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Margaret Drabble and the Resurrection of the English Novel Author(s): Michael F. Harper Reviewed work(s): Source: Contemporary Literature, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Spring, 1982), pp. 145-168 Published by: University of Wisconsin Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1208257 . Accessed: 06/12/2012 19:58
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MARGARET DRABBLE AND THE RESURRECTION OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL

MichaelF. Harper

When TheIce Age' appearedin this countryin the fall of 1977, The New YorkTimes'SundayBook Reviewsection thoughtit important of enough to warrantnot only the usual reviewbut also a "profile" "If which Vanessa had ever MargaretDrabble, began: Redgrave in 1960, Margaret Drabblemight not have bemisseda performance but the fact is come a novelist. This is a bit of an oversimplification, with the a actress as that, hopeful 21-year-old Royal Shakespeare Miss Company,Miss Drabblespent much of her time understudying Redgrave. Bored with waiting, tired of doing occasional walk-ons .. she began to write a novel in her dressing-room."2 The accuracy S. of this story is questionable,since a differentarticleclaims that she began her first novel when she had a baby and found herselfhousein the text referto the page references 1NewYork:Knopf, 1977.Parenthetical of American Drabble's novels:A Summer following paperbackreprints Margaret Bird-Cage(1962), The Garrick Year (1964), JerusalemThe Golden (1967), The Waterfall (1969), TheNeedle'sEye (1972), TheRealmsof Gold (1975), TheIce Age (1977) were all reprinted by The PopularLibrary,the first six in 1977and the last as a undated;TheMillstone(1965)was issuedin 1969by The New American Library Much,whichwasthe title of the movieverSignetbook entitledThankYouAll Very sion of the novel. I use theseeditionspartlyfor the reader's but also beconvenience with theircheappaper,uglyprint,typographicausethesemassmarketpaperbacks, cal errors,and blurbsthatdefy truth-in-advertising withtheirsuggestions of pornogDrabble's American raphy, are themselves importantelementsin the way Margaret readersare likely to apprehend her work. 2MelGussow,"Margaret Drabble:A DoubleLife,"in the Book Reviewsection of TheNew YorkTimes,9 October1977, p. 7.

Contemporary Literature XXIII, 2

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bound.3 Yet the truth of these anecdotes is less important than the significance they share, which lies in the concept of the writer that they both articulate. To appreciate that significance, one need only recall the famous story that Frank Budgen told of meeting James Joyce on Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse in 1918: I enquiredabout Ulysses. Was it progressing? "I have been workinghard on it all day," said Joyce. "Does that mean that you have writtena great deal?"I said. "Twosentences,"said Joyce. I looked sidewaysbut Joyce was not smiling. I thought of Flaubert. "Youhave been seekingthe mot juste?" I said. "No,"said Joyce. "I have the wordsalready.What I am seekingis the perfect orderof words in the sentence."4 The difference between the legend that surrounds Joyce and the legend that surrounds Margaret Drabble is that no one reading Drabble is likely to think of Flaubert. Budgen's Joyce is the Modern Artist, and one might think not only of Flaubert but of Henry James, of Proust, of Ezra Pound taking months over a two-line poem or collaborating with Eliot in the delicate Caesarean operation that brought forth The Waste Land. But Margaret Drabble, as the Times represents her, is not an Artist but a Writer, someone for whom "being an Author" was not the priestly destiny of a Stephen Dedalus but a matter of mere chance, a way of passing the time and fending off boredom, a form of occupational therapy. The Times goes on to note approvingly her novels' concern with public and social issues, and there is certainly an air of the professional rather than the amateur in the hours of research into newspaper files that furnish the documentary basis of her fiction. This very professionalism, however, is the businesslike efficiency of the Writer, not the tireless devo3"Infact, she becamea writerbecauseshe had children.Writingwas a practical Vanessa choice, not a granddream.She startedas an actress... she understudied Redgrave... and had Adam, her firstchild. Theyused to bringhim to the theater S... or one of themwouldstayhome withhim ... But she found she couldn'treally keepit all going so she retiredfromthe stage, and then, whenher husbandwentoff to the theaterand the baby wentto bed, she wrotea book." NancyPoland, "There Must Be A Lot of People Like Me,"MidwestQuarterly,16 (1975),pp. 256-57. 4Frank Budgen,JamesJoyceand TheMakingof Ulysses(1934;rpt. Bloomington: IndianaUniv. Press, 1960),pp. 19-20.

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tion of the Artist;5it is as if a bored housewife,takingup a hobbyto demandfor the fill in time, is luckyenoughto discovera commercial things she makesand so turnsher hobby into a successfullittle business. The myth of MargaretDrabble, Writer,is both persistentand and she herselfhas had a hand in creatingit. Even if she pervasive,6 that she hardlyever revises,7it is had not admittedto an interviewer clear that someone who, since 1962, has producedeight novels, a substantialbiography, various pieces of criticism, a book on Victorian Englandand anotheron the Britishliterarylandscapecannot often spend the whole day rearrangingtwo sentences. The most damning stroke in the portraitof the writeras a young womantrations and price push it into the "coffee-table"category-is Drabble'sbiographyof Arnold Bennett; for Bennett, accordingto high modernistcriticalopinion, is an arch-villain,a Philistine.Ezra Bennett"and pilloriedhim in Pound called him "nicklecash-register of Mr. Nixon, a crass, cynical, in the Mauberley guise Selwyn Hugh who a buddingpoet to "giveup advises money-grubbing opportunist to no be made verse"because there is by it. Yet Margaret money Drabble'sbiographyis an act of homage:"Myfirst reasonfor wanting to writethis book was that I very much admiredArnold Bennett Rickshas calledher she begins.' No wonderChristopher as a writer," "middle-browed."
she measuresher hours; she takes time off from 5Gussow,p. 40: "Carefully, writing,but neverstops working.She teaches,giveslectures,hooks rugsand supervises her family. . . ." For her last three novels "she did research and conducted

apart from A Writer'sBritain: Landscape in Literature,8 whose illus-

and realestatemen, as she neededthem. 'It interviews, callinglawyers,archeologists startsas a searchfor information.A bit of me is a drafterand a journalist.'" 6Itmakesits presencefelt in manyreviewsof her work, some of whichI quote later in this essay. Christopher Ricks, reviewingTheRealmsof Gold for TheNew YorkReview of Books, 22 (27 November1975), p. 42, ascribeshis dissatisfaction fiction to the fact that Margaret Drabble's withthe maincharacter, an archaeologist, research and not the richsubsoilof deeply-feltexis rootedin ploddingjournalistic stuff is masperience.Or so I interprethis complaintthat "All the archaeological sively got up -women novelists, from GeorgeEliot in Romola to Iris Murdochin toto, have alwaysbeen worthyat this. But got up is whatit is, and I didn'tbelievea shardof it." -a naturalwriterin 7Poland,p. 261:"Sheis- unlike, say, Joyceor Hemingway
that she does not revise. .. ."

