Gillian Freeman Biography
Gillian Freeman comments:
Nationality: British. Born: London, 1929. Education: The University of Reading, Berkshire, 1949-51, B.A. (honors) in English literature and philosophy, 1951. Career: Copywriter, C.J. Lytle Ltd., London, 1951-52; schoolteacher in London, 1952-53; reporter, North London Observer, 1953; literary secretary to Louis Golding, 1953-55. Lives in London. Agent: Richard Scott Simon, Anthony Sheil Associates, 43 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LF, England.
The Liberty Man. London, Longman, 1955.
Fall of Innocence. London, Longman, 1956.
Jack Would Be a Gentleman. London, Longman, 1959.
The Leather Boys (as Eliot George). London, Blond, 1961; NewYork, Guild Press, 1962.
The Campaign. London, Longman, 1963.
The Leader. London, Blond, 1965; Philadelphia, Lippincott, 1966.
The Alabaster Egg. London, Blond, 1970; New York, Viking Press, 1971.
The Marriage Machine. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Stein and Day, 1975.
Nazi Lady: The Diaries of Elisabeth von Stahlenberg 1933-1948. London, Blond and Briggs, 1978; as The Confessions of Elisabeth von S, New York, Dutton, 1978; as Diary of a Nazi Lady, New York, Ace, 1979.
An Easter Egg Hunt. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Congdon and Lattès, 1981.
Love Child (as Elaine Jackson). London, W.H. Allen, 1984.
Termination Rock. London, Unwin Hyman, 1989.
His Mistress's Voice. London, Arcadia, 1999.
Uncollected Short Stories
"The Soufflé" in Courier (London and New York), May 1955.
"Pen Friend," in Woman's Own (London), December 1957.
"The Changeling," in London Magazine, April 1959.
"The Polka (Come Dance with Me)," in Woman's Own (London), December 1962.
"Kicks," in Axle Quarterly (London), Summer 1963.
"Dear Fred," in King (London), June 1965.
"Venus Unobserved," in Town (London), July 1967.
"A Brave Young Woman," in Storia 3, edited by Kate Figes. London, Pandora Press, 1989.
Pursuit (produced London, 1969).
The Leather Boys, 1963; That Cold Day in the Park, 1969; I Want What I Want, with Gavin Lambert, 1972; Day after the Fair, 1986.
Santa Evita, 1973; Field Day, 1974; Commercial
The Campaign, 1965; Man in a Fog, 1984; Hair Soup, 1991.
Ballet Scenarios: Mayerling, 1978; Intimate Letters, 1978;Isadora, 1981.
The Story of Albert Einstein (for children). London, VallentineMitchell, 1960.
The Undergrowth of Literature. London, Nelson, 1967; New York, Delacorte Press, 1969.
The Schoolgirl Ethic: The Life and Work of Angela Brazil. London, Allen Lane, 1976.
Ballet Genius: Twenty Great Dancers of the Twentieth Century, withEdward Thorpe. Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, Thorsons, 1988.
University of Reading, Berkshire.
Don't Never Forget by Brigid Brophy, London, Cape, 1966, New York, Holt Rinehart, 1967; Friends and Friendship by Kay Dick, London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 1974.
I have always been concerned with the problems of the individual seen in relation to society and the personal pressures brought to bear because of moral, political or social conditions and the inability to conform. This is reflected in all my work to date, although I have never set out to propound themes, only to tell stories. After 12 novels I am able to make my own retrospective assessment, and I find recurring ideas and links of which I was unconscious at the time of writing.
