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Nina Bawden Biography

Nina Bawden comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Nina Mabey in London, 1925. Education: Ilford County High School; Somerville College, Oxford, B.A. 1946, M.A. 1951; Salzburg Seminar in American Studies, 1960. Career: Assistant, Town and Country Planning Association, 1946-47; Justice of the Peace for Surrey, 1968-76. Regular reviewer, Daily Telegraph, London. Awards: Guardian award, for children's book, 1976; Yorkshire Post award, 1976. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1970. CBE (Commander of the British Empire). Member: PEN Executive Committee, 1968-71; President, Society of Women Writers and Journalists. Agent: Curtis Brown, 162-168 Regent Street, London W1R 5TB.



Who Calls the Tune. London, Collins, 1953; as Eyes of Green, NewYork, Morrow, 1953.

The Odd Flamingo. London, Collins, 1954.

Change Here for Babylon. London, Collins, 1955.

The Solitary Child. London, Collins, 1956; New York, Lancer, 1966.

Devil by the Sea. London, Collins, 1957; Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1959; abridged edition (for children), London, Gollancz, and Lippincott, 1976.

Just Like a Lady. London, Longman, 1960; as Glass Slippers Always Pinch, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1960.

In Honour Bound. London, Longman, 1961.

Tortoise by Candlelight. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1963.

Under the Skin. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1964.

A Little Love, A Little Learning. London, Longman, 1965; New York, Harper, 1966.

A Woman of My Age. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1967.

The Grain of Truth. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1968.

The Birds on the Trees. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1970; Thorndike, Maine, Thorndike Press, 1995.

Anna Apparent. London, Longman, and New York, Harper, 1972.

George Beneath a Paper Moon. London, Allen Lane, and New York, Harper, 1974; as On the Edge, London, Sphere, 1985.

Afternoon of a Good Woman. London, Macmillan, 1976; New York, Harper, 1977.

Familiar Passions. London, Macmillan, and New York, Morrow, 1979.

Walking Naked. London, Macmillan, 1981; New York, St. Martin'sPress, 1982.

The Ice House. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin'sPress, 1983.

Circles of Deceit. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin'sPress, 1987.

Family Money. London, Gollancz, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1991.

A Nice Change. London, Virago Press, 1997.

Fiction (for children)

The Secret Passage. London, Gollancz, 1963; as The House of Secrets, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1964.

On the Run. London, Gollancz, 1964; as Three on the Run, Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1965.

The White Horse Gang. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1966.

The Witch's Daughter. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1966.

A Handful of Thieves. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1967.

The Runaway Summer. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1969.

Squib. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1971.

Carrie's War. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1973.

The Peppermint Pig. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1975.

Rebel on a Rock. London, Gollancz, and Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1978.

The Robbers. London, Gollancz, and New York, Lothrop, 1979.

Kept in the Dark. London, Gollancz, and New York, Lothrop, 1982.

The Finding. London, Gollancz, and New York, Lothrop, 1985.

Princess Alice. London, Deutsch, 1985.

Keeping Henry. London, Gollancz, 1988; as Henry, New York, Lothrop, 1988.

The Outside Child. London, Gollancz, and New York, Lothrop, 1989.

Humbug. London, Gollancz, and New York, Clarion Books, 1992.

The Real Plato Jones. London, Gollancz, 1993; New York, ClarionBooks, 1994.

Granny the Pag. New York, Clarion Books, 1996.

Off the Road. New York, Clarion, 1999.

Other (for children)

William Tell. London, Cape, and New York, Lothrop, 1981.

St. Francis of Assisi. London, Cape, and New York, Lothrop, 1983.

In My Own Time. London, Virago Press, 1994; New York, ClarionBooks, 1995.


Critical Study:

Article by Gerda Seaman, in British Novelists since 1960 edited by Jay L. Halio, Detroit, Gale, 1983.

I find it difficult to comment on my adult novels. I suppose one could say that the later books, from Just Like a Lady onwards, are social comedies with modern themes and settings; the characters moral beings, hopefully engaged in living. People try so hard and fail so often, sometimes sadly, sometimes comically; I try to show how and why and to be accurate about relationships and motives. I have been called a "cryptomoralist with a mischievous sense of humor," and I like this description: it is certainly part of what I aim to be.

