Margaret Drabble believes that people have little free will. “We are not free from our past, we are never free of the claims of others, and we ought to not wish to be. (Existential thought, and emphasis on the acte gratuite, has always seemed to me a very inadequate way of looking at life.) We are all part of a long inheritance, a human community in which we must play our proper part.” These views shape The Middle Ground in several ways.

Kate Armstrong’s predicament is the primary example. In her early forties, Kate sees that her life is about to change radically. Her oldest child has started university, the middle child is preparing for A Level examinations, and the youngest soon will mature. “What would happen to her busy home,” she asks herself, “when the last teenager left, when the sound of pop music was silenced, when there was nobody in for those inconsequential meals but herself?” She is equally anxious about her professional career, doubting her qualifications, questioning her specialty’s significance, writing on subjects beyond her expertise. She changes jobs, hoping that new colleagues and a new environment will freshen her. Her long-standing affair with Ted had withered and died, killed in part by Ted’s self-absorption, but also by Kate’s dissatisfaction. Kate wonders whether she should have been more supportive of her former husband’s art, whether she should have worked harder to preserve her relationship with Ted, whether she should sign up for night classes.

Looking for a change of pace, Kate accepts an invitation to make a television film about women, contrasting the choices of school-leavers...

(The entire section is 683 words.)