The Grandes Dames: Writers of Longevity

  • Maroula Joannou
Part of the The History of British Women’s Writing book series (HBWW)


This chapter focuses on the grandes dames of literature: Beryl Bainbridge (1932–2010), Anita Brookner, A.S. Byatt, Margaret Drabble, Doris Lessing (1919–2013), Iris Murdoch (1919–99), Margaret Forster, Barbara Pym (1913–80), and Muriel Spark (1918–2006). The oldest is Pym, born before the First World War. Spark was born at the end of the war, Lessing and Murdoch just after it, followed by Brookner in 1928. The remaining four — Bainbridge, Byatt, Forster, and Drabble -were children during the Second World War. Their adolescent memories were of the deferential conservative Britain of the 1950s which was to give way to the more permissive society of the 1960s. With the exception of Bainbridge and Brookner, whose writing careers were launched in the 1970s and 1980s respectively, the books that initially established the literary reputations of these writers were, largely, published in the 1960s: Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1963); Lessing, The Golden Notebook (1962); Drabble, The Millstone (1965); Forster, Georgie Girl (1965); and Murdoch, A Severed Head (1961). Pym’s Excellent Women (1952) was even earlier, and other texts of the 1950s were highly significant in the published oeuvre of some authors, for example Murdoch’s Under the Net (1954), and Lessing’s The Grass is Singing (1950) and Martha Quest (1952).


Literary Tradition Khmer Rouge Woman Writer British Empire Historical Fiction 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 2.
    Shusha Guppy, interview, ‘Beryl Bainbridge: The Art of Fiction No. 164’, Paris Review, 157 (Winter 2000), p. 259.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Iris Murdoch quoted in Deborah Johnston, Iris Murdoch (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1987), p. xii.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    A.S. Byatt, ‘Introduction’, The Shadow of the Sun (London: Vintage, 1991), p. ix.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Nicholas Tredell, ‘A.S. Byatt’, Conversations with Critics, ed. Nicholas Tredell (Manchester: Carcanet, 1994), p. 69.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    A.S. Byatt, interview with Juliet Dusinberre, Women Writers Talking, ed. Janet Todd (New York: Holmes S. Meier, 1983), p. 186.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac (London: Jonathan Cape, 1984), p. 88.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Anita Brookner, A Start in Life (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981), p. 1.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Tess Cosslett, ‘Matrilineal Narratives Revisited’, Feminism and Autobiography: Texts, Theories, Methods, ed. Tess Cosslett, Celia Lury, and Penny Summerfield (London: Routledge, 2000), pp. 142–3.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution (1976; London: Virago, 1992), p. 253.Google Scholar
  10. 12.
    A.S. Byatt, Babel Tower (London: Chatto & Windus, 1996), p. 126.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Margaret Drabble, ‘Afterword’, The Peppered Moth (London: Viking, 2001), p. 390.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch: A Life (London: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 29.Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Bryan Cheyette, ‘Imagined Communities: Contemporary Jewish Writers in Great Britain’, Under Postcolonial Eyes: Figuring the ‘Jew’ in Contemporary British Writing, ed. Efraim Sicher and Linda Weinhouse (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012), p. 96.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    Beryl Bainbridge, English Journey or the Road to Milton Keynes (London: Duckworth, 1984), p. 84.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Quoted in Bernard Bergonzi, The Situation of the Novel (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 21.
    A.S. Byatt, Still Life (London: Chatto & Windus, 1985), p. 283; Byatt wrote a critical study of Murdoch entitled Degrees of Freedom (1965).Google Scholar
  17. 22.
    Doris Lessing, ‘Preface’, The Sirian Experiments: The Report by Ambien 11 of the Five (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981), p. 198.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Doris Lessing, Shikasta: Re: Colonised Planet 5 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1981), p. 90.Google Scholar
  19. 24.
    Martin Stannard, Muriel Spark: The Biography (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2009), p. 124.Google Scholar
  20. 25.
    Muriel Spark, ‘“The Same Informed Air”: An Interview with Muriel Spark’, Theorizing Muriel Spark: Gender, Race, Deconstruction, ed. Martin McQuillan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 217.Google Scholar
  21. 26.
    Muriel Spark, ‘The Desegregation of Art’, Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (New York: The Blashfield Foundation, 1971), pp. 23–4.Google Scholar
  22. 28.
    Drew Milne, ‘Muriel Spark’s Crimes of Wit’, The Edinburgh Companion to Muriel Spark, ed. Michael Gardiner and Willy Maley (Edinburgh University Press, 2010), p. 116.Google Scholar
  23. 29.
    Beryl Bainbridge, Watson’s Apology (London: Duckworth, 1984), p. 21.Google Scholar
  24. 30.
    Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself (London: Duckworth, 1996), p. 154.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Angela Carter, ‘Notes from the Frontline’, On Gender and Writing, ed. Michelene Wandor (London: Pandora, 1983), p. 69.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Maroula Joannou 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maroula Joannou

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations