Margaret Drabble Biography
(1939– ), A Summer Birdcage, The Garrick Year, The Millstone, Jerusalem the Golden, The Waterfall
British novelist, born in Sheffield, educated at The Mount School, York and Newnham College, Cambridge. She has lectured at home and abroad for the Arts Council and the British Council. Drabble's novels are traditional in form, displaying the author's allegiance to the Realist tradition of George Eliot and Arnold Bennett (of whom she published a biography in 1974), although latterly a note of ironic distance between the author and characters has become apparent. The early books, in which the protagonist is usually an educated and articulate young woman, often deal with the conflict between career and family life. These include A Summer Birdcage (1963), describing the sexual and intellectual rivalry between the protagonist, an Oxford graduate, and her elder sister; The Garrick Year (1965), which deals with the sexual intrigues of a group of actors in a small provincial town; The Millstone (1966), about the traumas undergone by a young academic who becomes pregnant after a casual sexual encounter; Jerusalem the Golden (1968), an early treatment of the North and South theme; and The Waterfall (1969), which describes the affair between a poet and her best friend's husband. Similar themes are explored in The Needle's Eye (1972), The Realms of Gold (1975), The Ice Age (1977), and The Middle Ground (1980). The later works are wider in scope, reflecting the writer's interest in the social upheavals of the postwar era. A trilogy (The Radiant Way, 1987; A Natural Curiosity, 1989; The Gates of Ivory, 1991) opens on New Year's Eve 1979 and follows its three main characters, Liz Headleand, Alix Bowen, and Esther Breuer, through the following ten years, touching on questions of social responsibility, the polarization of rich and poor, and the role of the educated middle class in contemporary Britain, as well as on universal themes such as the nature of genocide. Drabble's other works include a study of William Wordsworth (1966), A Writer's Britain (1979) and a biography of Angus Wilson (1995). She also edited the fifth edition of The Oxford Companion to English Literature (1985). She married the actor Clive Swift in 1960. Her second husband is the biographer Michael Holroyd. Her sister is the novelist A. S. Byatt. Margaret Drabble was awarded the CBE in 1980.