Beryl Bainbridge Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beryl Margaret Bainbridge wrote about a working-class world whose inhabitants are colorless and ineffectual. She was the daughter of Richard Bainbridge, a salesman, and his wife, Winifred. Although her father achieved a measure of success, he never forgot his working-class roots. He believed that, despite the illusions of the pleasures of home and family, working people are alone; when they die, nothing is left but a few tattered possessions, and even the places where they were born, their rented flats, and their factories, are eventually swept away by the rich.

With interruptions, Bainbridge attended the Merchant Taylor’s School in Great Crosby, England, between 1943 and 1956. She became an actress and appeared in the Liverpool Playhouse, London’s West End theaters, and repertory theaters in Windsor and Salisbury. She worked in television as host for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series English Journey in 1983 and Forever England in 1986. She also wrote and read stories for a children’s radio program in Manchester. In 1954, Bainbridge married an artist, Austin Davies, with whom she had three children before their divorce. She called herself a socialist, a “lapsed Catholic,” and “something of a recluse.” She eventually settled in Camden Town, London.

Bainbridge’s novels are populated with the lonely, unlucky, and discontented. They look for respectability and acceptance but often end in desperation. While the story of the elderly Jewish woman Shebah is told and retold in A Weekend with Claud, the characters betray one another and drift apart rather than find solace in community. The young boy Roland, one of the few vital characters in Another Part of the Wood, dies of a tranquilizer overdose, alone and forgotten. In Sweet William, Ann, a single girl living in Hampstead, interacts with other characters so bland and nondescript that they are hardly discernible.

The characters constantly face alienation and can find no way to escape it. At the end of Harriet Said, the girl who has been seduced by the czar is surprised that he has some affection for her. To the girl, his was a meaningless act of little emotion or consequence. Freda and Brenda in The Bottle Factory Outing live together in a threadbare flat,...

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Beryl Bainbridge Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Beryl Margaret Bainbridge was born on November 21, 1933, in Liverpool, England, during the Great Depression. Her parents were Richard and Winifred Bainbridge, and she had an older brother. Her family moved to the town of Formby when she was still a baby. She was raised and educated in Formby. Although she was encouraged to read and write by her parents, she did not enjoy a happy home life. The stresses and strains of her early years inspired several of her books. The young Bainbridge, who wrote her first book when she was only ten years old, often used writing as a way to escape from the troubles in her home. At the age of thirteen, she produced a manuscript that would be published as the novel Filthy Lucre in 1986.

At the age of sixteen, after her expulsion from school two years earlier, Bainbridge joined the Liverpool Playhouse Company as an assistant stage manager. Many of her experiences at the theater (where she stayed until 1952) are evident in her 1989 novel, An Awfully Big Adventure.

Bainbridge married Austin Davies, an artist, in 1954. After five years and two children, however, the marriage ended in divorce. Soon after, she married the author Alan Sharp, with whom she had a daughter; that marriage, too, did not last. Bainbridge once again turned to writing as a means of escape and to provide support for herself and her children. For inspiration, she used stories from newspapers and drew from her own past.

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Beryl Bainbridge Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beryl Bainbridge was born on November 21, 1933, in Liverpool, England, during the depths of the Great Depression. She was raised in the town of Formby, not far from Liverpool. Her parents, Richard and Winifred Baines Bainbridge, encouraged Beryl and her older brother to read and write. The family, however, was not a happy one. Richard Bainbridge was prone to emotional instability and his violence colored Bainbridge’s youth. Writing became a means of escape from her difficult home environment. At ten, she produced her first book, but she destroyed it. Her next literary work was called Filthy Lucre: Or, The Tragedy of Andrew Ledwhistle and Richard Soleway, completed when she was about thirteen but not published until 1986.

Bainbridge was expelled from school at age fourteen when she was discovered with a lewd note. Subsequently, at age sixteen and with her mother’s encouragement, she joined the Liverpool Playhouse Company to study acting and work as assistant stage manager. She remained there until 1952; her experiences formed the basis of her later novel An Awfully Big Adventure (1989).

In 1954, Bainbridge married artist Austin Davies. The couple had two children, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1959. Throughout her marriage and thereafter, Bainbridge continued to write. In 1958, she completed a novel that would be published in 1972 as Harriet Said, the account of two girls who ultimately commit murder. After her divorce, she was briefly married again to writer Alan Sharp, by whom she had a third child. During this period, she also produced her third novel, A Weekend with Claud, published in 1967. In a pattern that she would follow in later life, Bainbridge radically revised this novel for republication in 1981, cutting the story to the bare bones and renaming it A Weekend with Claude. Likewise, Another Part of the Wood (1968) was revised and republished in 1979.

Bainbridge often used her own memories and family members as the basis for her books. The Dressmaker (1973; published in the United States as The Secret Glass, 1973) was based on her two aunts’ experiences during World War II while living in Liverpool. In addition, The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) was based on her own employment at a bottling factory in the late 1960’s. In this black comedy, one of the main characters is murdered at a picnic she has planned for the workers of a bottle factory, who ultimately throw her body into the ocean. While reviews of this novel were mixed, it garnered for Bainbridge her first Man Booker Prize nomination and won the Guardian Fiction...

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Beryl Bainbridge Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Whether she is writing about memories from her personal past or using historical events as the basis of her fiction, Beryl Bainbridge creates memorable characters and spot-on dialogue in her many novels. While some critics find her writing to be too spare, most acknowledge her deftness of plot and her skill in structuring highly inventive and creative works. Her novels often traverse the ground between comedy and tragedy. Often eccentric, always innovative, Bainbridge’s novels call into question notions of history, truth, love, and fate.