To appreciate Duchess Goldblatt is to appreciate a well-turned phrase, a calming glass of a restorative libation and the comfort that envelops you when someone always knows the right thing to say.
Her Grace bestows guidance on Twitter. "I like to lure the monster out from under the bed using a simple hallway booby trap laced with a canned ham and a Sidney Sheldon novel," reads one recent missive. "You people can wallow and stew in shifts," warns another. "Not all at once; I’m an old woman. You will be notified when it’s your turn."
Her fans include writers such as "Little Fires Everywhere" novelist Celeste Ng and Texas icon Lyle Lovett, with whom she’ll talk on Tuesday at BookPeople, as part of her virtual book tour for "Becoming Duchess Goldblatt: A Memoir" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24).
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On a site known for vitriolic discourse, Duchess Goldblatt is an oasis. That comes from focusing on the positive, she explains.
"I avert my gaze from ugliness," she counseled in an email I plan to save forever. "I'm not interested in arguing with strangers online or trying to convert them to my views. I choose to focus on the things that I find interesting or appealing. To my way of thinking, daily life offers enough challenges and hardships that I don't need to go borrowing more on social media." The Duchess is the 81-year-old author of multiple volumes, including "Feasting On the Carcasses of My Enemies: A Love Story," and sponsor of the Goldblatt Prize for fiction. There is a pie named for her at the Ladybird Diner in Lawrence, Kan. A fan in Galveston created a Flat Stanley version of the Duchess, laminating her likeness and taking selfies with it in Paris and New York.
It’s important to note here that Duchess Goldblatt is not, well, real. She’s the creation of an anonymous writer who, as explained in "Becoming Duchess Goldblatt," embraced her alter ego as a way of healing from the breakup of her marriage. Slowly but surely, she amassed a devoted online following, including Lovett, one of the few who knows her true identity. She insists she’s far from famous.
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On Twitter, on her book cover and now for her events, her likeness is the 17th-century Frans Hals painting "Portrait of an Elderly Lady," clad in black with a white ruff collar and a wry smile. The pandemic has meant the Duchess herself is part of her tour, which wasn’t always the plan. "I would never have done a book tour, no," she wrote in her e-mail. "The plan was always to do virtual events featuring other people instead of me. Lyle Lovett and I will talk about community building and friendship and then we'll wing it from there. Viewers will see his face and Duchess Goldblatt's picture, but we'll be live in conversation. I've been making a list of questions I want to ask him. Luckily, we have never yet run out of things to talk about."
As she describes in her memoir, Lovett started following Duchess Goldblatt, and the two struck up a correspondence that blossomed into friendship after she drove hours to see him in concert. Goldblattian tears were shed.
She says while her online life hasn’t dramatically changed her offline existence, it has influenced her thinking: "I'm more aware of the rich tapestry of people in the world who don't look like me or think like me or live the way I do but who have ideas I very much want to hear."
And Twitter’s block function? A godsend. "I maintain a rich, vibrant, evergreen list of blocked people — almost universally the hate-filled and the vicious," the Duchess explains. "A couple of people I have blocked because they remind me of someone in real life I don't like.
"I think everyone should get to block anyone they want, no questions asked. It's one of the ways social media has a leg up on real life."
Could she ever imagine a time when the Duchess will retire from the public gaze? Or, worse, expire?
"Bite your tongue, child," she admonished me. "I can envision a time when I might get bored with Twitter and move on, but much like the everlasting light of the universe, Duchess Goldblatt will never die."