Margaret Drabble Drabble, Margaret (Vol. 10) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Drabble, Margaret 1939–

An English novelist, biographer, essayist, screenplay writer, and former actress, Drabble achieved acclaim with her first novel, A Summer Bird-Cage. Her early novels were private, interior pieces, while her more recent works reflect her concern for social and political issues. As an author of screenplays, Drabble has adapted her novels for film. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 5, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)

Patricia Sharpe

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Drabble's novels, particularly their conclusions, are structured to expose the narrowness and inadequacy of … moral judgments by upsetting our expectations. As conditioned novel readers we anticipate conclusions which will confirm our values and sympathies, rewarding the hero or heroine with success and marriage. Throughout Thank You All Very Much, for example, we await Rosamund's declaration to George of his paternity and their subsequent union; therefore we are … initially frustrated by her silence. Yet the final lines of the novel demonstrate that our taste for traditional happy endings may tempt us to misunderstand Rosamund's action. It proceeds not from frigidity, neurosis or the expectations of others, but from Rosamund's developing acceptance of her unique self. She opts for a relationship with her child alone because Octavia is all she wants at this point. She recognizes that this choice is a bad investment but reminds us that most other passionate choices are as well…. [For] that moment Rosamund has "lost the taste for half-knowledge," and in choosing according to her inclinations Rosamund better displays the emotional growth which has accompanied her motherhood than she would by taking a husband as she has taken escorts, because she believes it is expected of her. Rosamund's joy in her immediate, instinctive love for Octavia, the first of her life, is also her first experience of feeling "what all other women feel." Discovering this capacity for common human experience frees Rosamund from the need for her pretense of ordinariness. It permits her to accept her idiosyncratic but not totally private nature. Such non-judgmental accommodation to circumstance and to self-knowledge is common to Drabble's various conclusions.

It can be perceived in the heroine's return to a difficult relationship with her husband that concludes The Needle's Eye…. [It is] a disappointing alternative either to Rose's continued heroic solitude or to her loving union with Simon, the novel's male protagonist. In fact...

(The entire section is 840 words.)

Maureen Howard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

One of the astonishing feats of "The Ice Age" is the way in which Drabble incorporates the ever-increasing junk pile of current public disasters into a thematic background that never appears journalistic. The danger is, of course, that we all know about the economic plight of England, about the loss of hope, vision, empire, and that the facts she gives us may become a repeat of the evenings news. There is much open discussion in the novel about the "terrible times." A crude South African besieges Alison Murray, once a great beauty, with shallow attacks on her country. In the past Alison has always been able to escape hard facts by turning to her mirror, but that comfort is gone: "The country was growing old. Like herself. The scars on the hillsides were the wrinkles around her own eyes: irremovable. How could one learn to grow old?" Such direct and simple equations between the private and public world are frequent in "The Ice Age" and, surprisingly, they are not strained. The parallels between an ailing individual and the ailing society are acceptable because Margaret Drabble has given them full thematic and emotional support.

In the case of Alison Murray we know that she has sacrificed her first daughter, Jane—now a sullen, self-destructive young woman, to her second daughter, Molly, an eternal child with cerebral palsy, who "could not even sit tidily."… Like England she is listless, bankrupt, aging. "Alison has Molly. Her life is beyond imagining. It will not be imagined, Britain will recover, but not...

(The entire section is 630 words.)

Frank Granville Barker

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Clearly we are meant to take The Ice Age seriously, not as a diversion, and readers must indeed be prepared for a good deal of moralising as they follow the adventures of a collection of singularly unsympathetic characters. Since she is writing about England in the Seventies, Miss Drabble is presumably making her ice age symbolise the current period of economic stagnation, and if her grim-faced prose is anything to go by, moral stagnation too. She does not, alas, give any hint as to the direction in which our economic and moral recovery will move when the eventual thaw takes place, contenting herself with the glib assurance in the final sentence that 'Britain will recover'. This cliché, which is inevitably perpetrated at every political party's annual conference, seems a feeble punch-line for a novel so ambitious in scope….

Predictably perhaps, Miss Drabble focuses her spotlight on a small group of property speculators, a human type which, though pretty despicable, is certainly capable of providing a satirist's field-day…. By choosing to restrict her cast-list to the exploiters, ignoring their victims altogether, Miss Drabble sacrifices the essential dramatic and moral validity of her subject. She brings personal conflict into the novel by way of her male characters' wives and mistresses, displaying a considerable degree of feminine masochism in her portrait gallery of women playing out their trivial fringe activities.

There is also a strong masochistic streak in the principal character, Anthony Keating, not only because he moves from the BBC to ITV, and from arts to current affairs, not even because he gives up an interesting career for the shady boredom of property speculation. One can't help wondering at this point exactly what the author is trying to say. 'He would wake up in the middle of the night', we are told, 'and think: is this it? Is what what? In short, he was underemployed, bored, and not at all happy in his relation to his work, his country, or the society he lived in: ripe for conversion, to some creed. A political creed, but there wasn't one: a religious creed, but he had had...

(The entire section is 879 words.)

Ben Yagoda

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Ice Age it] is Drabble's design to portray the public plight of her country through the personal tribulations of a handful of characters, almost all of whom have experienced a catastrophe of one form or another as the novel opens….

The single remotely happy person we encounter is Len's irrepressible secretary/companion, Maureen Kirby. Everyone else is feeling the effects of the chill, both physical and spiritual, that pervades this wintry tale. Their central concern—and by extension, that of the author—is why they have been afflicted….

Perhaps they are being tested, like Job, or are simply the innocent victims of what Len's crazy prisonmate believes to be the reason for all the trouble—that nuclear waste has suddenly thrown the laws of chance out of whack. Alison is probably nearer the truth, though, and certainly closer to the spirit of a Freudian era, in thinking "There is no such thing as an accident," and glimpsing "for a moment, in the dark night, a primitive causality so shocking, so uncanny" that she shivers.

Drabble's previous novel, The Realms of Gold, posited the importance of coincidence and accident; The Ice Age suggests the opposite. Anthony may be undergoing punishment for what he has done to the land or for a form of hubris; Kitty for being good to the point of blinding herself to the existence of evil; Alison for ignoring Jane in favor of Molly....

(The entire section is 430 words.)

Maureen Howard

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Ice Age by Margaret Drabble has an authority about it that is new to her work. In Realms of Gold she began to assume that the large designs of the English novel were there for the taking but allowed herself to get caught up in imitations of Murdochian games. In The Ice Age she handles an intricate plot with confidence and creates a cast of characters meant to reflect a range of attitudes toward modern day Britain…. The Ice Age is an extraordinarily open work with elegiac passages that create a public background for the enactment of private lives…. [Control] of history and acceptance of the facts is one pole of the novel. The other is a cinematic odd-angled view of the trashy modern...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

James Gindin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[For] epigraphs to The Ice Age, Drabble chooses to quote a long selection from the famous passage in Milton's Areopagitica that begins "Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant Nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep …" and to follow it with some lines from Wordsworth's stirring sonnet on Milton. The title of the novel is a metaphor for the economic and social "freeze" of 1974–75, during which most of its events take place, the novel focusing on Anthony Keating…. Anthony muses about the "terrible times we live in" and "the sense of alarm, panic, despondency which seemed to flow loose in the atmosphere of England." For Anthony, at this point, such musings are certainly...

(The entire section is 844 words.)