My first six novels are in some way concerned with the class system in England, either as a main theme (The Liberty Man, Jack Would Be a Gentleman) or as part of the background (The Leather Boys). Although the rigid class patterns began to break up soon after the last war and have changed and shifted, they still remain subtle delineations that I find absorbing. In The Liberty Man there is the direct class confrontation in the love-affair between the middle-class school teacher and the cockney sailor. In Fall of Innocence I was writing about the sexual taboos of the middle class attacked by an outsider, a young American girl. This element, the planting of an alien into a tight social structure, reappears constantly in my novels—atheist Harry into the Church of England parish in The Campaign; the Prossers in Jack Would Be a Gentleman from one class area into an elevated one in the same town; the cross-visiting of Freda and Derek in The Liberty Man; strongest of all, Hannah in The Alabaster Egg, transplanted from Munich of the 1930s to postwar London. This is the theme pursued in The Marriage Machine, with Marion, from rural England, unable to adapt completely to life in the United States and battling against her-in-laws (also uprooted from Europe) for the mind of her young son. In Jack Would Be a Gentleman the theme is the sudden acquisition of money without the middle-or upper-class conditioning which makes it possible to deal with it. The Campaign has the background of a seedy seaside parish, against which the personal problems of a cross-section of individuals (all involved in a fund-raising campaign) are exacerbated; God and Mammon, the permissive society, the Christian ethics. The Leather Boys is the story of two working-class boys who have a homosexual affair; The Leader explores fascism in a modern democracy, which, on both sides of the Atlantic, throws up a sufficient number of people who are greedy, ruthless, intolerant, bigoted and perverted enough to gravitate towards the extreme right. In Nazi Lady the socially climbing heroine, Elisabeth, records in her diary her joy in meeting Hitler. in The Alabaster Egg, which I consider my best work to date, Hannah also meets Hitler and there is another fictitious diary, an historical memoir of a lover of Ludwig II. This earlier novel contains several of my recurring themes—fascism, homosexuality, the main characters all victims of the prevailing political scenes. There are parallels between Hitler's Germany and Bismarck's reflecting in two love affairs which end in betrayal. I used real as well as imaginary characters, linking fiction and reality closely, and did so, too, in Nazi Lady. An Easter Egg Hunt is concerned with the disappearance of a schoolgirl during Word War I—another character wrenched from her normal environment, a refugee from France now living in England's Lake District where the war harshly changes the lives of the four main protagonists. Love Child, in the psychological thriller genre, is about the problem of surrogate motherhood in both England and the United States. Once more, the heroine, feckless and easygoing Gwen, is thrust into a new society. In Termination Rock the narrator, Joanna, finds herself with an alter ego, Victorian Ann, the two stories paralleled as both of them travel to and in America. Whether Joanna's journey is into the paranormal or whether there is a psychological and logical explanation, is for the reader to decide. This novel, with its double time scale, has links with both The Alabaster Egg and The Marriage Machine, and also continues my fascination with the United States. The Marriage Machine, Love Child, and Termination Rock, in different ways and in different periods, deal with the adaptation to life in North America.
My choice of Einstein for a children's biography—a highly individual man whose life was spent in trying to eliminate the frontiers of prejudice—and the thesis of The Undergrowth of Literature (the need for fantasy in the sexually disturbed) illustrate my interest in and compassion for those unable to conform to the accepted social mores. To some extent my film writing has also dealt with social and sexual distress, as did my short play for The National Theatre, Pursuit. The ballet scenarios for Kenneth MacMillan, although the subjects were not selected by me, again present individuals who are "outsiders"—Prince Rudolf in Mayerling and the strong, passionate and wayward Isadora Duncan.
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Since her first novel, The Liberty Man, Gillian Freeman has shown an outstanding ability to get inside the skin of characters from very different social backgrounds. It should be remembered that The Liberty Man was considerably in advance of its time in its truly empathic conveyance of a working-class character (Derek, a naval rating) who becomes involved in an affair with an intellectual and middle-class woman. This book appeared when the prevailing literary method of portraying working-class people still tended to be by projecting the image of the well-intentioned but clumsy, scruffy, and inarticulate "little man." The unusual power of The Liberty Man, however, does not rest only in its portrait of Derek, but in his relationship with Freda, the middle-class school teacher, through which Freeman analyses resonances between people from extremely diverse social groups, and between the inner experiences of the individual and the externals that he sees in operation around him.
Freeman is, in a sense, the writer of the archetypal anti-Cinderella story. She has acute honesty and a flair for precise, almost wickedly unerring observation of detail and motive. In her novels, despite changes of fortune (Jack Would Be a Gentleman is a good example) people's lives are not transformed, and their basic inadequacies remain. Her novels are preoccupied with frustration and fallibility; she frequently manages, however, by well-timed injections of compassion, to lift a book's mood of inadequacy and doubt into warmth and well-being that are almost physical in the strength of their expression.
Freeman observes and analyses the vagaries of human nature but rarely makes moral judgments. She highlights complexities in apparently "ordinary" or superficial characters, and makes her jaded sophisticates capable of sudden deep and challenging emotions. She explores conflicts between ambition and conscience, and the primitive feelings that underlie the veneer of our civilization. Permeating some of her narratives is a sense that the protective social structure we strive to perpetuate is deeply flawed. She is, in this context, extremely concerned with nonconformity—the healthily truculent attitudes of the working classes; the bewildered responses of the unconscious homosexual; the rootlessness of the young that can sometimes find expression only in violence (The Leather Boys).
Freeman's novels are synonymous with power and panache, though these qualities are often expressed in low-key and even throwaway language. She is in this respect quintessentially English, and until The Alabaster Egg her preoccupations were with issues particularly pertinent to English society. The Alabaster Egg is her most trenchant and telling work. It is about the pursuit of political power, and this is counterpointed by a probing of the exploitation of human beings at the personal level. Her setting is wider than in the earlier novels; it is no longer England but Europe—or the world—and the focus, significantly, is Germany—the vortex of 20th-century "civilization," corruption, and decay.
Her earlier stories were concerned with displacement, in particular with the catalytic effect of an alien presence in a close-knit and apparently secure social structure (Fall of Innocence, The Campaign). The Alabaster Egg highlights an ironic reversal of this theme of dissociation; Hannah, the book's heroine, has the misfortune to be a Jew in Nazi Germany. She does not, however, see herself as an alien. In her own estimation she is as much a German as a Jew. Her situation, of course, stresses one of the most pernicious effects of Nazi racist policies—the enforced separation of certain people from their own communities, from the only group to which they had felt a sense of belonging. Hannah's tragic but resilient story has parallels with happenings in the time of Bismarck. Her love affair with a "real" German is illuminated by her readings from the diary of the homosexual lover of King Ludwig II. This affair—like Hannah's—ends in bewilderment and betrayal.
Having written compellingly from the viewpoint of a sensitive and intelligent Jewish woman caught up in the hideousness of fascism, Freeman goes on to write as if from the inside about a passionate supporter of Hitler's ideologies in Nazi Lady. This originally appeared as a factual diary; it was so convincing that one critic pronounced it "unquestionably genuine." Genuineness, of course, does not have to be a matter of fact but of mood, and in this sense Nazi Lady is genuine, although it is a work of fiction. Freeman says that it was inspired by her publisher's observations on the extraordinary dichotomy between the anguishes of the battles of Stalingrad and the "good life" enjoyed at the same time by influential civilians in Germany.
In Nazi Lady the heroine's initial enthusiasm for Nazism is presented with subtlety and conviction. Elisabeth is German; to English readers she is possibly a slightly glamorized amalgam of Marlene Dietrich, Irma Greeser, and whatever the Nazi slogan "Strength through Joy" suggested. As well as being brittle she is beautiful, and her experiences are macabrely fascinating.
Freeman combines fact and fiction with aplomb. (For example, Elisabeth has to accept expert but distasteful seduction by Goebbels in order to save her husband from the rigors of the Russian Front.) In the end, all her convictions are reduced to ashes, as both her son and her husband become victims of Nazi ruthlessness and fanaticism. But she survives—and marries an American from the liberating forces.
An Easter Egg Hunt is set in a girls' school during Word War I, and it is not only an intriguing mystery story on its own account but memorable for its evocation of Angela Brazil's schoolgirl adventures. School was, of course, regarded by Angela Brazil as the (essentially neatly ordered) world in microcosm; but Freeman recognizes bizarre and eccentric elements even in the innately conservative and sheltered confines of school life. She adeptly creates and manipulates her adolescent characters without excesses or sentimentality, and they are in fact far removed from Brazil's colorful but artless embodiments of schoolgirlishness.
The narrative style of Freeman's novels is perfectly suited to her sensitive but down-to-earth approach. Her prose is robust and direct; her plots are constructed with economy and excellence, and the stories seem to vibrate with energy and insight.
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