Find out some of the stories behind Lilli de Jong: the birth of the novel, what got left out, some things the author cares deeply about, and more.
Publishers Weekly, Mothers from the Past: PW Talks with Janet Benton
March 24, 2017, by Victoria Sandbrook Flynn
You wrote the book when you yourself had a small child. What was most notable about starting the book at that point in your life? What advice would you share with fellow moms pursuing their own creative passions?
I’m glad you say “starting the book,” because I did accomplish that as a new mother. But my time apart from mothering and sleeping was needed for paying work, so I wrote only a pile of scraps and research notes. Later, I traded pages with other writers; those deadlines made me do it! My advice to creative people is to choose a project that moves you deeply. In spite of the many real barriers, do it anyway, in tiny amounts, until more becomes possible. Believe in the power of what you care about. Your knowledge and your work matter.
F(r)iction, An Interview with Janet Benton
May 16, 2017, by Dani Hedlund
I always like to begin with the single most clichéd question, which is, What was the origin of Lilli de Jong? Where did the idea come to life?
There were three major influences that let this idea come to me. One was having an infant. . . . the biological wallop you get when you have an infant was so powerful. And at that time . . . my husband gave me a copy of the New Yorker in which there was a review of scholarship on the history of the European family. The reviewer, Joan Acocella, smartly summarized a lot of material, including things that I hadn’t thought about quite so deeply before, such as, What is the cost to an infant when it is separated from its mother due to prejudice? Often, the cost was death. As I had an infant nursing at me at the time, it hit me deeply that society interferes so fatally in that relationship, and the idea that a woman would be forced to give up her infant, who, at that time, had no safe alternative to a woman’s milk, affected me deeply.
BookPage, A tale of motherhood set on the brink of modernity
May 16, 2017, by Lauren Bufferd
I read Lilli de Jong the week my oldest turned 21 and was reminded of the tremendously physical work of nursing and caring for an infant. Some things really haven’t changed much. How did your own experience as a mother inform the novel?
I drew on my experience a lot for these aspects of the novel. Like Lilli, I nursed my daughter most of the day and night at first, and I barely slept. Like Charlotte, my daughter was highly alert at birth and developed quickly. I wrote in a diary about my daughter and used bits from that to describe Charlotte. Like Charlotte, my daughter smiled at first feeling the wind. I adored the dearness of her face as she nursed. She was and is unutterably dear to me. But the big picture was wholly different. I was and am married, my baby was not going hungry, I didn’t grow up as Lilli did, my mother is alive and well, and so on. I’m glad you were reminded of the physical work of mothering. I aimed for readers to feel those things up close.
PhillyVoice, Philly author's 'Lilli de Jong' is a new feminist classic
May 16, 2017, by Elizabeth Licorish
How did you research the fictionalized Philadelphia Haven for Women and Infants? How did it affect you emotionally to learn of these women’s struggles?
I went to the Pennsylvania Hospital’s archive, which holds many valuable records of the State Hospital for Women and Infants, the institution on which the Haven is based. I was deeply moved to read writings by the founders of this institution about the condition of the girls and young women who sought admission and protection there, as well as about the extreme difficulties they had getting donations to keep the place running. They wrote that even murderers “with malice aforethought” were shown more pity and assistance than young girls who may have been raped or at worst were naïve enough to fail to understand that they could become pregnant and betrayed.