8NewYork:Knopf, 1979. 9ArnoldBennett:A Biography(New York:Knopf, 1974),p. xi.

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MargaretDrabble'spublic image is in part produced by her also helps to determinehow those novels are read, what kindsof expectationsher readersbringto herbooks, and what kind of attention they pay.10How readersimagine the author helps determinewhat they look for in the work, and what they look for can severelylimit whatthey find. The mythof Margaret Drabbleseemsto haveencouraged such a limitationand to have obscuredsome importantaspects of her work. Althoughhernovelshave been widelypraised,reviewers have frequently revived the once discrediteddistinction between "form" and "content" in orderto acclaimthe contentwhileremaining uneasyabout the form. Theirhesitationsare occasionedby Drabble's use in her later books of what seem to be old-fashionedomniscient narrators,by plots that turn upon one shamelesscoincidenceafter another,by suspensethat owes more to obvious artificeof narration than to any cogent logic of events. In short, MargaretDrabble is novelistwho writeswhatmany widelyseen as a late twentieth-century reviewershave taken to be good, solid nineteenth-century novels. Donald Davie applaudedher attemptsto grapplewith the problems of contemporary declared: Englandin TheIce Age, but nevertheless Drabblehas no doubt read HenryJames'Prefaces.But if "Margaret she has, she has suppressed the knowledgefor the sakeof this book a book that one has to call a novel, though it is writtenas if James had neverwrittenhis agonizeddisquisitionsabout, and experiments in, compositionand narrator's point of view."'' Otherreviewers have tried, unconvincingly, to represent this use of old-fashionedtechniquesas a virtue. MaureenHoward, in her New York Times Book Review piece on the same novel, spoke of
of the writer's "life"to his/her '0RolandBarthessuggeststhat the relationship writingdependsupon whetherone is speakingof the classic"closed" literaryWork or of the irreducibly plural,polysemousText.In the case of the Work,the authoris regarded simplyas the originof (andhencethe "authority" for) the fictions,but with "Itis not that the Authormay not 'comeback' the Textthis relationship is reversed: in the Text, in his text, but he then does so as a 'guest'. . . He becomes,as it were,a his life is no longerthe originof his fictionsbut a fictioncontributing paper-author: to his work;thereis a reversion of the work on to the life (and no longerthe contrary). . . ." "From Work to Text," in Image-MusicText, trans. Stephen Heath

novels-it is what one of her readers might expect her to be-but it

(New York: Hill and Wang, 1977),pp. 155-64. Barthes'schemain this 1971essay of the process as it occurs in any concrete seems to me an oversimplification instance.
"Rev. of The Ice Age in The New York Review of Books, 24 (10 November

1977),pp. 28ff.

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Drabble's"pure,old-fashioned,narrative skill"and likened Margaret her to Thomas Hardy, CharlesDickens, and CharlotteBronte. She concludedthat Drabble"respects literaryconventionsas richesof the past and so gives that outmoded form, the novel, new life," but she did not specifyhow Margaret Drabbleis givingoutmodednovelsnew life unless it is simplyby continuingto write them. Perhapsshe felt that a strongerargumentwas necessary,since she went on to associate Drabblewith Thomas Pynchon and VladimirNabokov; butsignificantly-the most she could claim was that all three of them wrote novels: "shesharestheirbelief in the form."12 Clearlythis will not do; theform of Drabble's novelsis just what is being questioned, and it is so unlikethat of a Jamesnovel let alone a Pynchonextravaganza that Donald Davie is reluctantto call her book a novel at all. MargaretDrabble herself seems to agree with the general embarrassed judgmentof the form of her novels, for she has openlydeclared that she would ratherbe at the end of a dying traditionshe admiresthan at the beginningof one she deplores.13 Yet the fact that she perceivesher own novelsin these terms, howeverdefiantly,is the of the powerof the publicimageof Margaret greatestdemonstration it believes Drabble:she herself, and so acquiescesin the judgment who writes"solidpiecesof direct, that she is "atraditionalnovelist"14 realisticfiction."" This judgmentis misleading,however,insofar as it impliesan unthinking,uncriticalacceptanceof Victorianconventions and techniques, for there are crucial differencesbetween her novels and the traditionto which criticsso quicklyassignthem. The world she presentsmay superficially resemblethe "densely imagined, of the Victorians,but its apparent"realism" realisticsocial world"''16
'2"Publicand Private Games,"in the Book Review Section, The New York fine book that takesits life fromthe best Times,9 October1977:"Itis a remarkably traditionsof the 19th-century novel: elaborateplotting, coincidence,meaningful resolution -and it has a surfacevitalitythat comes from Margaret Drabble's pure,
old-fashioned, narrative skill .
.

. The social context is like Hardy, the interlocking

lives she's borrowed from Dickens, the chain of circumstances from Charlotte Bronte..." (p. 40). And "Her structuredoes not have the energy of Thomas the imaginative Pynchon's,nor her inventionsof coincidence delightof Nabokov's,
but she shares their belief in the form" (p. 40).

Bergonzi, The Situationof the Novel (London: Macmillan,1970), 3Bernard Drabble:How to ExpressSubjecp. 65; quotedby FrangoisBonfondin "Margaret in Revue des Langues Vivantes, 40 (1974),p. 41. tive TruthThroughFiction?" 14LoreDickstein,"Margaret Drabble's rev. of TheRealmsof Goldin England," the Book Reviewsection of TheNew YorkTimes, 16 November1975, p. 5. '5Bonfond,p. 41. '6Dickstein, p. 5.
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is not somethingthat MargaretDrabble naively takes for granted. Her "realistic" social worldis somethingpainfullyand with difficulty constructed by the authorand hercharacters, somethingnot assumed but affirmedin an act of faith, achievedat the end of an odysseyof doubt and questioningof both the world and the self. Critics are right to see that her novelisticstrategiesdiffer from those of Henry James, that "her style is closer to George Eliot's than to Virginia Woolf's,"17 but they are wrong to conclude that insofar as she is she is old-fashioned.It wouldbe moreaccurate unlikethe "Moderns" to call the modernistsold-fashioned:the strategiesthat constitute MargaretDrabble'snovels and the thinkingthat informs them are those of our own time, not those of the earlytwentiethcentury.This is a large claim, and only an examinationof her work can substantiate it; but before presentingthe case for the defense in detail, it is the full force of the chargesbroughtagainst necessaryto understand her "form." The high modernist position was summarizednearly twenty years ago by Wayne Booth in The Rhetoricof Fiction: "SinceFlauor bert, manyauthorsand criticshavebeen convincedthat 'objective' of or modes 'dramatic' narration are naturallysuperior 'impersonal' to any mode that allows for directappearances by the authoror his
reliable spokesman. Sometimes . . . the complex issues involved in

