The Literary questionnaire of
Rebecca Marder, pensionnaire at the Comédie-Française and friend of the House, reveals her favourite readings.
Does your lifestyle allow you to read as much as you’d like to?
Yes, and I’m really lucky because reading has always been a passion of mine. Depending on what’s happening, I’m more or less always reading. I have to read, because of my job (especially in the theatre) a lot of plays, novels, sometimes biographies, historical books or essays to prepare for certain roles, in addition to what I read for my own pleasure. It's a rare and unique joy working at the Comédie-Française to be able to immerse oneself in the great texts. To be constantly learning.
Is there a particular book that has affected how you lead your life?
I don't know, but there are two books that have always accompanied me because I’ve reread them at different ages Childhood by Nathalie Sarraute and The Buried Candelabrum by Stefan Zweig. My favourite book is Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.
What is the most liberating book you have read?
I’ve just read Vivre avec nos morts by Delphine Horvilleur and that book really moved me. It’s a liberating book because it reminds us and helps us to accept that death is just a part of life. A treatise of peace and consolation. I have boundless admiration for this intelligent, wise woman who knows how to give meaning to life.
'It's a rare and unique joy working at the Comédie-Française to be able to immerse oneself in the great texts. To be constantly learning.'
What is the most harrowing book you have ever read?
The scene of the horse’s death in Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, I found that a harrowing read but it’s one of the most beautiful books ever. A hard read is also a good read for me, because it's incredible that the act of reading can provoke such strong sensations. This is one of the qualities and joys of reading.
Which fictional heroine would you like to be?
It's hard to choose just one heroine. I'd like to be able to steal the characteristics and stories of many heroines, with the privilege of being able to choose whether or not to go through what they go through: Russians, Balzacians, contemporaries, addicted lovers or adventurers from another century. I might be André Breton's Nadja so I could walk around and let life flow, “Nadja, because in Russian it's the beginning of the word hope, and because it's only the beginning”.
'A hard read is also a good read for me, because it's incredible that the act of reading can provoke such strong sensations.'
What is the best place to read?
There isn't an ideal place. That's the beauty of books (well, except for dictionaries or big books that are difficult to carry). I like to read in bed, but it puts some people to sleep. In the subway or on the train, it's ideal. Or in my dressing room when I'm waiting to go on stage.
Are you more a romance novel or an adventure novel?
I’m more a romance novel than an adventure novel. The adventures of love interest me a thousand times more.
Do you prefer long novels or short stories?
It depends on the novel or the story. And once again, it depends on the time I take to read. I like to immerse myself in long novels (Her Lover by Albert Cohen, Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry) but I also like a quick escape and reading a novella or a short story (The Nose or Dead Souls by Gogol, The Man Who Planted Trees by Giono).
Which book would you like to see adapted to film?
I would love to see my favourite book The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, the only novel by this great poet with a tragic destiny, adapted for the cinema. Two years ago, I managed to read extracts from it at the Comédie-Française, accompanied by my father who played the double bass and as I read he punctuated the frightening stages of the heroine's descent into solitude at the hospital with his notes. And Simone de Beauvoir's The Woman Destroyed. Strong stories of women where as a reader we completely enter into the brain and the thoughts of the narrator thanks to the sublime writing and magical narration.
The title of a book you always offer as a gift?
Our Need for Consolation is Insatiable by Stig Dagerman.
Nathalie Sarraute, Childhood, translated by Barbara Wright. © 1983 Barbara Wright. Published by The University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Stefan Zweig, The Buried Candelabrum, © Phaidon Press Ltd, 1944.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, © Estate of Sylvia Plath, Faber & Faber Ltd., 1963.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. Copyright © 1971 by Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Copyright renewed © 1998 by Frieda Hughes and Nicholas Hughes. HarperCollins Publishers.
Delphine Horvilleur, Vivre avec nos morts, © Éditions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2021.
CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, translation copyright © 1992 by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. Published by Alfred A. Knopf.
André Breton, Nadja, Translated by Richard Howard, © Grove Press, 1994.
Albert Cohen, Her Lover, Translated by David Coward, © Penguin Classics, 2005.
Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. Copyright © 1947 by Malcolm Lowry. Copyright renewed © 1975 by Margerie Lowry. HarperCollins Publishers.
Nikolai Gogol, The Nose, Translated by Ronald Wilks, © Penguin Classics, 2015.
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls, Translated by Robert Maguire, © Penguin Classics, 2004.
Jean Giono, The Man Who Planted Trees. Story originally published in Vogue under the title “The Man Who Planted Trees and Grew Happiness.” Copyright 1954 (renewed 1982) by Conde Nast Publications, Inc. © Copyright 1985, 2005 by Chelsea Green Publishing Company.
THE WOMAN DESTROYED by Simone de Beauvoir, translated by Patrick O'Brian, translation copyright © 1969 by Collins Publishers, and G.P. Putnam's Sons. Published by Pantheon Books.
Stig Dagerman, Our Need for Consolation Is Insatiable, Translated by Steven Hartman, © Little Star, 2014.