Other literary forms

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Beryl Bainbridge has published a remarkable number of novels, but she is also a well-known short-story writer, journalist, theater critic, and screenwriter. Her short-story collections include Mum and Mr. Armitage: Selected Stories of Beryl Bainbridge (1985) and Collected Stories (1994). Bainbridge also worked on several television documentaries, including Emily Brontë...

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Beryl Bainbridge has published a remarkable number of novels, but she is also a well-known short-story writer, journalist, theater critic, and screenwriter. Her short-story collections include Mum and Mr. Armitage: Selected Stories of Beryl Bainbridge (1985) and Collected Stories (1994). Bainbridge also worked on several television documentaries, including Emily Brontë and Haworth (1982) and English Journey: Or, The Road to Milton Keynes (1984). She also hosted the series Forever England: North and South (1987) and wrote and published the companion volume to that series. As a longtime journalist, her columns from the Evening Standard newspaper were collected in 1993 and published as Something Happened Yesterday. Bainbridge drew on her experiences as an actor and theater critic for the book Front Row: Evenings at the Theatre, Pieces from “The Oldie” (2005), a collection of reviews, essays, and a memoir.

Achievements

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Beryl Bainbridge has received both popular and critical praise for her work, which has a wide English-language readership and has been translated into many languages. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1978 and was appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2000. In addition, Bainbridge received many literary honors, including being short-listed five times for the Booker Prize: in 1973 for The Dressmaker, in 1974 for The Bottle Factory Outing, in 1990 for An Awfully Big Adventure, in 1996 for Every Man for Himself, and in 1998 for Master Georgie. She won the Guardian Fiction Award, the Whitbread Novel Award, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. In 2003, she shared the David Cohen British Literature Prize for lifetime achievement with Thom Gunn.

Discussion Topics

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What techniques does Beryl Bainbridge use to make her characters come alive for readers?

What role does the setting play in each of Bainbridge’s novels?

What are some examples of irony in Bainbridge’s novels, and how does she use irony as a plot device?

What is black humor and how does it function in An Awfully Big Adventure?

Bainbridge has written a series of historical novels, including events such as the Crimean War, the sinking of the Titanic, and the doomed Antarctic expedition of Robert Scott. What do her novels tell readers about the nature of history and the nature of narrating history?

In According to Queeney, Bainbridge uses an innovative structure by having a section of straight narration concerning some event in Samuel Johnson’s life, only to follow it by a letter from the adult Queeney that refers to the event. How do the letters undermine the flow of the narration? Do the letters clarify or complicate the picture the novels paints of Johnson?

In An Awfully Big Adventure, how does Stella affect each of the other characters? What is the result for each of them of her presence in the troupe? Is Stella aware of the consequences of her actions and comments?

Bibliography

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Bainbridge, Beryl. “The Art of Fiction CLXIV.” Interview by Shusha Guppy. The Paris Review, no. 157 (Winter, 2001). Bainbridge talks about how the inspiration for two novels came to her after a period during which she had stopped writing.

Bainbridge, Beryl. Interview by Barbara A. Bannon. Publishers Weekly 209 (March 15, 1976): 6-7. Bainbridge discusses her family and her writing process. She states that she is attracted to the Victorian period because “women knew where they were then.” Her theatrical background is noted, and her developing talent as a painter is mentioned.

Becket, Fiona. “Singular Events: The ’As If’ of Beryl Bainbridge’s Every Man for Himself.” In British Fiction of the 1990’s, edited by Nick Bentley. New York: Routledge, 2005. A chapter-long discussion of Bainbridge’s novel about the sinking of the Titanic. Becket is particularly interested in the interconnectedness of fact and fiction in this novel, and in Bainbridge’s exploration of loss.

Grubisic, Brett Josef. Understanding Beryl Bainbridge. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2008. An overview of Bainbridge’s life and an analysis of her major novels. An excellent starting place for any study of Bainbridge’s work. Includes an extensive bibliography and references.

Jagodzinski, Cecile M. “Beryl Bainbridge.” In British Novelists Since 1960, Fourth Series, edited by Merritt Moseley. Vol. 231 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001. A useful overview of Bainbridge’s life and career.

Pickering, Jean. “Drabble, Byatt, Dunn, and Bainbridge: Their Lives and Their Books.” Albion 11 (1979): 197. This abstract of a paper presented at a scholarly conference describes the similarities of the four contemporary women writers. In interviews, the authors explain how they have had to juggle their careers and family lives, and they note that, as contemporaries living in London, they share a supportive literary environment.

Punter, David. “Beryl Bainbridge: The New Psychopathia.” In The Hidden Script: Writing and the Unconscious. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. Bainbridge’s novels are explained as “fables of psychosis” and her characters are described as stunted and bizarre. A theme of rebellion runs throughout Bainbridge’s novels.

Rennison, Nick. “Beryl Bainbridge.” In Contemporary British Novelists. New York: Routledge, 2005. An installment in the Routledge Key Guides series. Offers a biographical overview as well as discussion of key works, including plot devices and themes. Includes a bibliography and a guide to further reading.

Warner, Val. “Beryl Bainbridge: Overview.” In Contemporary Novelists, edited by Susan Windisch Brown. 6th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996. Argues that with the exception of Sweet William and Winter Garden, all of Bainbridge’s novels are centered on a death or act of violence.

Wennö, Elisabeth. Ironic Formula in the Novels of Beryl Bainbridge. Göteburg, Sweden: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis, 1993. One of the very few book-length studies of Bainbridge, this text provides a key reading of Bainbridge’s use of irony throughout her career. While the book is academic and challenging, it is nonetheless an important resource for those studying Bainbridge’s work.

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