this shift have been reduced to a convenient distinction between It is 'showing,'which is artistic, and 'telling,'which is inartistic."'8 to commonlythoughtillegitimatefor a modernauthor use the techniques and devicesof the past becausethe resultingnovel is not just old-fashionedbut false-radically false to our modern view of the
'7Dickstein, p. 5. and London:Univ. of ChicagoPress, 1961, p. 8. Booth'svaluable "'Chicago of this positionis the substance of his book, whichis relevant expositionand critique to my argument as a whole. Nevertheless Booth writesas a formalist,for whomall modes of narrationare theoretically availableto all novelistsat all times. Thereis little sense in his work that modes are historically determined and limited:since all modes are rhetoric,the choice of a mode dependsin his view entirelyupon what effect the authorwishesto produce.As my ensuingdiscussionof modernism shows, I believethat in any historical periodan authoris effectivelylimitedto those modes whose conventionsseem to correspondto currentepistemology.Despitethe technicalimpossibility of ex-pressing The Realin language,it remainstruethat at a particularhistoricalmomentsome modeswill appearmorenearlyrealisticthan others; if Margaret of the Victorian Drabblehas takenup some of the conventions novel, it is not becauseshe has abandonedall pretenceto realismbut because,as I arguein to a postmodern detailin this essay, those conventionsappearto correspond epistemology.

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in and of it. An omniscientnarrator is to be world, to our experience since no real human can such a of being point view. occupy deplored, So a modernnarrator mustbe a character who speaksin the firstperson, or an unnamed and unspecifiedvoice who may speak in the third person but who pretendsto no wider knowledgethan may be plausibly attributed to a single consciousness. To know others' thoughtsand motivesmay have seemedsimplein an age with a naive conceptionof psychologybut is problematicafter Freud;hence the narratorwill not claim to know securelymuch more than can be inferredfrom outwardsigns- from behavior,speech, and dress. Plots that turn upon coincidencesare also ruled out. They may have been appropriate for HenryFieldingand his readers,sincetheir conception of reality involved divine providence,and the hand of God was visible in the workingsof chance; but such plots cannot commandthe willing suspensionof disbelief of a modernist,whose idea of causalityderivesfrom science, not theology. The high modernistposition is manifestlynot a rejectionof realismbut a demand for a new realism,for a novelisticrendering of a specificallymodern This to leads the insistence that experience. form is content, for the in which a itself told must be an imitationof how we way story gets ourselvescome to know whateverit is that we thinkwe know. Novels must avoid "telling"because any narrator, as an individualconhe has a limitedand inevitablypartialpoint sciousness,is unreliable; of view. Instead the story must articulateitself in presentationof concretedetail, so that its "meaning" shall not be a statementabout the world by an intrinsicallyuntrustworthy speakerbut rather the worldutteringitself, its "meaning" a functionof its "being" and indivisible from it. In other words, the high modernistposition claimed for the novel what ArchibaldMacLeishclaimedfor the poem: that it shouldnot meanbut be. Truthlay not in predication but in presence. This explainsthe high modernist's tirelessexperimentation with lanso-called was as the guage: "ordinaryspeech" rejected languageof to unable ever the truth about the world because predication, speak its very grammarand syntax were arbitraryconventions,not structures isomorphicwith The Real. The modernistArtistthereforehad to violategrammar and synof words out their accustomed and tax, wrenching patterns fitting them into new structuresthrough which Reality might directlyexpress itself, squeezeitself out. In this cause Joyce spent a day rearrangingthe wordsof two sentences;Eliot developedthe doctrinesof impersonalityand of the objective correlative, both attempts to banishauthorialstatement;and Pound launchedan assaultupon the
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iambicpentameter,becausepoets were forced to falsify theirexperiit to an arbitrary ence in accommodating and conventionalmetrical scheme.To this causewe owe both Ulysses,whichPound admiredas a monumentof realism,19 and Finnegans Wake, which Pound did not admire at all but which Joyce defended as a realistic and "natural" presentationof "a state which cannot be renderedsensible of wideawakelanguage,cutanddry the use and goahead by grammar plot."20 This ceaselessquest for The Realled Pound to rejectEnglish syntaxand to spendthe best part of a lifetimecomposinghis Cantos on a principlederived(he persuadedhimself)from a Chinesewriting founded upon naturallaw, not arbitrary convention.21 The rules for novel-writing that Margaret Drabble'scriticshave broughtto bear, implicitlyor explicitly,on her work, are all abstractions of high modernisttheory and practice.They derive from the high modernistdreamof capturingRealityin language,of makingit in Joyce'sword "sensible" and not merelyintelligible.This ambition since it would use the mediumof languageto is self-contradictory, conjure up an im-mediateexperienceof the real, would demandof To languagea self-annihilation,a melting into pure transparency. in to is what this is make call implicit my explicit self-contradictory account of it-the sheer impossibilityof such an aspiration.This is hardly a new discovery:discussionsof the difference between the orderof languageand the orderof a postulatedRealityare as old as philosophy. Yet this difference is frequentlyignored, and in The Rhetoricof Fiction Wayne Booth felt it necessarypatientlyto demthat "theauthor's onstratethat fiction is alwaysa "telling," judgment is alwayspresent,alwaysevidentto anyone who knows how to look
for it."22 19See Pound'scommentson Ulyssesin ForrestRead, ed., Pound/Joyce (New York:New Directions,1967),pp. 194-211. in Richard 20From a letterto HarrietShawWeaver Ellmann,ed., TheLettersof James Joyce, III (New York: Viking, 1966), p. 146, quoted by Read in Pound/Joyce, p. 229. Read also quotes Joyce to WilliamBird, "It'snaturalthings James should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?"(pp. 229-30) from Ellmann's Joyce (New York:OxfordUniv. Press, 1959),p. 603. of criticismhas claimedPound as a precursor recentpoststructuralist 21Some the Cantosas Pound'sconsciouscreationof a networkof Derridaand interpreted I believethis criticismto be misguided,and I withoutreferentiality. intertextuality and Calliope:EzraPound'sMalatesta," discussthe issue at greaterlengthin "Truth PMLA, 96 (1981), 86-103. of techniquean end in 22Booth,p. 20. Also p. 59: "To have made naturalness a verisimilitude itself was, perhaps,an impossiblegoal in the first place. Whatever work may have alwaysoperateswithina largerartifice;each work that succeedsis natural-and artificial-in its own way."

