Study Guide

Eva Figes

Eva Figes Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Eva Unger Figes (FI-jeez) was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1932 and emigrated to England with her Jewish family in 1939 in order to avoid persecution. Figes’ period of adjustment, when she learned what it meant to be a German Jew rather than being English, is recorded in her memoir Little Eden: A Child at War and her fictional Konek Landing. From these traumatic and alienated beginnings, Figes has emerged as one of England’s most insightful novelists and most strident feminist Marxist critics.

Figes was educated at Kingsbury Grammar School in London and Queen Mary College of London University. She married in 1954 and had two children while working as a book editor. She was divorced in 1963 and only then began her writing career with her first novel, Equinox, tracing a married couple’s year-long journey toward divorce. Figes splits her personal experiences between the two: Martin, the husband, is a German Jew who came to England as a child to escape the Nazis and still feels like an outsider; Elizabeth, the wife, is a frustrated poet and book editor.

In most of her work, however, Figes shies away from telling fictional versions of her own experiences. Her early novels, including Winter Journey and B, all lead up to her seminal feminist tract, Patriarchal Attitudes. Considered by many to be an important early work in the feminist movement, the book rejects Freudian views of women and their subservient role in society. It instead traces the anthropological history of social customs in various societies in order to show how women have always been controlled by men and their “patriarchal attitudes.”

Figes continued this perspective in her next fictional work, Days, and her next critical work, Tragedy and Social Evolution. In the former, she presents the interior monologue of a bedridden woman as she remembers how she, like all other women, has been mentally and emotionally used throughout her lifetime by the powers of the patriarchy. Ultimately, the woman can find solace only in once again succumbing to patriarchal expectations. Likewise, in the latter work, Figes rejects Sigmund Freud’s concept of the Oedipal complex and instead looks at social and patriarchal taboos that have been used as devices to create dramatic tragedy....

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Eva Figes Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bradbury, Malcolm. The Modern British Novel. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 2001. Briefly discusses Figes’ work as both a novelist and critic.

Friedman, Ellen G. “‘Utterly Other Discourse’: The Anticanon of Experimental Women Writers from Dorothy Richardson to Christine Brooke-Rose.” Modern Fiction Studies 34, no. 3 (1988). A brief discussion of Figes.

Rozett, Martha Tuck. “Constructing a World: How Postmodern Historical Fiction Reimagines the Past.” Clio 25, no. 2 (Winter, 1996). Discusses Figes’ use of historical material in re-creating the character of Deborah Milton and the ambiance of seventeenth century England in The Tree of Knowledge.

Wheeler, Kathleen. A Guide to Twentieth Century Women Novelists. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1997. Figes is profiled in this overview work.