(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Narrating the most intimate details of the feminine experience surrounding the birth of her second child, Jane Gray surrenders herself to the fate that is her physical nature and sees herself as drowning in a “willing sea.” Her confessional narrative glides effortlessly in and out of two distinct voices, one debating, as it were, with the other. Speaking in the third-person, Jane narrates the events of her past and her present. When she shifts to the first person, she comments on her feelings about the events, as though to find interconnections and some center for those events and persons that constitute her life. For example, in speaking of her new baby, she regrets having omitted feelings for the child: “I did not want to include one man’s child in the story of my passion for another man. I felt compromised, I felt condemned.” Unable to verbalize her feelings with another person, she debates within herself, equally unable to bring those debates to a resolution until the end of the narrative, when once more she resumes her writing. Her poetry eventually provides the unity, saving her from the drowning.

Married to a musician (Margaret Drabble herself had been married to an actor), Jane confesses that it was she who had sent him away, preferring to have their baby by herself, with the help of a visiting midwife. The novel begins with the breakup of the marriage and the appearance of Jane’s cousin and closest friend, Lucy Otford, to offer what help Jane will accept. In strong contrast to Jane, Lucy enjoys an active life with her own children and with her profession, both of which she has been able to connect, as Jane has been unable to do. Efficient and well ordered, Lucy does what Jane allows her to do, then leaves, and in her place Lucy’s husband arrives to sit with Jane. His visits become regular, so that when the doctor approves of the resumption of her sexual activity, James wordlessly and easily slips into bed with her as though by mutual consent.

Jane had already cut off...

(The entire section is 823 words.)

The Waterfall Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In The Waterfall, Jane Gray is married to the successful guitarist Malcolm Gray, but she has driven him away with her indifference, her sloppy housekeeping, and her frigidity. When she gives birth to her second child, Bianca, she is looked after by her cousin and best friend, Lucy, and Lucy’s husband, James Otford. She and James almost immediately fall in love, and when she has recovered from the aftereffects of childbirth they begin a passionate affair, keeping Lucy, the absent Malcolm, and both Jane and Malcolm’s parents in ignorance.

For the first time, Jane is not only in love but also sexually passionate. The affair seems to be proceeding without difficulty until James suggests that they travel to Norway for a vacation with Jane’s two children. She is reluctant at first but then agrees. At the beginning of the trip, however, they are involved in a terrible automobile accident. Both James and Jane have expected something like this to happen, since he is a very daring and bad driver, but ironically the accident is not his fault. Another driver is killed. Jane and the children are shaken but not injured, but James is thrown from the car and severely hurt; he remains in a coma for weeks.

Jane, pretending to be Mrs. Otford, remains near James and visits him every day, but Malcolm Gray eventually finds out where she is and tells Lucy. Lucy’s reaction is to call and tell Jane that she wishes that both the lovers had been killed...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

The Waterfall Bibliography

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Moran, Mary Hurley. Margaret Drabble: Existing Within Structures, 1983.

Myer, Valerie Grosvenor. Margaret Drabble: Puritanism and Permissiveness, 1974.

Rose, Ellen Cronan. The Novels of Margaret Drabble: Equivocal Figures, 1980.

Sadler, Lynn Veach. Margaret Drabble, 1986.

Schmidt, Dorey, ed. Margaret Drabble: Golden Realms, 1982.