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Reviewsof Margaret Drabble'snovels show that Booth'sproposition did not immediatelybecome critical currency;it is only in recent years that a critiqueof languageand referentiality, marching underthe bannerfirst of "structuralism" and then of "poststructuralism," has made any substantial impact upon a critical practice founded upon the assumptionsand aspirationsof modernism.Paradoxically, this critiqueinsists not upon the difference (assumedby Booth) betweenWritingand Realitybut upon their identity. Unlike the Moderns, however, poststructuralists do not believe that lanwith can be made a isomorphic guage Reality which exists and is availableindependently,but maintainthat our "Reality" is constituted by language:that the play of differencewhich structuresthe orderof the signifieris also inevitablythe structureof the signified, since signifierand signifiedare indivisiblein the sign. The enterprise with the name of JacquesDerridathus claims associatedprincipally not merely that languageis always an interpretation of reality but that the realityto which languagesupposedlyrefersis itself an interpretation,a writing, ratherthan a "given" presentto our senses. In this accountthereis no suchthing as perceptionin the senseof a passive registeringof an external world that is somehow objectively "there":the world is not a given which we perceivebut a text, an orderof signs, whichwe have alwaysalreadyinterpreted.23 Language but itself the structure is not a mediumin whichwe encodeexperience of our consciousnessand thereforethat whichconstitutes,produces, In S/Z, an analysis of a Balzac story, Roland our "experience." Barthes identifies the strategies, the codes, by which a particular is produced, showing how a so-called re-presentation of "realism"
I don't know what perceptionis and I don't believethat anythinglike 23"Now is precisely a concept,a conceptof an intuitionor of a exists. Perception perception given originatingfrom the thing itself, presentitself in its meaning,independently from language,fromthe systemof reference.And I believethat perception is interof of and with the and center whatever dependent concept origin consequently of whichI have spokenstrikesalso at the veryconceptof strikesat the metaphysics perception." Jacques Derrida, in The StructuralistControversy,ed. Richard JohnsHopkinsUniv. Press, 1972;rpt. of Mackseyand EugenioDonato (Baltimore: TheLanguagesof Criticism and the Sciencesof Man, 1970),p. 272. This argument based critiqueof the sign and of the structuralist enterprise dependsupon Derrida's Sign and Play"in The Structuralist upon it, and this can be found in "Structure, and in Of Grammatology, trans. GayatriC. Spivak(Baltimore: Johns Controversy that it seemedpossibleto ascribeto HopkinsUniv. Press, 1976):"Thesecondarity writing alone affects all signifieds in general, affects them always already, the moment they enter the game. Thereis not a single signifiedthat escapes, even if the play of signifyingreferences that constitutelanguage" (p. 7). recaptured,
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of it - and qua interpretation not valuereality is an interpretation free but involvingan ideology, a politics.24 This critiquehas generated the writingloosely knownas "postmodern": authors such as Thomas Pynchon attemptto demonstrateto the readerthe force of poststructuralism which by producing"texts" are "unreadable." refuse the reader the in illusion he that is conThey tact with an author's true intention by means of transparentlanguage;they makethe readerawareof his own interpreting activityby him from "making sense"of the text in termsof the accuspreventing tomed conventionsor codes. For Pynchon, this is a matterfor celebration and affirmation.Freedomin his view appearsto consist in the free play of interpretationthat follows the breakdownof the normalcodes; social control and oppressionare only possible when They, the controllingpowers, are able to enforce uniformmodes of and therebycreatea societywhose membersthinkand interpretation act alike. HoweverradicalPynchon'swriting,he is securelywithinan Americantraditionwhich distrustssociety; like Huck Finn he is determinedto light out for the territoryto escape civilization,but the frontierto which he escapesis that of language. MargaretDrabble'sis a quite different tradition, and for her social collectivitiesare not in principleevil, howevermuch she might wish to change particularsocial practices.She is certainlyno postand is far from joining with Pynchon to celebratethe structuralist, which anarchy (in his view, at least) is the social implicationof poststructuralisttheory. Yet MargaretDrabble'sfiction is postmodern ratherthan modernin that it is informedby some of the same concernsas Pynchon's;if her novelsare formallyso differentfrom his, it is not because she is unthinkinglyold-fashioned but because her values are differentand dictatea differentresponseto the epistemological problemsshe faces. Society, in the form of community,is not for her a conspiracy to be resistedbut a good to be treasured,and its foundation seems threatenedby the free play of interpretation very that Pynchon celebrates.Society consists of individualswith a comand munityof interests,foundedupon sympathyand understanding, this becomesproblematic if the speechand behaviorof othersare not reliable indicatorsof thought, emotion, intention. It is even more would have it, thereare no if, as postmodernism radicallythreatened
24New York:Hill and Wang, 1974.RosalindCowardand JohnEllis,Language and Materialism:Developments in Semiology and the Theory of the Subject (London:Routledgeand KeganPaul, 1977),containsan excellentdiscussionof this issue in Chapter 4, "S/Z."

