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Margaret Drabble Biography

Margaret Drabble comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Sheffield, Yorkshire, 1939; sister of A.S. Byatt, Education: Mount School, York; Newnham College, Cambridge, B.A. (honours) 1960. Career: Deputy chair, 1978-80, and chair, 1980-82, National Book League. Awards: Rhys Memorial prize, 1966; James Tait Black Memorial prize, 1968; American Academy E.M. Forster award, 1973. D. Litt: University of Sheffield, 1976; University of Keele, Staffordshire, 1988; University of Bradford, Yorkshire, 1988; University of East Anglia, 1994; University of York, 1995. C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire), 1980. Agent: Peters Fraser and Dunlop, Drury House 34-43, Russell Street, London WC2B 5HA, England.



A Summer Bird-Cage. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962; NewYork, Morrow, 1964.

The Garrick Year. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1964; NewYork, Morrow, 1965.

The Millstone. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1965; New York, Morrow, 1966; as Thank You All Very Much, New York, New American Library, 1969; published under original title, San Diego, Harcourt Brace, 1998.

Jerusalem the Golden. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and NewYork, Morrow, 1967.

The Waterfall. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1969.

The Needle's Eye. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1972.

The Realms of Gold. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and NewYork, Knopf, 1975.

The Ice Age. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1977.

The Middle Ground. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and NewYork, Knopf, 1980.

The Radiant Way. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1987.

A Natural Curiosity. London and New York, Viking, 1989.

The Gates of Ivory. London and New York, Viking, 1991.

The Witch of Exmoor. London and New York, Viking, 1996.

Short Stories

Hassan's Tower. Los Angeles, Sylvester and Orphanos, 1980.

Uncollected Short Stories

"A Voyage to Cytherea," in Mademoiselle (New York), December1967.

"The Reunion," in Winter's Tales 14, edited by Kevin Crossley-Holland. London, Macmillan, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1968.

"The Gifts of War," in Winter's Tales 16, edited by A.D. Maclean. London, Macmillan, 1970; New York, St. Martin's Press, 1971.

"Crossing the Alps," in Mademoiselle (New York), February 1971.

"A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman," in In the Looking Glass, edited by Nancy Dean and Myra Stark. New York, Putnam, 1977.

"A Success Story," in Fine Lines, edited by Ruth Sullivan. NewYork, Scribner, 1981.

"The Dying Year," in Harper's (New York), July 1987.


Bird of Paradise (produced London, 1969).


Isadora, with Melvyn Bragg and Clive Exton, 1969; A Touch of Love (Thank You All Very Much), 1969.

Television Play:

Laura, 1964.


Wadsworth. London, Evans, 1966; New York, Arco, 1969.

Virginia Woolf: A Personal Debt. New York, Aloe, 1973.

Arnold Bennett: A Biography. London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1974.

For Queen and Country: Britain in the Victorian Age (for children).London, Deutsch, 1978; New York, Seabury Press, 1979.

A Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature. London, Thames andHudson, and New York, Knopf, 1979.

Wordsworth's Butter Knife: An Essay. Northampton, Massachusetts, Catawba Press, 1980.

The Tradition of Women's Fiction: Lectures in Japan, edited byYukako Suga. Tokyo, Oxford University Press, 1985.

Case for Equality. London, Fabian Society, 1988.

Stratford Revisited: A Legacy of the Sixties. Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire, Celandine Press, 1989.

Safe as Houses: An Examination of Home Ownership and Mortgage Tax Relief. London, Chatto and Windus, 1990.

Angus Wilson: A Biography. London, Secker and Warburg, 1995;New York, St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Editor, with B.S. Johnson, London Consequences (a group novel).London, Greater London Arts Association, 1972.

Editor, Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon, by Jane Austen. London, Penguin, 1974.

Editor, The Genius of Thomas Hardy. London, Weidenfeld andNicolson, and New York, Knopf, 1976.

Editor, with Charles Osborne, New Stories 1. London, Arts Council, 1976.

Editor, The Oxford Companion to English Literature. Oxford andNew York, Oxford University Press, 1985; concise edition, edited with Jenny Stringer, 1987; revised edition, 1995; revised edition, 1996; 5th edition, 1998.

Editor, Twentieth Century Classics. London, Book Trust, 1986.



Margaret Drabble: An Annotated Bibliography by Joan Garrett Packer, New York, Garland, 1988.

Manuscript Collections:

Boston University; University of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Critical Studies:

Margaret Drabble: Puritanism and Permissiveness by Valerie Grosvenor Myer, London, Vision Press, 1974; Boulder-Pushers: Women in the Fiction of Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing, and Iris Murdoch by Carol Seiler-Franklin, Bern, Switzerland, Lang, 1979; The Novels of Margaret Drabble: Equivocal Figures by Ellen Cronan Rose, London, Macmillan, 1980, and Critical Essays on Margaret Drabble (includes bibliography by J.S. Korenman) edited by Rose, Boston, Hall, 1985; Margaret Drabble: Golden Realms edited by Dorey Schmidt and Jan Seale, Edinburg, University of Texas-Pan American Press, 1982; Margaret Drabble: Existing Within Structures by Mary Hurley Moran, Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 1983; Guilt and Glory: Studies in Margaret Drabble's Novels 1963-1980 by Susanna Roxman, Stockholm, Almquist & Wiksell, 1984; Margaret Drabble by Joanne V. Creighton, London, Methuen, 1985; The Intertextuality of Fate: A Study of Margaret Drabble by John Hannay, 1986; Margaret Drabble by Lynn Veach Sadler, Boston, Twayne, 1986; Margaret Drabble: Symbolic Moralist by Nora Foster Stovel, San Bernardino, California, Borgo Press, 1989; The In-Between of Writing, Experience and Experiment in Drabble, Duras, and Arendt by Eleanor Honig Skoller. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1993; The Novels of Margaret Drabble: This Freudian Family Nexus by Nicole Suzanne Bokat. New York, Peter Lang, 1998; Woman's Space: The Mosaic World of Margaret Drabble and Nayantara Sahgal by Sree Rashmi Talwar. New Delhi, India, Creative Books, 1997; British Women Writing Fiction, edited by Abby H. P. Werlock. Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama Press, 2000.

