Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A with Mary Sharratt, Author of Ecstasy

Please join me in welcoming Mary Sharratt to Let Them Read Books! Mary is touring the blogosphere with her brand new historical novel about Alma Schindler, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about her leading lady! Read on to learn more about this fascinating woman!

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.





Hi Mary! Thank you so much for stopping by today!

How were you first introduced to Alma Schindler, and what inspired you to write about her?

I am a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan and Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with.

Did you learn anything in your research about Alma that surprised you?

Once I sat down and did the research on Alma, an entirely new picture of her emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

What was your biggest challenge in bringing Alma to life in your story?

Trying to capture Alma’s essence in one novel proved to be an extraordinary challenge. Originally, I wanted the novel to tell the story of her entire life, but it took me 400 pages just to try to do justice to her young adulthood and first marriage. Narrating the full sweep of Alma’s long and turbulent life would require a trilogy, at the very least. Who knows—maybe if Ecstasy is super-successful, my publisher might ask me to write a sequel or two!

What do you think it is about Alma that appeals to modern women?

Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to stop composing as a condition of their marriage. Deeply in love and in awe of his genius, she reluctantly agreed, even though this broke her heart. In this regard, her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of love? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of motherhood and domesticity?

What Alma’s story reveals is how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers. Why are female composers so sorely underrepresented, even in the twenty-first century? I am a classical music fan and attend concerts every chance I get. I’ve never seen a female composer on the repertoire of any major orchestra or venue I have visited. Nor have I ever seen a female conductor.

If you could sit down with Alma today, what would you ask her?

After a crisis in her marriage, Alma eventually did return to composing, this time with Gustav’s support. He helped her get her first collection of songs published. After his death, Alma published two more collections of her lieder, totalling fourteen songs in her lifetime. Three additional songs were discovered posthumously, two of which were published in 2000. Beyond these seventeen surviving lieder, nothing else remains or has been found.

We do know that, according to her early diaries, Alma composed or drafted more than a hundred songs, various instrumental pieces, and the beginning of an opera. These “lost” works may have been destroyed in World War II after Alma fled Austria and left most of her belongings behind, or she may have destroyed them herself. We will never know what posterity might have lost.

I would ask Alma what happened to all this lost music and why she didn’t share it with posterity. After all, she took Gustav Mahler’s scores with her when she escaped from Austria, but not her own. At the end of her life, how deeply did she regret this loss? And what was it like for her to see her daughter Anna succeed in becoming a respected and recognized sculptor with a vast body of work that was literally carved in stone?

What are you working on next?

My next book is a trip back to the late Middle Ages. Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelations is the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.

About the Author:

MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.

Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady’s Mask.

For more information, please visit Mary Sharratt’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Ecstasy is on a blog tour!


  1. What a fabulous interview, thank you Jenny & Mary!

    HF Virtual Book Tours

  2. Thanks so much for the interview, Jenny!

  3. I just got the ARC of this... Thanks!


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