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"individuals"at all in the sense of independent, solid "selves"like the characters of old-fashioned "realistic"fiction but instead mere collections of inconsistent behaviors and interpretations determined finally by language and social practice. Margaret Drabble faces these problems from a position quite unlike Pynchon's, but face them she does, and she works through the crisis they present to achieve an affirmation diametrically opposed to his. This crisis begins to take shape in her first novel, A Summer Bird-Cage. Sarah returns from Paris for the wedding of her sister, Louise, to Stephen Halifax, a rich and fashionable novelist whom Sarah dislikes. "I couldn't imagine why Louise was marrying him" (p. 7), she confesses, and one of the main themes of the novelwhich is told in the first person, in good modernist fashion - is the difficulty of knowing another person, even one's sister. As the action progresses Sarah learns more and more strange "facts" about Louise but does not feel that she understands her. The difficulty of knowing another by making inferences from behavior becomes an explicit theme when Sarah considers novel-writing. Trying to render in prose a party given by Stephen and Louise in their fashionable home, Sarah admits: I don't seem to be able to describehow that partywas at all. It ought to be is verydistinctin my mind: I can visualizemost of easy, becauseeverything the clothesthat the womenwore, and how they had theirhair,and that kind of thing. I can remember how people talked, in a way, and I could tell who was successful and who wasn't. But there was somethingin the air that
eluded me. It was almost like being in a foreign country. . . . (pp. 116-17)

Because Sarah is not part of the milieu in which the party takes place, she does not really understand it. Trying to discover why she has such difficulty, she turns to one of Stephen's novels and concludes: It isn't really a question of observation.In the passage of Stephenthat I have just been looking at there is a descriptionof a left-wing, Bohemian, sexy-typegirl, familiarenough in style and intention-the girl is made to seem very immature,very self-deluding,and so on. Yet he doesn'tactually say anythingabout her thoughtprocesses:the whole thing is impliedfrom variousobservationsabout her badly cut hair, the fit of her skirt over her hips, the nicotine on her fingers, and the somewhat crass, provocative thingsthat he makesher say. The point is that I could observethese things
but I could never achieve the tone or the conclusions. I could write up the actress with the purple velvet rose in these terms, but I could never feel I'd

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got her down on paper when I'd done it. There are hundredsof things I could say about Stephenhimself . .. but they don't seemto add up to anything. They don't imply the truth. (p. 117) This is an outright rejection of Flaubert's realism.25Careful observation and physical description are not enough, for they constitute not "truth"but an interpretation, and Sarah feels that her interpretation would be partial, limited, and hence false because it would spring from her own context, from the codes which are her experience and beliefs. Such an interpretation, Sarah knows, would not be truth because it would not be understanding; for that she would have to inhabit the context and codes of the people she tries to write about: "The thing is that I couldn't start to feel them in my terms because I couldn't really feel them in theirs, and one needs the double background. Perhaps it can be learned by long apprenticeship and dedicated exploration: I hope so" (p. 118). This is not a question of literary technique but of morality. Sarah's inability to render the party is not a failure of technique but a limitation of experience, of sympathy and understanding, and her acknowledgement of this limitation is a moral triumph. We later discover that Stephen, the "successful" novelist, is a moral failure: his success is founded upon the kind of description that Sarah rightly distrusts, and what the critics praise as "social satire" is a human failure because not informed by sympathy. Near the end of the novel Louise tells Sarah "you ought to hear him talking about our daily, he talks about her as though she weren'thuman. Nothing but a comic creaturethat says funny things. I know you and I are prettyhopelesswith that kind of person, but with me it's because I'm frightenedof them, I'm awarethe whole time of humanthey are. She'sa spinster,our daily, and she how overwhelmingly had a budgie that died. Stephenlaughedwhen she went on about it, and but I wasn'tso deadto all humanfeelingnot said Poor old MissMcGregor, to realizethat to her that bird was like a child. And if that's funny then everythingis. Everything." (p. 179) Stephen's "social satire" is really snobbery: "He's an articulate snob. He doesn't understand, he sneers," says Louise, and Sarah identifies his fault as a lack of compassion. The consequences for Margaret Drabble's own novels are clear: since description of externals always entails distance and alienation, she must seek a mode of
25See Booth, pp. 42-43, for a careful distinction between Flaubert's "realism" and James' "realism."

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narrationthat involves commentaryupon her characters' thoughts and feelings. At first her novels remainwithinthe rubricof modernism by using the first person, and the protagonistcan tell us about herself without violating modernist decorum. But her distrust of as signs becomes deeper, so that in Jerusalem physical appearances The Goldenit is significantwhen Claraand Clelialook at the sundial on the lawn and find "it had got the time right. 'I'malwaysamazed,' said Clelia, 'to find the sun is so reliable'" (p. 125). Distrustfulof "showing,"MargaretDrabble has no recourse but "telling."Language is, of course, a sign-system,and in principleits interpretation depends upon context-social class, education, place of origin, for of other signs such as example-just as much as the interpretations But whilespeechis subjectto the table-manners. clothes, furnishings, same vicissitudes,the hope seems to be that it does not suffer to the same degree;that the broad linguisticcontext that Englishspeakers share will prove somehow a sufficientbasis for sympathyand community. Even at this early stage this is a matter of faith and not knowledge, as Drabble indicates when Sarah announces her hope that "feeling"people in their own terms and in one's own can be but in subsequent novels such a faith will not provesimple "learned"; to maintain. Her next two novels are in the first person, and they carryMargaret Drabble's questioning of the conventions of realism even further. In The Millstone (reissuedin paper in America as Thank YouAll Very friendLydiatells her how she once Much) Rosamund's went to a doctor seekingan abortionon psychiatric grounds- abortions being legal at this time only for what were considered"good" medical reasons. She found herself in a predicamentresembling "Catch22":to qualifyfor the abortionshe would have to be so mentally unbalancedthat the doctor would forbid it on the groundsthat she was not mentallyfit to cope with it. Lydialeft the doctor'soffice so upset that she walkedunseeinginto the road and was hit by a bus - whichdidn'tinjureher but whichdid producea miscarriage. Rosamund suggeststhat Lydia,a writer,put the incidentinto a novel, but and "far too unrealistic." Lydia protests that it is "unconvincing" When Rosamundpointsout that it reallydid happen, Lydiapatiently explains that "there'sa differencebetween what happens to one in real life and what one can make real in art. That happenedto me, I agreeit happenedto me, but I'mnot convincedby it, it hasn'tgot the stamp of realityon it to me. I don't writeabout that kind of thing. I couldn't. And anywayI don't like accidentsin books" (p. 56).

