The Next Chapter

Jennifer Welsh takes the Proust questionnaire

The author of the 2016 Massey Lectures shares her modern-day heroes and her favourite fictional characters.
Former United Nations adviser Jennifer Welsh is the author of The Return of History: Conflict, Migration, and Geopolitics in the Twenty-First Century, written for the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures. (House of Anansi)

Jennifer Welsh is a former UN advisor and a Canadian political scientist of Métis decent who has taught at Oxford and the Florence, Italy-based European University Institute. She's the author of The Return of History, written for the 2016 CBC Massey Lectures. The book of essays looks at the ways in which liberal democracies have failed to stop the rise of global events like the mass flight of refugees and Cold War politics.

Below, Jennifer Welsh answers The Next Chapter's version of the Proust questionnaire.

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

I love George Smiley in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He's a wonderful character. Also Hana in The English Patient. And I have two from books for children — Hermione from Harry Potter is just one of the most amazing female characters, and also Anne of Green Gables.

What phrase do you most over-use?

That depends on whether I'm talking to my children or my students. If it's my students, it is "How do you know that?" If it's my children, it is "It is what it is."

Your favourite painter?

My favourite painter is a little bit influenced by the moment, because I'm living in Italy, where I'm surrounded by beautiful art. There's a fresco painter I have always loved — Masaccio. The reason I love his frescoes, among all the beautiful frescoes that exist, is that he captures human faces with such beauty. There's one painting of his, of Adam and Eve in the Cappella Brancacci, which is one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

Where would you like to live?

Wherever my husband and children are, but definitely somewhere with access to a terrace and a good cappuccino. 

Tell me about your heroes in real life.

My heroes are anyone who dares to speak out against political oppression, and human rights defenders in particular, and those who deliver humanitarian assistance in war. I cannot give specific names, because many of these people are unknown, but to me these are the heroes of today.

Jennifer Welsh's comments have been edited and condensed.