The Waterfall, Drabble’s fifth novel, has been described by Lynn Veach Sadler as “quintessential Drabble and more.” Some have seen the novel as a turning point in Drabble’s treatment of women. In her subsequent novels, women increasingly assert their independence and a control of personal and professional aspects of their lives.
Book-length studies of Drabble’s novels, editions of critical essays, and a proliferation of articles have appeared. Controversy about whether she is a feminist or to what degree she is or is not feminist flourishes. Drabble herself has minimized the feminist interpretations, particularly the fashionable feminism that has been such an important part of her own time. Frequently likened to George Eliot and Thomas Hardy of the nineteenth century, she is also compared with twentieth century writers such as Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing. One could add to that list of novelistic predecessors the names of Samuel Richardson (especially his Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded, 1740-1741) and Laurence Sterne (especially his A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, 1768), for The Waterfall is a confessional novel and, at times, suggests the sentimentality (or, if one chooses, sentiment) of the eighteenth century novel tradition.
Perhaps no other novelist has focused so vividly on the routine, practical details of the “maternal-feminine” inextricably woven with the emotional needs of that condition, needs made even stronger by social inequities and natural impulses. Jane Gray, Drabble’s mid-career heroine, has survived drowning in the mother-mistress waterfall that constitutes the plight of modern women.