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In these first novels Margaret Drabble's idea of "truth"involves understanding, which means being able to believe that one has moved into another's context and can interpret according to his codes. But this has supposed that one does not lose one's own perspective; as Sarah said, she needed "the double background," needed to "feel" others in their own terms before feeling them in her own. Just how far it is possible to "feel" other people in their own terms is explored in later novels, beginning with The Waterfall, but in Jerusalem The Golden Drabble considers the darker implications of the process. Whether one can see with another's eyes or not, one's own vision (i.e., interpretation) can and clearly does change; but if one can shift one's context, change one's interpretation, what happens to the self, to personal identity? The very idea of identity involves sameness, continuity; personal identity means having a character and personality that change very little and very slowly, means having a consistent point of view. Yet the young protagonist of Jerusalem The Golden seeks a more rapid and more radical change, and she finds it with a speed and a success that are amusing and slightly chilling. Born into a rather ugly and mean-spirited lower-middle-class world, Clara longs for a different life far away from her spiteful mother. She knows what Drabble knows and what Sarah in A Summer Bird-Cage discovers- that it is no good being on the outside. As a schoolgirl on a Paris excursion she hates being a tourist, for she does not "wish to glimpse the exteriors of the houses of the famous dead. She wanted interiors" (p. 77). She achieves those interiors when, years later, she gets to know Celia Denham, daughter of a famous poet-father and an equally celebrated novelist-mother. When she visits their home for the first time, her codes suddenly change: Clarawas astonished;she could comparethe room to nothingin herexperience, nothing at all, unless it were perhapsto those studiously,tediously visited ancienthomes which she had been roundon variousbank holidays duringher childhood.And havingarrivedat so muchin the way of a comparison, she saw, suddenlyrevealedto her, how much there had been in those otherroomsto admire.She had alwaysdislikedthem, had neverfor a momentbeen able to see theirvirtues;she had been bored by the classical, and had felt a positive, righteouscontempt for the baroqueand the neoGothic ... And now, suddenly,stunninglyconfronted,she saw, if not the ideal was vindidetails,at least the natureof her errors... The aristocratic cated. She stared at the golden eagle, so arrogantlyand eternallypoised, and wonderedwhy she had ever thoughtbirds on furniturewerea bit off: why had she neverbotheredto look, why had she neveraskedherselfwhat hereyes had told her?Whyhad she to wait for suchan education?Theeagle
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wasso evidently, so ferociously one wouldhavethought thatit beautiful; couldhaveimpressed itself uponthe most unwilling beholder. She wonderedhowmanyothersucheaglesshe hadblindly passed.(pp. 117-18) Of course, she has not "blindlypassed"anythingbefore; it is simply that she now seems to see for the first time becauseher association with the Denhamshas changedher mind and thereforethe terms of her vision. The action of the novel is Clara'sbecomingpart of the beautiful world to which she has always aspired, ever since she divinedits existence.Yet the readermay be slightlyshockedby what seems manifest self-betrayal, for Clara forsakes home and dying motherand rejectsher past. The apparentparadox -that what "really is inapprohappened" novel- is easily explainedif literaryrealismis priate for a "realistic" not a transcriptionof reality but an interpretation,the "stampof reality"an illusion or effect producedby a set of conventions.Margaret Drabbleknowsthat this is the case, and that these conventions are not innocentor value-free.The "realistic" novel can includeonly events which articulatea particular conceptionof life, a specific inof what is or "representative" or "signifiterpretation "important" cant" or "typical."Insofar as these matters are determinedby an the hegemonyof men, it is hardly ideologicalpracticethat articulates or surprisingthat "realism"has no place for the "insignificant" "accidents" that so make of much the of lives "meaningless" up women in Drabble'sworld. She and her protagonistreject the conventions (i.e., ideology) that Lydia so unreflectingly accepts;Rosamund and the novel in which she is the main characterare primarily concernedwith what can be called an "accident," the operationof blind chance ratherthan scientificnecessity. She is pregnantas the resultof a singlesexualencounter,but she refusesto accepther pregnancy as a meaningless joke. Whatis meaningfuldependsupon who is interpreting, assigningmeaning,and Rosamundsays of herunborn baby: "Hadit belongedto the realmof mere accidentI would have have removed, like a wart or a corn. It seemedto have meaning. It seemed to be the kind of event to which, however accidental its cause, one could not say No" (p. 57). Just as Rosamund will not say No to her baby, Margaret Drabble refuses to say No to interpretations of women'slives that realistic fiction has shunned or denied. Her novel is a first-person
account of Rosamund's thoughts and feelings during pregnancy and surely got rid of it ... But it did not seem the kind of thing one could

her daughter'sfirst months of life, its drama and interest deriving


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from situations too often dismissed as banal or mundane, as mere life rather than art, in Lydia's terms. To underline the point Drabble has Rosamund discover the manuscript of a novel that Lydia is secretly writing about Rosamund's pregnancy; in the context its distortions in the interest of "art"seem not merely unfair but ridiculous. Margaret Drabble is not simply opposing "reality" to "interpretation"here she knows that any given "realism," including hers, is an interpretation, but she does not find this grounds for metaphysical despair or for a celebration of anarchy. Instead she accepts fully the political implications of this position and insists upon giving speech to an interpretation that conventional realism has largely ignored. What appears to be an accident in the conventions of one ideology may be nothing of the sort in those of another. So when the "old-fashioned," almost-but-not-quite omniscient narrator of The Realms of Gold turns her attention once more to Janet Bird and "finds" her pushing her baby along the High Street in a pram, she comments: The fact that she was doing this, as she was some 23 pages ago, does not indicatethat no time has passedsince that last brief encounter.Nor does it to imposean arbitrary indicatea desireon the part of the narrator orderor It events. that is a fact Bird Janet significanceupon simply spent a great deal of time pushingher pramup and down TockleyHigh Street. She had not muchchoice. She had littleelse to do. Onecould, arguably,havepicked her up at one or another of the variousmonotonous and repetitivetasks that filled her day, but she might as well be allowedsome exercise.For she gets little. (p. 121) One of the most important stages of Clara's triumphant progress is an affair with Gabriel, Clelia's married brother, and at the end she rather callously tells him that she has used him. "All you are to me, you know, is a means of self-advancement," she says; and when he inquires "And did you advance yourself?" she replies "Oh yes, without doubt ... Though others, I suppose, might see it as a decadence"

