Margaret Drabble

Margaret Drabble

Drabble at a book signing at Beverley Bookfest in Beverley, England in 2011
Born (1939-06-05) 5 June 1939
Sheffield, England, UK
Occupation Novelist, biographer and critic
Years active 1963–present
Spouse Clive Swift
(1960–1975) (divorced)
Sir Michael Holroyd
Children Rebecca Swift
Adam Swift
Joe Swift

Dame Margaret Drabble, Lady Holroyd DBE FRSL (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 older sister is the novelist and critic Dame Antonia Byatt; the youngest sister is the art historian Helen Langdon, and their brother, Richard Drabble, is a QC.

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.


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between motherhood and intellectual challenges is being brought into focus, while 1998's The Witch of Exmoor shows the withdrawn existence of an old author.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 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."[9]

Personal life

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

Drabble has famously been engaged in a long-running feud with her novelist sister, A. S. Byatt, over her alleged appropriation of a family tea-set in one of her novels Byatt had planned to write about herself. The pair seldom see each other and neither reads the other's books.[12]

List of works


Collaborative novel

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)


  1. 1 2 3 4 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. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 48212. p. 8. 13 June 1980. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  4. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 58729. p. 6. 14 June 2008. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  5. Website of St. Louis Literary Award.
  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", Islington Tribune, 19 May 2011.
  12. Tim Walker, "Why Margaret Drabble is not A.S. Byatt's cup of tea", The Daily Telegraph, 27 March 2009; retrieved 22 September 2011.
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