Margaret Drabble

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


Margaret Drabble
Drabble at a book signing at Beverley Bookfest in Beverley, England in 2011
Drabble at a book signing at Beverley Bookfest in Beverley, England in 2011
Born5 June 1939 (age 82)
Sheffield, England
OccupationNovelist, biographer and critic
EducationNewnham College
University of Cambridge
Years active1963–present
(m. 1960; div. 1975)

(m. 1982)
ChildrenRebecca Swift
Adam Swift
Joe Swift


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 older sister is the novelist and critic Dame Antonia Byatt (A.S. Byatt); the youngest sister is the art historian Helen Langdon, and their brother, Richard Drabble, is a QC (lawyer).

After attending the Quaker boarding-school Mount School at York, where her mother was employed, Drabble received a scholarship to Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read English. 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.


As of 2016, Drabble has published 19 novels. Her first, 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. She also wrote The Needle's Eye in 1972.[1]

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 owe something to Drabble's personal experiences. Thus, her first novels describe the life of young women during the 1960s and 1970s, for whom the conflict between motherhood and intellectual challenges is being brought into focus, while 1998's The Witch of Exmoor shows the withdrawn existence of an old author.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.[1] Her critical works include studies of William Wordsworth and Thomas Hardy. Drabble also edited two editions of The Oxford Companion to English Literature in 1985 and 2000.[1] In 2011, A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman, a collection of her short stories, was published.[2]

Drabble chaired the National Book League (now Booktrust) from 1980 to 1982.

Awards and honours

Drabble was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1980 Queen's Birthday Honours,[3] 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.[4] In 2003, she was the recipient of the St. Louis Literary Award, given by the Saint Louis University Library Associates.[5][6]

In 2011, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature".[7][8]

Views on the 2003 invasion of Iraq

In the 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".[9]

Personal life

Drabble was married to actor Clive Swift between 1960 and 1975; they had three children, including the gardener and TV personality Joe Swift, the academic Adam Swift, and a daughter, Rebecca Swift, who ran The Literary Consultancy[10][11] and died of cancer in April 2017.[12] In 1982, Drabble married the writer and biographer Sir Michael Holroyd;[1] they live in London and Somerset.

Drabble's relationship with her sister A. S. Byatt has sometimes been strained because of the presence of autobiographical elements in both their writing. While their relationship is no longer especially close and they do not read each other's books, Drabble describes the situation as "normal sibling rivalry"[13] and Byatt says it has been "terribly overstated by gossip columnists" and that the sisters "always have liked each other on the bottom line."[14]

List of works


  1. ^ a b c d Stevenson, Randall (2004).The Oxford English Literary History: Volume 12: The Last of England? , p. 541. Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ Showalter, Elaine, "A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman by Margaret Drabble - review" , The Guardian, 30 June 2011.
  3. ^ "No. 48212" . The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1980. p. 8.
  4. ^ "No. 58729" . The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 2008. p. 6.
  5. ^ "Website of St. Louis Literary Award" . Archived from the original on 23 August 2016. Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  6. ^ Saint Louis University Library Associates. "Saint Louis University Library Associates Announce Winner of 2003 Literary Award" . Retrieved 25 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Golden Pen Award, official website" . English PEN. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  8. ^ Benedicte Page (1 December 2011). "Drabble wins Golden PEN" . The Bookseller. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  9. ^ Margaret Drabble (8 May 2003). "I loathe America, and what it has done to the rest of the world" . The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  10. ^ Lisa Allardice, "A life in writing: Margaret Drabble" , The Guardian, 17 June 2011.
  11. ^ Andrew Johnson, "Feature: Interview - Margaret Drabble talks to Andrew Johnson" Archived 12 November 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Islington Tribune, 19 May 2011.
  12. ^ Silgardo, Melanie (25 April 2017). "Rebecca Swift obituary" . The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2017.
  13. ^ Why Margaret Drabble is not A. S. Byatt's cup of tea. The Daily Telegraph, retrieved 22 September 2011.
  14. ^ Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 1991-06-16

External links


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