Beryl Bainbridge 1933-
(Full name Beryl Margaret Bainbridge) English novelist, short story writer, nonfiction writer, and screenplay writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Bainbridge's career through 1999. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 4, 5, 8, 10, 14, 18, 22, and 62.
English author Beryl Bainbridge is best known for creating spare, morbidly humorous fiction that examines the bizarre, often violent, turns of events that reflect the tenuous, menacing quality of modern life. Drawing upon her stormy upbringing in working-class Liverpool, Bainbridge was initially known as a writer of thrillers that chronicled ordinary lives in postwar England, as in Harriet Said (1972) and The Bottle Factory Outing (1974). In subsequent novels, however, she has reenacted historical events—the Polar expedition of Robert Falcon Scott in The Birthday Boys (1991) and the sinking of the Titanic in Every Man for Himself (1996)—to great effect and critical acclaim.
Bainbridge was born in Liverpool in 1933, the daughter of Winifred Baines and Richard Bainbridge, a salesman. Her childhood was decidedly unhappy; her class-conscious mother was discontented with her working-class husband, who was moody, dictatorial, and bad-tempered, and the couple often clashed. Bainbridge began dancing at age six and worked steadily as a child performer. When at age 14 she was expelled from school for drawing a rude picture, her parents sent her to ballet school. However, she ran away to London the next year. After several years of acting, including appearances on stage, television, and radio, she returned to Liverpool and married artist Austin Davies in 1954. While pregnant with the first of her three children, Bainbridge began work on her first novel, Harriet Said. This book was completed in 1958, but editors were so appalled by its gruesome plot and amoral child characters that Bainbridge could not find a publisher for it until more than a decade later. Bainbridge put the book aside and continued to write, publishing A Weekend with Claud (1967) and Another Part of the Wood (1968). After her divorce from Davies in 1959, Bainbridge held various jobs, including a stint in a wine bottling company, which inspired The Bottle Factory Outing. In 1970 Bainbridge began working as clerk for publishers Duckworth & Company, where fiction editor Anna Haycraft befriended her and published Harriet Said in 1972. The following year, Bainbridge received a Booker Prize nomination for The Dressmaker (1973; published in America as The Secret Glass, 1974), based on the paternal aunts she knew as a child in Liverpool. Bainbridge subsequently earned Booker Prize nominations for three additional works: The Bottle Factory Outing, An Awfully Big Adventure (1989), and Every Man for Himself (1996). Bainbridge has also written several television scripts, among them adaptations of her novels Sweet William (1975) and A Quiet Life (1976). In 1983 she traveled with a television crew throughout industrial England, recording her observations in the nonfiction work English Journey (1984). In 1986 Bainbridge began writing a quirky weekly column for the London newspaper Evening Standard; these columns were subsequently collected in Something Happened Yesterday (1993). Bainbridge continues to live and write in London.
Bainbridge draws upon her maladjusted family and working-class upbringing as inspiration for much of her work. Portraits of disappointed, temperamental, manipulative men based on her father recur in her stories. Elaborate plotting, alternating points of view, and bizarre humor also characterize her fiction, in which the central dramatic device almost always involves a death or violent act. Bainbridge based Harriet Said on a news story about two Australian girls who murdered the mother of one of them. The unnamed thirteen-year-old narrator, in league with her manipulative friend Harriet, chronicles how the two girls ensnare their married neighbor Mr. Biggs in a...
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