Since she was in her twenties, Margaret Drabble has been one of Britain’s most important writers. She is best known for her fiction. Beginning in 1963, her novels have been popular and critical successes both in Great Britain and America. These works display her gradual development as a writer. She has also been a dramatist, a reviewer, an essayist, a short-story writer, a teacher, a lecturer, a literary critic, and an editor. In the last capacity, she is responsible for the revised edition of the classic Oxford Companion to English Literature. She is also the author of acclaimed biographies of two important English writers, Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson. Her work has been the object of much adulation and critical attention.
Drabble grew up in the industrial city of Sheffield (often described as “Northham” in her novels). Both her parents had risen from working-class backgrounds to obtain degrees from Cambridge University. Her father became a barrister and then a judge; her mother taught at the Quaker school Drabble herself would attend. Many critics see a Quaker influence in the emphasis Drabble places in her novels on liberal values of responsibility and service. The family was middle class and professional. It must have been an intense home, for all the Drabble children have achieved considerable academic and professional success; one sister is the famous novelist A. S. Byatt. According to the pictures Drabble gives in some of her novels, particularly in Jerusalem the Golden, she found family life (and life in Sheffield in general) joyless and suffocating.
Like so many of her characters, Drabble escaped. She attended Cambridge University (Newnham College), where she distinguished herself as a scholar—she was awarded a “double first” degree in English in 1960—and more obviously as an actress. The next step of her escape was to marry the actor Clive Swift and to join with Swift the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon. Her career as an actress, mainly as understudy to Vanessa Redgrave and Judi Dench, was cut short by pregnancy; she filled her backstage hours and then the time at home with her baby by writing her first novel.
Her life in...
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