This quotation, from the Christian Science Monitor, though not the most flattering, might be useful:

Nina Bawden is a writer of unusual precision who can depict human foibles with an almost embarrassing accuracy. Yet for all that she centres dead on target, there is always a note of compassion in her stories. The light thrown on her characters, clear though it is, is no harsh spotlight. It is a more diffuse beam that allows one to peer into the shadows and see causes even while it focuses on effects.

* * *

The world of the English middle classes is the focal point for most of Nina Bawden's fiction. In The Birds on the Trees—a key novel in her development—she observes life as she sees it, centering on an entirely believable middle-class family, with children who puzzle and dismay their parents, because these are the people she sees every day, and these are the children who interest and baffle her, too. She captures the capricious intensity of sibling love, rivalry, and loyalty; she is reluctant to pin blame and quick to display compassion; she is also logical enough to offer no easy solutions, but sufficiently warm-hearted to include realistic sprinklings of hope. Above all, she brings a sympathetic ear to the cadences of everyday speech, a virtue which heightens the intensity of the plot—a story of alienation and the betrayal by the pampered Toby of his vain self-righteous parents.

Her no-nonsense, no-holds-barred approach to contemporary social problems is taken a stage further in Walking Naked, a chillingly precise novel about people unable to come to grips with the worlds they inhabit. Laura is a novelist whose method of dealing with difficulties is to retreat into the realm of her imagination. These problems are induced by guilt—guilt about her parents, her first marriage, her son who is in jail, her friends, and her present husband. "I write because I am afraid of life," is her easy palliative to life's ills. Now life is taking its revenge. In the course of one fraught day Laura struggles to come to terms with what she has made of her life, to strip away the layers of anxiety which give her nightmares that her house is falling down about her ears, to avoid the self-deception which has made a mockery of her art, to walk naked and alone. The timescale gives the novel a sharp narrative vigor and the dialogue is always slyly intelligent and believable, but what gives Walking Naked its authority is Bawden's precise analysis of middle-class mores and the way in which they are brought to bear on a woman's life.

As in all her later fiction Bawden excels at revealing the tensions and hidden currents at work beneath the calm and humdrum exteriors of her characters. She is no mere moralist; rather, the matter of relationships is her main concern. In The Ice House, a caustic glance at the complexities of modern marriage, friendship, and loyalty, she examines the unlikely friendship of Daisy and Ruth who have been friends since their schooldays. As girls, Daisy was boisterous and extroverted; Ruth withdrawn and frightened, a victim of an overbearing father. Thirty years later Ruth has a successful career and, on the surface at least, has a happy marriage; Daisy, though, is less content. When a tragedy rocks the lives of the two women and their families, its repercussions force them out of uneasy self-deception into a new and painful reality which they both have to accept. The Ice House is an unusual and subtle novel about familiar themes—love, marriage, friendship, adultery—in which the emotional lives of the two female protagonists are viewed with a mixture of sympathy and disconcerting accuracy. No less tangled are their moral confusions and the task of unraveling them gives the novel its central narrative line. To her adult novels Bawden has brought psychological depth and a humorous focus on human moods, resignations and self-deceptions, tempered only by her powers of observation and discrimination.

Nina Bawden is one of the very few authors who will admit to making a conscious adjustment to writing for children. She has said: "I consider my books for children as important as my adult work, and in some ways more challenging." In all her children's novels childhood is seen with a special clarity, and she has the gift of understanding her subject. The Peppermint Pig, for example, explores the reactions of a family of Edwardian children to their new and reduced circumstances, and it is through their eyes that we see their reactions to the world around them. We can understand their hopes and fears, their relationships with each other and with the adult world: this is felt most clearly in a profound episode dealing with the inevitable death of Johnny, the children's pet pig.

Off the Road and Granny the Pag are both for children, though the former represents something of a departure for Bawden. Set in the year 2040, the book concerns 11-year-old Tom, who joins in his grandfather in seeking the latter's childhood home. In their world, it is a journey fraught with danger, one that takes them through "the Wall" and into a forbidden region called "the Wild." The subject matter of Granny the Pag is far more down-to-earth. A "Pag," as narrator Cat (or Catriona) explains, is "someone who can make things happen," and her flamboyant grandmother—who rides a motorcycle and wears leather—certainly is one. No wonder, then, that when Cat's self-indulgent and emotionally distant parents decide that they want to take on raising her themselves, she chooses to stay with her grandmother. Bawden's secret is that her sympathy for her characters never flags—she thereby retains the readers' sympathies, too.

—Trevor Royle

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