Beryl Margaret Bainbridge wrote about a working-class world whose inhabitants are colorless and ineffectual. She was the daughter of Richard Bainbridge, a salesman, and his wife, Winifred. Although her father achieved a measure of success, he never forgot his working-class roots. He believed that, despite the illusions of the pleasures of home and family, working people are alone; when they die, nothing is left but a few tattered possessions, and even the places where they were born, their rented flats, and their factories, are eventually swept away by the rich.
With interruptions, Bainbridge attended the Merchant Taylor’s School in Great Crosby, England, between 1943 and 1956. She became an actress and appeared in the Liverpool Playhouse, London’s West End theaters, and repertory theaters in Windsor and Salisbury. She worked in television as host for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) series English Journey in 1983 and Forever England in 1986. She also wrote and read stories for a children’s radio program in Manchester. In 1954, Bainbridge married an artist, Austin Davies, with whom she had three children before their divorce. She called herself a socialist, a “lapsed Catholic,” and “something of a recluse.” She eventually settled in Camden Town, London.
Bainbridge’s novels are populated with the lonely, unlucky, and discontented. They look for respectability and acceptance but often end in desperation. While the story of the elderly Jewish woman Shebah is told and retold in A Weekend with Claud, the characters betray one another and drift apart rather than find solace in community. The young boy Roland, one of the few vital characters in Another Part of the Wood, dies of a tranquilizer overdose, alone and forgotten. In Sweet William, Ann, a single girl living in Hampstead, interacts with other characters so bland and nondescript that they are hardly discernible.
The characters constantly face alienation and can find no way to escape it. At the end of Harriet Said, the girl who has been seduced by the czar is surprised that he has some affection for her. To the girl, his was a meaningless act of little emotion or consequence. Freda and Brenda in The Bottle Factory Outing live together in a threadbare flat,...
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Beryl Margaret Bainbridge was born on November 21, 1933, in Liverpool, England, during the Great Depression. Her parents were Richard and Winifred Bainbridge, and she had an older brother. Her family moved to the town of Formby when she was still a baby. She was raised and educated in Formby. Although she was encouraged to read and write by her parents, she did not enjoy a happy home life. The stresses and strains of her early years inspired several of her books. The young Bainbridge, who wrote her first book when she was only ten years old, often used writing as a way to escape from the troubles in her home. At the age of thirteen, she produced a manuscript that would be published as the novel Filthy Lucre in 1986.
At the age of sixteen, after her expulsion from school two years earlier, Bainbridge joined the Liverpool Playhouse Company as an assistant stage manager. Many of her experiences at the theater (where she stayed until 1952) are evident in her 1989 novel, An Awfully Big Adventure.
Bainbridge married Austin Davies, an artist, in 1954. After five years and two children, however, the marriage ended in divorce. Soon after, she married the author Alan Sharp, with whom she had a daughter; that marriage, too, did not last. Bainbridge once again turned to writing as a means of escape and to provide support for herself and her children. For inspiration, she used stories from newspapers and drew from her own past.
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