Anita Brookner Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anita Brookner, the only child of Newsom and Maude Schiska Brookner, attended James Allen’s Girls’ School, received a B.A. from King’s College, University of London, and completed a Ph.D. in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She began her teaching career as a visiting lecturer at the University of Reading, where she taught from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 she became a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, where from 1977 to 1987 she was a reader in art history with the rank of professor. She was Slade Professor at the University of Cambridge from 1967 to 1968, the first woman ever to hold the position. In 1984 Brookner won the Booker Prize for her novel Hotel du Lac, and four years later she gave up teaching to concentrate on her writing career. She was named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.

Brookner’s writing initially grew out of her academic field of expertise, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century French painting. Her first book was Watteau, a brief introductory study of the French painter. She followed this book with a volume of six essays of comparative criticism, The Genius of the Future, Studies in French Art Criticism, in which she examined the personalities and accomplishments of Denis Diderot, Stendhal, Charles Baudelaire, Émile Zola, the Brothers Goncourt, and Joris-Karl Huysmans; this volume was a product of Brookner’s Slade lectures at Cambridge. She followed this work with Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth Century Phenomenon, in which she presented Jean-Baptiste Greuze as a painter who attempted to reestablish nostalgia as a part of the abstract intellectual milieu of the mid-eighteenth century art world. In Jacques-Louis David Brookner portrayed David as an artist whose life and work embodied and reflected much of the fundamental thought, belief, and behavior of the eighteenth century.

During a long summer vacation Brookner wrote her first novel, The Debut, which reflects her awareness of the impact of art on life and her involvement in the academic world. The main character, Ruth Weiss, is a professor of literature at a London university who, like Brookner, grew up reading English novels, especially those of Charles Dickens, in which patience and virtue were ultimately rewarded; because of the stifling life she lives under the eye of her strong-willed mother she is led to study Honoré de Balzac. Through a scholarship she escapes to Paris to read Balzac and to live her own life, but her adventure is cut short when she is called back to London to tend to her aging parents.

Brookner continued her examination of the thinking single woman in Providence, Look at Me, and Hotel du Lac. In the last, her fourth novel, Edith Hope is a successful writer...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Anita Brookner was born in London, England, on July 16, 1928, to Newsom and Maude Brookner. She was educated at James Allen’s Girls’ School and King’s College, University of London, and she received a Ph.D. in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London in 1953. From 1959 to 1964, she was visiting lecturer at the University of Reading, Berkshire. In 1967-1968, she was Slade Professor at Cambridge University, the first woman to hold this position. From 1964 to 1988 she taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she lectured on neoclassicism and the Romantic movement. She is a fellow of New Hall of Cambridge University. In 1983, she became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1990 she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). In 1984, Hotel du Lac won the prestigious Booker Prize.

Brookner began her career as a novelist when she was more than fifty years old as an attempt, she hinted, to understand her own powerlessness after a grand passion went wrong. Since 1981, she has published novels almost at the rate of one per year.