Milady thank you for sitting down and doing this interview. You are no longer a teenager, but now a woman who has seen and been through so very much. Some claim you are a devil, but others see you as a heroine fighting for justice. You have overcome life’s challenges against incredible odds, especially by those who call themselves The Three Musketeers. Hopefully anyone reading this they can see the true you.
Elise Cooper: How would you describe yourself?
Milady De Winter: I think I’m a pragmatist who hides a tender heart. I think I see the world for what it is even as I hope for better. In my person I am in the later stages of my prime. (At least, in this age, where a woman is ripe at 16 and stale merchandise by 29.)
EC: Describe Milady versus Clarice.
MDW: When you read my tale, you will meet me both as an ingenue and as a mature spy and assassin. Clarice – my younger self – knew a great deal about everything except herself. That kind of knowledge can only come from years of hard experience. As Milady I have learned bitter lessons, but I am a more complete person for that. The world sees me as hard and impenetrable, but in truth I’m like a porcupine, my devilish spikes protecting a soft belly. Young Clarice had yet to grow her spikes.
EC: Do you consider yourself a non-conformist?
MDW: In many ways I conformed perfectly to what was expected of me. It’s only that the expectations were much different than they are for most girls. I freely conformed to Maman’s expectations that I grow wise and strong. I did my best to conform to my father’s expectations that I become his beautiful tool and weapon. And when I served Cardinal Richelieu, I conformed to his idea of a perfect spy. But conformation is a mask, and when at last I ripped it off I discovered the woman beneath.
EC: Do you resent the laws that do not give any power to women?
MDW: How could one not resent such inequality? I will tell you how: rote and survival. Although I’ve seen great goodness and great evil in humanity, I’m left with one overwhelming impression of human nature: it is lazy. We tend to stick unquestioningly on the path our ancestors and circumstance set us on. We accept. Women are told to marry, to serve, to bear, and most do. Peasants are told to labor and obey, and they do. A rut is a comfortable place to be – the going is easy. That’s why the rut is there. Then too, most of the population is too concerned with surviving to concern themselves much with changing the system. Bellies cry louder than brains.
EC: You seem almost philosophical?
MDW: Well, you need only give a cake to the eldest of four children and see what portion the younger ones ever get. What a rare thing for a noble to say “I will share my money” or a magistrate to say “I will dole out justice equally to rich and poor” or a priest to say honestly “my every action is God’s will and not my own.”
EC: Have you ever regretted anything you have done?
MDW: No one who has even a modicum of happiness in their present lives should ever suffer with regret. I would not change a moment of my life even if I could. Any alteration and I might not have the threefold happiness I have now – my lover, my son, and my darling friend. I have done great wrongs and I have suffered great sorrows, but I would not undo them. Each moment in a life, good or bad, leads to the present moment. If I changed my past I would be another person.
EC: Did you ever truly love someone?
MDW: I love Denys deeply and truly, as a friend, an equal, and a constant in my life. His love is like rawhide, only growing stronger and tighter when battered by the elements. But I think you are really asking whether I loved George, or Olivier. The man falling off a cliff may truly believe he is flying… for a time. But oh, how glorious it feels before the laws of nature reassert themselves and the imminent ground proves one a fool! Of course I loved them. My love was a currency ill-spent, and it did not buy me what I hoped it would. But much as I would like with the cleverness of hindsight to say I never loved either of those two flawed men, it would be a lie.
EC: Describe Denys versus George versus Olivier
MDW: Despite any good characteristics, George and Olivier are fundamentally selfish. They lack the imagination or compassion or humanity or desire to envision anything beyond the compass of their own selves. Denys, however, sees himself as part of a greater whole, and is the better man for it.
EC: What happened in your youth-has it influenced you?
MDW: When a bone is broken, it is weak and useless for a while, no? But properly tended, when it heals it knits together more strongly than ever. The trauma of my youth crushed and rendered me. I lost the ability to trust. I lost the ability to love. But I found that when at last I healed enough to regain those precious gifts, I felt them that much more strongly for the people who were actually worthy of them. I could not love Denys half so well had my heart not first been twice shattered. Only when something has been broken do you understand its value.
EC: You were overheard saying that you have faced a life of “betrayal and vengeance, of hate and murder, of darkest peril.” Please explain.
MDW: The first two men I trusted not only let me down but turned on me completely. One ruined my life, the other tried to take it. But I’ve learned (though it took a very long time) that I don’t want to be defined by the wrongs done to me. I’m not saint enough to forgive the most serious slights, so I got revenge on both of those men. Now, they are behind me, and I hope all of those things are merely the story of my past, not the story of my life.
EC: Having been beaten in the convent-did it turn you off to religion?
MDW: I don’t think I know my own mind on the subject well enough to speak with any conviction on religion as a whole, but of one thing I am absolutely convinced: men are men and not god. The Church can be a bastion of charity and kindness. Or it can be a place of abuse and cupidity. Humans are flawed and faulty, and if the church is plagued with cruelty or greed, well, then, so too is every profession. I would not cease eating carrots because a farmer struck me.
EC: And you gave a “carrot” to those women in need?
MDW: As soon as I had the means I established my own convent as an example of what faith, hope, and charity can do for a woman. There, women of all classes work and enjoy the fruits of their labors. They learn, they help each other. For now, this freedom and equality are only possible in the cloister, guarded, as it were, by God. Perhaps one day women can live like this everywhere.
EC: If you could make a wish what would it be?
MDW: Once one is a mother one never gets personal wishes anymore! Every wish is for my son, that he grow up happy and strong and safe, that he find or create a world where no one need fear, and where those who stumble are lifted up. There is a tender place in my heart that holds out the most ludicrous hopes for myself and all of humanity.
EC: Anything else you would like to add that I have not asked?
MDW: At that rate the world would never change for the better. I can bear slander, but what example does that set for other women who read my tale as told by the Musketeers? They’ll feel hopeless and helpless. They’ll feel like no one will ever believe them when they tell their own stories. It is for them that I tell my true tale. So that they can tell theirs in turn.
If my tale accomplishes anything, I hope it gives readers the courage to find their own voices and tell their own stories – no matter how much time has passed. Don’t allow the story of YOU to be told by anyone else!
Laura L. Sullivan is the author of five books for middle grade and young adult audiences. Milady is her adult debut. She lives in Florida with her son.