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Elaine Feinstein Biography

Elaine Feinstein comments:

Nationality: British. Born: Bootle, Lancashire, 1930. Education: Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester; Newnham College, Cambridge, B.A. in English 1952, M.A. 1955. Career: Editorial staff member, Cambridge University Press, 1960-62; lecturer in English, Bishop's Stortford Training College, Hertfordshire, 1963-66; assistant lecturer in literature, University of Essex, Colchester, 1967-70. Awards: Arts Council grant, 1970, 1979, 1981; Daisy Miller award, for fiction, 1971; Kelus prize, 1978. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1980. Agent: Rogers Coleridge and White, 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN; (plays and film) Lemon Unna and Durbridge, 24-32 Pottery Lane, London, W11 4LZ, England.



The Circle. London, Hutchinson, 1970.

The Amberstone Exit. London, Hutchinson, 1972.

The Glass Alembic. London, Hutchinson, 1973; as The Crystal Garden, New York, Dutton, 1974.

Children of the Rose. London, Hutchinson, 1975.

The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner. London, Hutchinson, 1976.

The Shadow Master. London, Hutchinson, 1978; New York, Simon and Schuster, 1979.

The Survivors. London, Hutchinson, 1982; New York, Penguin, 1991.

The Border. London, Hutchinson, 1984; New York, Boyars, 1989.

Mother's Girl. London, Century Hutchinson, and New York, Dutton, 1988.

All You Need. London, Century Hutchinson, 1989; New York, Viking, 1991.

Loving Brecht. London, Hutchinson, 1992.

Dreamers. London, Macmillan, 1994.

Lady Chatterley's Confession. London, Macmillan, 1995.

Daylight. Manchester, England, Carcanet, 1997.

Short Stories

Matters of Chance. London, Covent Garden Press, 1972.

The Silent Areas. London, Hutchinson, 1980.


Lear's Daughters (produced London, 1987).

Radio Plays:

Echoes, 1980; A Late Spring, 1982; A Captive Lion, 1984; Marina Tsvetayeva: A Life, 1985; A Day Off, from the novel by Storm Jameson, 1986; If I Ever Get on My Feet Again, 1987; The Man in Her Life, 1989; The Temptations of Dr. William Fosters, 1991.

Television Plays:

Breath, 1975; Lunch, 1982; Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady series, from work by Edith Holden, 1984; A Brave Face, 1985; The Chase, 1988; A Passionate Woman series, 1989.


In a Green Eye. London, Goliard Press, 1966.

The Magic Apple Tree. London, Hutchinson, 1971.

At the Edge. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1972.

The Celebrants and Other Poems. London, Hutchinson, 1973.

Some Unease and Angels: Selected Poems. London, Hutchinson, andUniversity Center, Michigan, Green River Press, 1977.

The Feast of Euridice. London, Faber, 1980.

Badlands. London, Century Hutchinson, 1986.

City Music. London, Hutchinson, 1990.

Selected Poems. London, Carcanet, 1994.


Bessie Smith. London, Penguin, 1985. A Captive Lion: The Life of Marina Tsvetayeva. London, CenturyHutchinson, and New York, Dutton, 1987.

Marina Tsvetayeva. London and New York, Penguin, 1989.

Lawrence's Women. London and New York, HarperCollins, 1993.

Pushkin. Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1999.

Editor, Selected Poems of John Clare. London, University TutorialPress, 1968.

Editor, with Fay Weldon, New Stories 4. London, Hutchinson, 1979.

Editor, PEN New Poetry. London, Quartet, 1988.

Translator, The Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetayeva. London, Oxford University Press, 1971; revised edition, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Translator, Three Russian Poets: Margarita Aliger, Yunna Moritz, Bella Akhmadulina. Manchester, Carcanet, 1979.

Translator, with Antonia W. Bouis, First Draft: Poems, by NikaTurbina. London, Boyars, 1988.


Manuscript Collection:

Cambridge University.

Critical Studies:

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

My earliest fiction was very much an extension of my poetry, but as the novels have moved away from a single narrative voice to explore a wider territory, I have largely abandoned those rhythms and have come to prefer the traditional clarity of prose.

* * *

Lena, in Elaine Feinstein's first novel, The Circle, realizes à propos her husband "that she would have to take it up again. Her separate life. Her lonely life, the music of words to be played with, the books … they would be her refuge; her private world. As his was this of the laboratory. And she must now move as securely into that … and find magic." However, in the general context of Feinstein's work, which shows a progressive widening of focus, this is broader than a feminist prescription. Subsequent novels are dominated by men and women in search of "magic," partly via illegitimate means in The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner, and both actively and contemplatively through religion in The Shadow Master. "Magic" may be partially embodied in people, as in The Amberstone Exit, with Emily's fascination with the glamorous Tyrenes, the local rich family, and in The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner, with Miriam's fascination with the brilliant but brutal Stavros; in both novels there is a strong erotic element in the fascination, and Emily's youthful hunger for sexual experience, which comes to focus on Max Tyrene, anticipates Miriam's more sophisticated desire for Stavros. Similarly, in Mother's Girl Halina as a student is infatuated with the brilliant don Janos, while in All You Need middle-aged Nell falls for glamorous, powerful Theo.