(p. 250). The third-person narrator has maintained a slightly ironic, mocking tone, encouraging the reader to see Clara's progress as a decadence, a falling-away, a betrayal of identity. Yet this view of Clara is quite wrong, as the reader should already know. Identity does not consist in Clara's remaining true to the appalling context into which she was inserted by birth, history, circumstance; the "self' she flees is a function of a social practice which was inflicted upon her and which, if she remains within it, will first stunt and then kill her as surely as it first stunted and is now killing her mother. The self she achieves is, of course, just as surely a function of a social context,
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but it is everybit as genuineas the one she leavesand in some sense more so since she activelyconstructsit and does not simplysufferit. Her mother's life is finally revealed as a cancer-literally a selfbetrayal, a rebellionof the cells-of which she is to die, but Clara "wouldsurvivebecauseshe had willedherselfto survive,becauseshe did not have it in her to die"(p. 253). Onceagaina conventionof the has been realistic novel (that of solid, consistent characterization) found to be implicatedin an ideology that disapprovesof and discourageschange;far from being a threatto the kind of world MargaretDrabblewantsto build, the abilityto changecontextsand codes offers an oppressedwoman the possibilityof real escape. The problems of knowledge and communicationcome to the fore in The Waterfall, whereJane is tormentedby her belief that she is locked away in a privaterealmof experiencewhich she cannot expressin languageand from whichshe cannotreachout to others. She writesher own storyin the thirdperson,but this narrative repeatedly breaks down and she commentsupon it, continuesit, and supplethat herthird-person account mentsit in the first person,exasperated is not "true."It cannot be true because the mere act of speech involves falsification: "And yet I haven't lied. I've merely omitted: merely,professionallyedited. This is dishonest,but not as dishonest as deliberatefalsehood"(p. 47). It may not be deliberate,but it is inevitable, because any account is an interpretationand therefore a codes. It is futile to try selectionof "facts"determined by particular to avoid dishonestyof this sort by multiplyinginterpretations and presentingthem all, for the resultis not a single, complextruth but
self-contradiction: "I have often thought . .. that the ways of regard-

ing an event, so different,don't add up to a whole;they are mutually exclusive:the social view, the sexual view, the circumstantial view, the moralview, these visions contradicteach other;they do not supplementone another, they cancel one another,they destroyone another. They cannot co-exist"(p. 47). Jane is tormentedby the suspicion that the different contexts whichshe inhabitsdo not cohereinto a classicunity, that an event, or even a life, refusesto makesense. She seeksan absolutetruthbeyond the frailtiesof language.Reflectingupon herrelationswith her lover, that the doublemeaningof the verb"lie"in "Ilie James, she remarks to you because I lie with you" is "the loveliest of ambiguities," but this reflectionis immediatelyovershadowedby the furtherthought that this ambiguityis "sadlyrestrictedto one language:untranslatable, and lackingthereforethe absolutetruththat seemedto inform it" (p. 71). Jane seeks a Truththat will transcendthese limitations,a
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to reality.To disPentecost,a Wordthat will unfailinglycorrespond cover such a word, even among the banalitiesof automobileracing, would deliverher from her bondage: "She could smell the curious dangeroussulfurous burning smell from the track, and wondered whatit was, whatnameit had: she thoughtshe wouldask James,and find if the name correspondedto the hot cinders and petrol and rubber.Perhapsit would be a word she would neveragainbe able to dispensewith, an importantword, a necessaryword, that she now still at that instant lacked" (p. 81). Lacking that Word she must that will admitand strugglewith words;she triesto makea narrative is her but the "a broken result and encompass fragmented piece: an event seen from angles, where there used to be one event, and one way only of enduringit" (p. 47). Signs are not to be trusted.When Jane first met the man whom she eventuallymarried,she heard him sing and was entrancedby what she heard, by "that amazing, relevant, unforgettabletragic note." She has to believethat this note is a true sign of the singer,for "after all a human being isn't an instrument,made of wood and strings.I wantedto find the sourceof that sound; I believedin communication,I wanted to believe that what I had heard was true, a true offering, and not in my head alone"(p. 95). But wherethe sign was emptiness,and hermarriage promiseda fullnessshe encountered misery. Jane is convincedthat her own pain is unique, becauseshe cannot see a signthat otherssuffer so: "Iwouldswearthat I have experienced an eternity of nothingness ... I believe that such states must

be common: in my wakingmoments I tell myself that they must be common, that all are subjectto them, though I cannot see the signs of it in their faces, but when I am alone there I knowthat it is not so, without a hope of parallel" that I suffer uniquely,incommunicably,
(p. 166). Community must be founded upon shared experience, but

Jane's"belief"that others share her nothingnessis abolishedby the of that nothingness.Languageoffers no way out, for "knowledge" the order of languageand the order of her privaterealityseem distinct; since she cannot in languagere-callher own suffering,she can hardly communicateit to others: "Those who go there will know whereit is that I mean:though I not there, writingcalmlyin recollection, can no longer, mercifully, recall" (p. 166).

Writingis not a re-callinginto presenceof somethingtemporarilyabsent, and it thereforeseems to offer no hope of knowledge, redemption,community.Yet there is hope, for Jane is redeemedby her affair with James. Through intimate, loving contact with one
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other human being she is gradually brought to entertain the possibility that she is not alone, that others are not unlike her even though their fellowship, their community, is not guaranteed by infallible signs. An important turning point comes when she screws up the courage to leave her house and take her children for a walk: I mustmakethe effort. I mustsubduemy natureand makethe effort. There is something so ludicrous about efforts to subdue trivial phobias, unfoundedfears:even the most heroicvictoryon this field has a qualityof the pitiable.Whenwe see a womanwalk along the street,how do we know that she is not some brave agoraphobe, flinching from the brutal sky? Some people are afraidof insects,of water,of greenleaves. Of the very air. They to performthe most simplehumanactsfight againstunseenimpediments love. They expose themselves to their own speaking, hearing, making ridicule,in efforts to avoid a stammeror a fit of impotence.And yet we dareto judgeeach other, we dareto supposea norm.We continueto live, as if life were a practicalpossibility,as though we could know somethingof one another. (pp. 168-69) Jane is appalled by the presumption that we know something of one another, since the existence of private agony behind an exterior that gives no sign of it appears to deny the possibility that we can ever correctly "read" others. Yet this very passage presents implicitly the answer that both Jane and Drabble will embrace: we presume we know something of others because we assume - as an act of faith and not certain knowledge -that they are not totally unlike ourselves. We guess at others' pain because we ourselves suffer, and we intuit others' heroism on the basis of our own pitiable victories. We cannot finally escape the isolation of the self, the prison-house of that language which is never adequate, which always stands between us and the reality in which we are forced to believe; yet we can and do affirm a world of others who resemble us. This, of course, is what a novelist does when she constructs a fiction, pretending knowledge of the hearts and minds of a dozen characters whom she in fact creates, in imitation of an omniscient God; this "old-fashioned" novelistic point of view is no different from that which each of us occupies as we move in our world, constructing through our manifold acts of interpretation a cast of characters to people the fiction that is our lives. There are no certainties: Jane's "self"is as much a construction as the other people she constructs in the act of believing that she knows them. Yet her sense of a world apart from herself is founded upon what she takes as the basis of her life -her love for James and his for her. It, too, is a fiction, but it is one she affirms as the ground of her
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being and of her faith: "I doubt, at times, I panic, I lose faith; but doubt, as they say, is not accessibleto unbelievers" (p. 246). The various avenues exploredin these novels all meet in Margaret Drabble'slater work, of which The Realms of Gold is a rich instance.FrancesWingate,the protagonist,is an archaeologist,and her occupationfunctionsas a type of both the novelist'simaginative acwork in buildinga fictionalworld and the necessaryinterpreting tivity people performin orderto think that they live in the real one. Franceshas "discovered" the remainsof a lost city, but this very disof is a the there,idly staringat covery triumph imagination: "[Slitting if was of the there a map Sahara,wondering any possiblereasonfor of the her sense of certaintyabout her own arbitrary interpretation
evidence ... suddenly she knew exactly where to look. She knew I must be mad, she thought to herself. I imagine a

with such convictionthat it was like a revelation -the evidencewas all there, it was simplythat she alone had producedthe correctinterpretation of it ...