(1986) In this space I originally wrote that my books were mainly concerned with "privilege, justice and salvation," and that they were not directly concerned with feminism "because my belief in justice for women is so basic that I never think of using it as a subject. It is part of a whole." I stand by this, although the rising political consciousness of women has brought the subject more to the forefront in one or two of the later novels. I now see myself perhaps more as a social historian documenting social change and asking questions rather than providing answers about society: but my preoccupation with "equality and egalitarianism" remains equally obsessional and equally worrying to me, and if anything I am even less hopeful about the prospect of change.

* * *

With the appearance of her first novels in the early 1960s, Margaret Drabble gained a sizeable audience who felt their own discoveries and dilemmas in the contemporary world depicted with intelligence and immediacy. A Summer Bird-Cage presents a young woman, just after graduation from Oxford, alternately drawn to and repelled by her older sister, seen as brilliant and attractive, who marries a rich novelist. The marriage is ultimately hollow, and the young protagonist uses her recognition of this, as well as that of the marriage, affairs, and occupations of friends, to sort out her own approach to mature experience. The protagonist of The Garrick Year is more intimately involved. Married to an actor in a company playing in a provincial town, she falls in love with the producer and finally is able to draw away from the thickets of staged infidelities in her realization of her responsibility for her child. Moral issues, increasingly, become part of the protagonists' examinations of experience, as in The Millstone, in which a young academic, initially feeling "free" of the inhibitions of sexual morality and class, and, accidentally pregnant after a one-night stand, recognizes after the baby's birth that her concerns make her dependent on others, on community, and Jerusalem the Golden, in which a young graduate from the North, attracted to the cosmopolitan life represented by a London family, must sort out her own allegiances and responses to issues of love and class. Although The Waterfall is more internal, more exclusively concerned with the isolating emotions the protagonist feels in her affair with her cousin's husband, this novel, like the other early ones, reflects directly many of the problems concerning freedom, responsibility, sexual behavior, families, occupation, class, and geography confronted by young women in contemporary Britain.

Drabble's protagonists are invariably intelligent and literary, trying seriously (although not solemnly) to relate what they experience to what they've read. Often they define themselves, either positively or negatively, as characters within the fictions of the 19th-century middle classes, the heroines in George Eliot's world confronting moral dilemmas, or those in Hardy's measuring themselves in the metaphorical terms of landscape. The Waterfall rings changes on Jane Austen plots and attitudes: the protagonist in The Millstone superimposes Bunyan's allegorical geography on the dark streets of contemporary London. The frequency and the importance of the references indicate that Drabble has always seen herself as part of an English literary tradition, a consciousness of defining the self through fiction.

In Drabble's later novels, the consciousness and function of fiction change. Points of view are deliberately interrupted, fictionality is overtly proclaimed and manipulated, sometimes comically and sometimes not. Drabble relies on questions in literary criticism over the past 20 years as well as on the tradition of English literature. Library reference is likely to be more general and pervasive, as in the epigraph of The Ice Age which quotes Milton's Areopagetica about "the puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep" to illustrate the possibility of British "recovery" from a debilitating period, or the literary party, explicitly connected to the one in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, which concludes The Middle Ground. The frame of moral reference in the later novels is much wider, more international or more a statement concerning the condition of England, and the novels are more amenable to metaphorical readings. The Needle's Eye establishes various gardens in unlikely places, the London slums, the North, and in Africa, gardens that are conscious devices to preserve and nourish the human spirit. The Realms of Gold depicts an archeologist who collects both the shards of a public past in excavations in Africa and those of the private past of her family amidst the local and class deprivations of East Anglia, trying to combine the implications of all the relics into a fuller public and private life. The Ice Age focuses on the depression, sterility, and violence of Britain in the mid-1970s, problems demonstrated as private in the particular characters and rendered public through the metaphors of property development and misuse that dominate the novel. National "recovery" is seen, perhaps equivocally, as possible. The Middle Ground, again combining the public and private, tries to collect representatives of various cultures and classes in a contemporary London reclaimed from the septic wastes of its origins, a metaphor like that in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend. The Witch of Exmoor approaches similar issues from the perspective of the late 1990s. The "witch" of the title, actually only an eccentric old woman named Frieda Haxby Palmer, sees her grown children as products of the new Britain, and her sudden disappearance sends them into a flurry of speculation as they try to understand the strange woman they thought they knew. Drabble's self-conscious play with fictional perspectives keeps these metaphors away from the potential solemnity of the grandiose, yet the moral implications of the metaphors, the statements judging both personal and public conditions in England, are serious and controlling.

—James Gindin

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