In This Is Not a Book About Benedict Cumberbatch (Putnam, May), essayist Carvan reflects on motherhood, joy, and her passion for Doctor Strange actor Benedict Cumberbatch.
When did you first become infatuated with Cumberbatch?
My youngest daughter was about one, and I had just finished watching the Victorian special of Sherlock. My reaction to it was immediate, an absolutely magnetic attraction to a man on the television that I had seen many times before. It was not love at first sight, but at that moment I was like, “I don’t know what is happening, but I am here for it!”
Can you describe the connection you draw between your obsession with Cumberbatch and your experience of motherhood?
It’s a common feeling for new mothers to experience the sensation of “shattering” their sense of self. You don’t know who you are anymore, you are now just a mothering machine. You’re also limited in where you can go, who you can see, what you can do. You’re left with the question, “Without my job or connections to the outside world that I’ve created and developed, who am I?” It creates an opportunity for self-reflection that led me down the Benedict Cumberbatch path in a very strange, unexpected way. It’s really common for new mothers to develop parasocial-romantic relationships. It seems totally bizarre, that there shouldn’t be a connection between becoming a mother and then developing a parasocial-romantic relationship, but there’s a strong correlation because you are looking for a connection with someone who makes you feel something that you don’t otherwise have access to. And you’re at home—the people you do have access to are on television or the internet. So it’s actually very clever and efficient.
You write that women are expected to grow out of their passions in a way that isn’t expected of men. Why do you think that is?
I think that it serves society, broadly speaking, to have women’s attention directed elsewhere than their own interests. We’re directed toward caring roles, being invested in our personal appearance and the way others perceive us as partners or sex objects, and I think it’s all of these pressures that push girls away from spending time on things that they love and that have no purpose for anyone else. We’re directed toward spending time on things that serve other people’s interests and time becomes more scarce as we become mothers or start caring for our parents or take on other caring and domestic roles. Then you don’t have time to pursue your interests, and you’ve got to use what little time you have to do something productive and meaningful.
Do you have a favorite Cumberbatch role?
I love him in Patrick Melrose. He’s amazing in The Power of the Dog; he’s amazing in everything!