Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble
Margaret Drabble
Born 5 June 1939 (1939-06-05) (age 72)
Sheffield, England, UK
Occupation Novelist, biographer and critic
Spouse(s) Clive Swift
Sir Michael Holroyd

Dame Margaret Drabble, Mrs. Holroyd, DBE (born 5 June 1939) is an English novelist, biographer and critic.


Early life

Drabble was born in Sheffield, the second daughter of the advocate and novelist John F. Drabble and the teacher Kathleen Marie (née Bloor). Her elder sister is the novelist and critic Dame Antonia Byatt; their younger sister is the art historian Helen Langdon.

After attending the Quaker boarding-school Mount School at York, where her mother was employed, Drabble received a major scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge where she read English and was awarded a starred first. She joined the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1960, at one point serving as an understudy for Vanessa Redgrave, before leaving to pursue a career in literary studies and writing.


Drabble has published seventeen novels to date. Her first novel, A Summer Bird Cage, was published in 1963. Her early novels were published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson (1963–87); more recently, her publishers have been Penguin and Viking. Her third novel, The Millstone (1965), brought her the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1966, and Jerusalem the Golden won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1967.

A theme of her novels is the correlation between contemporary England's society and its individual members. Her characters' tragic faults reflect the political and economic situation and the restriction of conservative surroundings, making the reader aware of the dark spots of a seemingly wealthy country. Most of her protagonists are women. The realistic descriptions of her figures often owes something to Drabble's personal experiences. Thus, her first novels describe the life of young women during the late 1960s and 1970s, for whom the conflict between motherhood and intellectual challenges is being brought into focus. 1998's The Witch of Exmoor finally shows the withdrawn existence of an old author. Though inspired by her own life, her works are not mainly autobiographical. She has also written several screenplays, plays and short stories, as well as non-fiction such as A Writer's Britain: Landscape and Literature and biographies of Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson. Her critical works include studies of William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy. Drabble also edited two editions of The Oxford Companion to English Literature. In 2011, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, a collection of Drabble's short stories, was published.[citation needed]


Drabble chaired the National Book League (now Booktrust) from 1980-82.

Personal life

Drabble was married to actor Clive Swift between 1960 and 1975; they have three children, one of whom is gardener and TV personality Joe Swift, another the academic Adam Swift. In 1982, she married the writer and biographer Sir Michael Holroyd; they live in London and Somerset.


Drabble has been famously long engaged in a feud with her novelist sister A.S. Byatt over the writerly appropriation of a family tea-set. The pair seldom see each other and don't read each other's books.[1]

Awards and honours

Drabble was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1980 Queen's Birthday Honours,[2] the University of Cambridge awarded her an honorary Doctorate in Letters in 2006, and she was promoted to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours.[3]

Views on the 2003 invasion of Iraq

In the immediate aftermath of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Drabble wrote of the anticipated wave of anti-Americanism, saying "My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world", despite "remembering the many Americans that I know and respect." She wrote of her distress at images of the war, her objections to Jack Straw about the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and "American imperialism, American infantilism, and American triumphalism about victories it didn't even win." She recalled George Orwell's words in Nineteen Eighty-Four about "the intoxication of power" and "the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever." She closed by saying, "I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon."[4]



  • A Summer Bird Cage (1963)
  • The Garrick Year (1964)
  • The Millstone (1965)
  • Jerusalem the Golden (1967)
  • The Waterfall (1969)
  • The Needle's Eye (1972)
  • The Realms of Gold (1975)
  • The Ice Age (1977)
  • The Middle Ground (1980)
  • The Radiant Way (1987)
  • A Natural Curiosity (1989)
  • The Gates of Ivory (1991)
  • The Witch of Exmoor (1996)
  • The Peppered Moth (2001)
  • The Seven Sisters (2002)
  • The Red Queen (2004)
  • The Sea Lady (2006)

Short fiction

  • A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories (2011)

Selected non-fiction

  • Wordsworth (Literature in Perspective series) (1966)
  • Arnold Bennett: A Biography (1974)
  • The Genius of Thomas Hardy (ed.) (1976)
  • For Queen and Country: Britain in the Victorian Age (1978)
  • A Writer's Britain: Landscape in Literature (1979)
  • Angus Wilson: A Biography (1995)
  • The Oxford Companion to English Literature (ed.; 5th & 6th edns) (1985, 2000)
  • The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009)


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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