Rachel Ingalls Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Rachel Ingalls has been recognized, especially in England, as an important American writer. Her stories and novels, in the fabulist tradition, have gained much critical attention. Born in 1940, Ingalls was reared in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At seventeen, she left high school and spent two years in Germany, spending the second year auditing courses at several German universities. Upon returning to the United States, she enrolled at Radcliffe College and majored in English. In 1964, she settled in England. Her literary career began with the publication of Theft, a collection of stories, in 1970, the title story being a symbolic tale of tyranny and injustice. In 1971, The Man Who Was Left Behind won the First Novel Award given by Great Britain’s Author’s Club. A high point of her career came in 1986, when her novel Mrs. Caliban was chosen by the British Book Marketing Council as one of the top twenty postwar American novels, placing her work alongside that of Saul Bellow and Bernard Malamud.

Ingalls has been called a fabulist writer, and though the label is justified, the themes of her tales make them very much adult fables. Often, Ingalls’s stories and novels focus on failed relationships, the difficulty for women of finding satisfying ways of life, and the granting to her heroines of only brief moments of redemption from a stifling existence. These themes are especially clear in Mrs. Caliban and Binstead’s Safari. In both books, the heroine is at first trapped in a loveless marriage; then, especially in the fantastic section of the story, the heroine is liberated from her stunted existence by an affair with a mysterious being. The acclaimed Mrs. Caliban, for example, starts with the protagonist, Dorothy, living her routine existence in a dull, unhappy marriage—making meals, shopping, listening to the radio. These details support a point that critics make about...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beatty, Jack. “Discovery of the Month.” Atlantic 257 (April, 1986): 16-18. An enthusiastic review of Mrs. Caliban that traces the novel’s publishing history and its belated discovery by American readers.

Cowart, David. “Fantasy and Reality in Mrs. Caliban.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 30 (Winter, 1989). An excellent introduction to the novel’s complex interplay of fantasy, realism, and irony.

Dorris, Michael. “Love with the Proper Amphibian.” Review of Mrs. Caliban, by Rachel Ingalls. The New York Times Book Review, December 28, 1986. Includes a brief interview with Ingalls.

Kearns, Kathleen. “Miraculous Conceptions.” The New Republic 196 (February 9, 1987). Reviews I See a Long Journey and usefully describes each novella’s plot and technique.

McCall, William W. “A Note on Mrs. Caliban.” Notes on Contemporary Literature 18, no. 3 (May, 1988): 4-6. In this brief but cogent note, McCall argues that imagining Larry is Dorothy’s initial misguided response to her fraudulent society; after Larry’s disappearance, however, she develops an inner strength.

McDonald, Alan. “Rewriting Hemingway: Rachel Ingalls’s Binstead’s Safari.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 34 (Spring, 1993). Explores the novel’s similarity to Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

Manguel, Alberto. “More than a Mirror.” Saturday Night 103 (August, 1988). Examines Ingalls’s literary style.

Upton, Lee. “Mourning Monsters: Deception and Transformation in Rachel Ingalls’s Fiction.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 33, no. 1 (Fall, 1991): 53-61. Compares Mrs. Caliban to Binstead’s Safari. Upton argues that these novels illustrate the dangers of isolation, secrecy, and deception.