The Origins of Payne’s Most Famous Wanderess Quote

My most famous quote talks about a woman who is a “Wanderess” :

She is free in her wildness

“She was free in her wildness. She was a wanderess, a drop of free water. She belonged to no man and to no city.

The composition of the quote was simple.  I’d decided to write a book about a young woman whom I called the “wanderess.”  I named her “Saskia” and imagined her life and her position in life and the kind of character and personality that her unique position would give her.  She is a European who grew up in various countries, being transplanted by circumstances—so travel comes naturally to her. She has no more family left, despite the fact that she is very young; and she has no real friends, so there is no reason for her to settle in one city or country rather than any another.  She earns a kind of pension, which—although she is not rich by any means—allows her to eat and live without being rooted to one spot, to one geographical location, where she would have to work a regular job.

I tried to imagine the life of such a person—which was easy, since in my line of work, I also am not dependent on one geographical location.  I tried to imagine someone with, quote, “no reason to be anywhere.”  …No family to keep her in one country, no friends to keep her in another; she has no real entrepreneurial ambitions so she has no reason to choose a destination based on a particular university she wishes to attend or a field of expertise that a city offers.  Thus, she is free (or condemned) to drift and drift, while searching for reason.  What separates her from members of the idle rich class who have no reason to remain fixed in any one spot is that, as mentioned, she has no business interests tied into any location; and she doesn’t have idle companions that the rich so often do, whose caprices guide their friends to follow them from city to city, from festival to casino to tournament.  Saskia is, as I write elsewhere in the book, “not an adventuress, but a wanderess.”  It is in that phrase that we understand why she “has no reason to be anywhere.”

And so, while writing a 334-page book about her, I had many opportunities to describe her character.  Many of my descriptions didn’t particularly stand-out for any reason.  Yet for some reason, these 24 words I wrote about her (in the quote above) profoundly resonated with people around the world and became a part of popular culture when everyone from pop musicians to clothing and product designers adopted the words to make the message their own.

— Roman Payne, May 2017 (on writing The Wanderess)

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