Harriet Said Critical Context
by Beryl Bainbridge

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Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Harriet Said resembles Bainbridge’s other novels in its careful examination of psychological motivation, jealousy, and the results of an unhealthy sexual tension or preoccupation. Like many contemporary British novels—Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959) or John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957), for example—this book focuses on working-class characters trapped in the backwaters of industrialized England, people who would ordinarily fade into a crowd. It is exactly this “invisible” person who affords Bainbridge the perfect means by which to shock her readers. Her fiction could be described as domestic horror because it focuses on unassuming people only to reveal the startling, and frequently frightening, hostilities hidden beneath their weak exteriors. In Bainbridge’s novels, the everyday world is transformed into one of terror when a character’s repressed anger erupts and destroys the entrapped victim. In this regard her interests parallel those of such contemporary writers of horror fiction as Thomas Tryon, Peter Straub, and Stephen King, who, like Bainbridge, focus on the banal somehow transformed into the horrifying.

As a Bildungsroman, Bainbridge’s novel treats themes similar to those in J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951) or Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973). Like the main characters in both of those books, Harriet and the narrator are adolescents at odds with a world which they perceive to be ruled by stupid, repressive adults. All these characters are misfits who refuse to be socialized; they are also streetwise survivors. What distinguishes Harriet and her friend from Brown’s or Salinger’s adolescent rebels is the form that their rebellion takes: They murder or otherwise destroy the adults who block their way. In this respect, Harriet Said may be compared to Thomas Tryon’s The Other (1971), whose young protagonist kills not only his alter ego (his identical twin) but also any adult who tries to make him take responsibility for his actions.