The fundamental source of "magic" is inevitably "the music of words." For Lena and Emily it is joy in intoxicating language, and for Nell who aspires to writing poetry, and so it could be for the poet Hans in The Border were he not, as a part-Jew, persecuted by Hitler, while in the title story of The Silent Areas poetry must be "the words that ran in the blood of freezing men without food. Or the minds of the half-mad in lonely cells." In The Shadow Master, before the closing religious acceptance, the search for magic meant apocalyptic action. Thus, unfashionably, Feinstein is concerned with validation for people's lives outside as well as inside human relationships.

Perhaps drawing on her experience as a poet, in her first novel, The Circle, Feinstein used technical devices, notably spaces within paragraphs, intended for immediacy but in practice often distracting, and later abandoned. A staple technique throughout her work is the juxtaposition of different time-sequences. In The Circle this is unstructured, while The Amberstone Exit opens in a maternity ward where Emily is having her baby and swings back over the events bringing her there, with the two time-sequences running together toward the end.

The Glass Alembic is about a more mature woman, Brigid, and for the first time focuses on a group. Two passages from this novel are reworked with different names and alternative endings in the stories "Complicity" and "Strangers" (The Silent Areas). Brigid's arrival in Basel where her husband is a biochemist is a catalyst for various human reactions in the scientific community. The setting of Paracelsushaunted Basel is merely coincidentally metaphoric of the action. By contrast, the settings are integral in Children of the Rose, which evokes Collaborationist tensions in present-day Provence and the reactions of Jews, once refugees, on revisiting Poland.

In The Ecstasy of Dr. Miriam Garner Feinstein plaits a strand of narrative from medieval Toledo with a glamorous female academic's life into a mystery story with spiritual side-lights. The Shadow Master is set mainly in Turkey, where an international religious and political apocalyptic movements begins, leading indirectly to the explosion of "a small nuclear device." In The Survivors Feinstein follows two Jewish émigré families in Liverpool, one rich and one poor, from 1914 to 1956, when Diana, the offspring of a surprising marriage linking the families, agonizes "So many had died in mud and fire for being Jewish. To give it up seemed a gross betrayal." This two-family saga not only describes the difficulties Jews found in Britain but also delineates both through the successor generations and within generations the characters' very different attitudes to their Jewishness. As the book ends, West Indians are moving into some of the old Jewish quarters.

The Border also draws on Feinstein's Jewish background. Through various narrative devices, notably the use of diaries kept by the scientist Inge and her husband the poet Hans, Feinstein highlights the personal and increasingly the political strains put upon the marriage. The book follows the part-Jewish couple's flight from Vienna to Paris and beyond, in 1983. In this powerful novella, where Walter Benjamin appears, "the border" is metaphoric as well as actual. The book is a technical tour de force, and a deeply moving human text.

Mother's Girl deals with the effect of the Holocaust on the next generation. As a child, Halina was sent to Britain in 1939 from Budapest. The novel is a story within a story, as Halina recounts her life to her much younger American half-sister before their father's funeral: this form brings out the continuing effects of a terrible and incompletely known past. The fate of Halina's mother, an unsung underground heroine, never emerges. Her debonair, womanizing father reappeared after the war though without revealing his wartime experience until dying, nursed by Halina. Meanwhile Halina was temporarily and unhappily married to Janos, who had known her father in wartime Budapest.

If through circumstances of history Halina cannot fully understand herself, neither can Nell in All You Need, through her own fault. Her husband's sudden arrest for fraud precipitates her into moving to London with her 12-year-old daughter and earning her own living. Some readers may feel less sympathy for her climb into the media world of the late 1980s than Feinstein does: middle-class Nell with a Cambridge degree was a privileged person who had chosen to become a housewife.

So far, The Border is Feinstein's major achievement, bringing together all her greatest strengths: the examination of a long-term relationship between a man and a woman, in which both are treated with equal sympathy; a poet's use of language; and a witnessing of history, however dark. A 1999 biography of Aleksandr Pushkin won high praise, overshadowing Feinstein's novels of the recently preceding years: Lady Chatterley's Confession, which continues D. H. Lawrence's erotic story, and Daylight.

—Val Warner

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