Here’s the second part of the Black Roses Blog Tour here on Adventures With Words, to celebrate the fact that Jane Thynne’s insightful and unusual novel is now out in paperback.
We were really pleased to have the opportunity to put a few questions to Jane about her choice to set the story in Berlin in the years leading up to World War Two, her characters Clara and Leo and why she decided to focus on the women behind the big names of the Third Reich.
AWW: Black Roses gives the reader an insight into a rarely-discussed side of the Nazi regime. What attracted you to the story of the National Socialist obsession with controlling all aspects of domestic life?
JT: When we think about the Third Reich, it’s usually about the male side of it – the politicians, the battles, the atrocities. But my interest has always been for the social and domestic side of history. I wanted to get a flavour of what it was actually like to live under that very misogynist regime and was quite astonished actually to discover the level of detail the Nazis applied to controlling female lives, not just in compulsory girls’ brigades but Bride Schools and Mother Schools too. It was as though every aspect of a woman’s life had to be regimented and organised. When you have that level of totalitarian control, any novelist is going to be interested in the individuals who slip through the cracks.
AWW: Clara is a young actress, in Berlin to take advantage of the vibrant film and art scene. I loved her adventurous nature. Is her journey something you would have liked to experience?
JT: Of course! What could be more exciting and motivating than to spy on the private life of the Third Reich? I adore Berlin and would love to have seen it in the 1930s – even though the vibrant, Weimar energy was being stamped out by the Nazi regime. But as I continue with Clara’s story, and research the demands of wartime espionage, it’s hard to forget just how dangerous that work could be. There were many female British spies who could and did risk their lives. Whenever I run through it in my imagination, I question if I would have had what it takes. Having actually met former agents, I’m awed by their courage.
AWW: Clara shares this story with Leo Quinn, working undercover for British Intelligence. To me, he seemed to represent the traditional ‘institution’ and he forms a counterpoint to Clara’s impulsive nature. Is their chemistry based on ‘opposites attract’?
For me, the eroticism between Leo and Clara lies in his refusal to admit to himself how attracted he is to her. His background has given him a cool, unflappable exterior, yet within he is torn between his need to exploit Clara’s privileged position inside the Nazi circles, and his horror at exposing her to danger. He misjudges her at first – imagining her to be a typical, thoughtless, well-born English girl – and she thinks him coldly professional. I have always liked love stories that feature a turning point – a particular moment when the scales fall from the eyes and both people stop resisting and accept that they are in fact passionately attracted to each other.
AWW: It was fascinating to ‘meet’ the wives of the powerful men in the Nazi hierarchy, especially the vulnerable, troubled Magda Goebbels. Do you feel it’s important for us to know more about these women and the influence they had in Germany at the time?
Definitely. I do think women are the untold half of history and seeing the private lives of leading Nazis gives us a clearer picture of the regime. It’s impossible to go back to one’s image of them as cartoon monsters – they become human and their actions all the more dreadful for it. Magda’s story – and her love affair with a leading Zionist – is a reminder that Berlin was a far more complicated political picture in the 1930s than we now assume. Magda could just as easily have gone the other way and married a Communist or a Zionist. Her attraction was for strong ideologies. Plus, of course, she fell for Hitler, and only settled for Goebbels because the Fuhrer refused to marry.
AWW: I felt there was a very strong theme of the power, and the suppression, of women, especially in their personal relationships with men – Clara runs away from a marriage she can’t see another way to avoid, Magda is trapped in her union with Goebbels and there are many actresses who have no option but to spend their time and affections on Nazi officers. Do you feel Black Roses is a ‘feminist’ novel?
Probably, in that it explores the perspectives of women and the fact that they are all too frequently dominated by men. That becomes explicit in a fascist regime like Nazi Germany, but it has also been the case throughout history in many marriages and relationships. All the great female heroines, from Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch, to Lizzie Bennet and Jane Eyre, struggle with asserting their individuality under male ideas of their role. Yet I think now, in modern fiction, we have a taste not just for the resilient, assertive heroine, but one who is complex and struggles with conflicting desires. Women who can question their courage, and be naïve and fall in love, yet still do the right thing. Real women, I suppose.