Beryl Bainbridge was born on November 21, 1933, in Liverpool, England, during the depths of the Great Depression. She was raised in the town of Formby, not far from Liverpool. Her parents, Richard and Winifred Baines Bainbridge, encouraged Beryl and her older brother to read and write. The family, however, was not a happy one. Richard Bainbridge was prone to emotional instability and his violence colored Bainbridge’s youth. Writing became a means of escape from her difficult home environment. At ten, she produced her first book, but she destroyed it. Her next literary work was called Filthy Lucre: Or, The Tragedy of Andrew Ledwhistle and Richard Soleway, completed when she was about thirteen but not published until 1986.
Bainbridge was expelled from school at age fourteen when she was discovered with a lewd note. Subsequently, at age sixteen and with her mother’s encouragement, she joined the Liverpool Playhouse Company to study acting and work as assistant stage manager. She remained there until 1952; her experiences formed the basis of her later novel An Awfully Big Adventure (1989).
In 1954, Bainbridge married artist Austin Davies. The couple had two children, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1959. Throughout her marriage and thereafter, Bainbridge continued to write. In 1958, she completed a novel that would be published in 1972 as Harriet Said, the account of two girls who ultimately commit murder. After her divorce, she was briefly married again to writer Alan Sharp, by whom she had a third child. During this period, she also produced her third novel, A Weekend with Claud, published in 1967. In a pattern that she would follow in later life, Bainbridge radically revised this novel for republication in 1981, cutting the story to the bare bones and renaming it A Weekend with Claude. Likewise, Another Part of the Wood (1968) was revised and republished in 1979.
Bainbridge often used her own memories and family members as the basis for her books. The Dressmaker (1973; published in the United States as The Secret Glass, 1973) was based on her two aunts’ experiences during World War II while living in Liverpool. In addition, The Bottle Factory Outing (1974) was based on her own employment at a bottling factory in the late 1960’s. In this black comedy, one of the main characters is murdered at a picnic she has planned for the workers of a bottle factory, who ultimately throw her body into the ocean. While reviews of this novel were mixed, it garnered for Bainbridge her first Man Booker Prize nomination and won the Guardian Fiction...
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