Margaret Drabble Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Margaret Drabble has combined literary scholarship with her career as a novelist. Among other works, she has published a short critical study of William Wordsworth, Wordsworth: Literature in Perspective (1966), and has edited a collection of critical essays about Thomas Hardy, The Genius of Thomas Hardy (1975). Over the years, she has edited or written introductions for most of Jane Austen’s works for various publishers, including Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon. She has also edited editions of Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Poems. In 1989, she published her Gareth Lloyd Evans Shakespeare Lecture at Stratford-Upon-Avon as Stratford Revisited: A Legacy of the Sixties. She has also written two major biographies: Arnold Bennett (1974) and Angus Wilson (1995). Her literary travelogue A Writer’s Britain: Landscape in Literature was published in 1979, and she is well known for editing the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1985, revised 2000).

In addition, Drabble has had a long-standing connection with drama. Her works include Bird of Paradise (pr. 1969), a stage play; A Touch of Love (1969), a screenplay based on her novel The Millstone; and Laura (1964), a play for television. Drabble has also written a fair number of short stories that are as yet uncollected and only partially available to American audiences. In 1978, she published the children’s book For Queen and Country: Britain in the Victorian Age.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Margaret Drabble’s novels charm and delight, but perhaps more significant is that they reward their readers with a distinctively modern woman’s narrative voice and an unusual blend of Victorian and modern structures and concerns. Although there seems to be critical consensus that Drabble has, as Bernard Bergonzi has said, “devised a genuinely new character and predicaments,” the exact nature of this new voice and situation has not been precisely defined. Bergonzi sees the new character as an original blend of career woman and mother, yet Drabble’s career woman begins to appear only in her seventh novel, The Realms of Gold. Her earlier, equally freshly portrayed heroines are often not mothers—for example, Sarah in A Summer Bird-Cage or Clara in Jerusalem the Golden. Most of the mothers who precede Frances Wingate in The Realms of Gold can in no way be considered career women. Rose Vassiliou in The Needle’s Eye does not work; Rosamund Stacey in Thank You All Very Much works only sporadically to support her baby, and her job can hardly be considered a career.

Other critics have claimed that the new voice involves an unprecedented acquaintance with the maternal attitude toward children. This is the voice Erica Jong predicted would emerge once motherhood was no longer thought incompatible with literary artistry. In fact, only three Drabble novels can be said to contain this voice—Thank You All Very Much, The Ice Age, and The Middle Ground—yet all the novels seem to present something original in their female point of view.

Female characters have illuminated literature for more than a thousand years, but until relatively recently they have appeared as secondary figures. The female has been present, but her...

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

What does Margaret Drabble’s choice of Arnold Bennett as a subject and her interpretation of the value of his work suggest about her own theory of fiction?

Consider the theme of making the best of one’s lot in Drabble’s fiction.

Are there ingredients of Drabble’s novels that will probably enable them to outlast the circumstances of the time in which they were written?

What does Drabble’s practice of focusing on one day or episode in the life of her characters owe to earlier efforts of the same sort by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce?

Does Drabble’s view of the conflicts and dislocations of professional women change over the course of her writing career?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bokat, Nicole Suzanne. The Novels of Margaret Drabble: This Freudian Family Nexus. New York: Peter Lang, 1998. Part of the Sexuality and Literature series, this volume examines the sexual and psychological backgrounds of Drabble’s characters.

Creighton, Joanne V. Margaret Drabble. New York: Methuen, 1985. This slim volume begins with an introductory overview, followed by a chronological survey of Drabble’s novels through The Middle Ground. Creighton argues that Drabble, with such contemporaries as John Fowles and Muriel Spark, has gradually changed her approach to fiction, “challenging the conventions and epistemological assumptions of traditional realistic fiction, perhaps in spite of herself.” Includes notes and a bibliography.

Hannay, John. The Intertextuality of Fate: A Study of Margaret Drabble. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986. Drabble’s characters sometimes think they are fated when their lives seem to imitate the patterns (or intertexts) of stories they have read. As a result, Drabble’s references to other stories are not decorations but serious allusions to the myths that shape the novels. Accidents and coincidences often signal that an intertext is in operation.

Myer, Valerie Grosvenor. Margaret Drabble: A Reader’s Guide. New York: St. Martin’s Press,...

(The entire section is 481 words.)