
Dr. GALLIGAN: I would think the academic Carol Gilligan would be delighted by this. I mean, first of all, she'd be delighted that the fiction writer took the risk. And the characters in the novel would interest her. I think she'd go, hmm, you know?
HANSEN: Hmm, just hmm.
Dr. GALLIGAN: This is where the two starts to coalesce in this division, because the questions that interests me about people's lives and the risks people take and don't take and what enables people to, you know, do the things that they love and that kind of boldness that's in both Kyra and Andreas, and also the fear and the conflict.
She would appreciate the freedom of the novel. I mean, the fact that you can use metaphors to capture, you know, emotions that are so complicated and layered. I don't feel an internal division in myself between these two parts of myself. I've really enjoyed doing both kinds of writing.
HANSEN: Carol Gilligan. Her first novel "Kyra" is published by Random House on Tuesday, January 15th. She joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much, Carol.
Dr. GILLIGAN: Thank you, Liane. It's just been a pleasure.