city, and it exists"(pp. 30-31). Findingthe remainsof the city of Tizoukis only the first partof the task; the rest is imagining,reconstructing the lives of those longdead people from the verylittle "evidence" that remains.And in fact when she is asked a questionat a public lecture, her answerreveals that most of the evidencethat founds her pictureof the Phoenicians is not specificallyarchaeological at all; it is, as it must be, Frances' own ideas about human nature, about what other people are like: "So what could she do now, but say that we do not know enough about the Phoeniciansto condemnthem wholesale, as the Romans
slaughtered them wholesale? ... We must remember that there were

Phoeniciansand Phoenicians, she said. Some perhapsslaughtered their children, others perhaps refused. As some denounced their families in the last war, and some refused"(p. 34). More than this one cannot do, either as archaeologistor as simple human being. And so in this novel Margaret Drabblecasts aside the last vestigesof modernist orthodoxy; her narrator enters unashamed, and her imagining,manipulating,explaining,and interpretingbecome part of the textureand substanceof the narrative.She entersthe mindsof withoutapology, and feels freeto commentboth upon her characters her characters consideredas "real" personsand upon her novel consideredas fiction. The plot of this novel consistsin the bringingtogether,in space/ time and into some sort of community,people who exist apartfrom
each other. Frances is separated from Karel, her lover, and is unaware of the existence of two cousins, David and Janet Ollerenshaw.

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David is a mining engineer, and a professional conference introduces him to Frances although it is some time before they discover through a chance remark that they are related. Janet lives a life of miserable, loveless petit-bourgeois domesticity and it takes another accident, of the sort that Lydia in The Millstone rejects and Margaret Drabble embraces, to introduce her to Frances and to bring David to the rescue. Yet another accident - this time a postal strike - keeps Frances and Karel apart until almost the end of the novel. But the chief interest of all this lies in the kind of fellowship and community these very different people are able to achieve through these various accidents, without any one of them losing what can be termed their individuality, their identity. They are like four circles which intersect to form a common space without any circle losing its integrity. One such intersection occurs when Frances, almost on the spur of the moment, goes to see the cousin she has never met because of a family feud in a previous generation. All the signs are inauspicious: Janet is a miserable and angry housewife, trapped in an ugly marriage but unwilling to do anything about it, while Frances is a successful academic, famous, upper middle-class and comparatively rich, who got rid of her unpleasant husband years before; Frances knows nothing of Janet, while Janet "knows" of Frances only what she read in a Sunday newspaper profile and from which she derived a picture of a supercilious woman who said a lot of things which Janet found "quite sickeningly offensive and irritating and silly" (p. 309). The encounter takes place in Janet's house and gets off to a bad start: "How lovely and cozy it is in here,"said Frances,following Janetinto the lounge, and takingit all in - the cheapcarpet,the cheapmodernfurniture, the pretentiousorangecurtains,the pretentiousSwedishcandles,the desolate bleak wildernessof boredom, the nest of coffee tables, the small, notquite-full bookshelf, the overfull magazine rack, the reproductionof a Dufy painting, the white Formica table, the vase of dried leaves. "How nice," said Francesinsincerely.. . . (p. 309) Here the room's contents are signs not of what the room essentially is but of how it appears to Frances' upper middle-class gaze; the list is no more a reliable representation of the room than Frances' polite comments are expressions of her feelings. And as the interview progresses and Frances begins to feel sympathy - or pity - when she realizes the horrible trap Janet is in, so she begins to think "that the curtains weren't so pretentious after all, they were really quite an atDRABBLE

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tractive shade of orange, and she rather liked the red piano .. ." (p. 314). Janet reproaches Frances with the Sunday newspaper article: "Itsaidyou likedpeelingvegetables," said Janet. "Thatmusthavebeen a lie. Surelythat must have been a lie." Francesconsideredfor an instant. It had in fact been the truth, that remark,thougha truth, she agreed,fit only for Pseud'sCorner:she did like
peeling potatoes .
.

course it was a lie." On the basis of such a mutual deception (for Janet too, as we have seen, liked peelingvegetables),they felt quite friendly.(p. 317) A limited but valuable friendship is hammered together using the most unlikely materials, and at the end of the evening Frances, Janet, David Ollerenshaw and Karel are all united over a meal at a local restaurant. They create a community -indeed, they are all members of the same family in more than a trivial sense-and the mutual understanding they achieve is sufficient, however comically flawed their knowledge of each other is and however individual each one remains. When, at the end of the novel, Karel and Frances visit David in his London flat for the first time, It was one of the biggestsurprises of Frances' life. She had been certainthat
David would live in some shabby neglected hovel or bedsitter . . . and his

. Truth, however, is relative. "Yes," she agreed, "of

address(in EarlsCourt)promisedno better. But his tiny flat, in size alone resemblinga bedsitter, was quite unexpected.It was carefully furnished, spotless, even elegant.A stereorecordplayer,a largecollectionof records, shelvesof books, a fine seriesof orchidprints,and (mostinexplicable of all) some interestingpieces of porcelainbore witnessto interestsof which she would neverhave dreamed.On the mantlepiecestood some geologicalobjects: satin spar from the Midlands, a polished block of pudding-stone, some greenolivine from the Red Sea, desertroses, a lump of pink crystalline corundum,and a very largeblock of smokyquartz.She gazedinto the block of quartz:it was denseand translucent within,streaked by refraction, like a petrifiedforest. Humannatureis trulyimpenetrable, she said to herself. (p. 349) In a modest way, Frances has misread, misinterpreted David, but she has achieved a friendship with him even though her knowledge of him is incomplete and strictly "false." The reader should hardly be surprised at her misreading, for Frances seems to be the
character closest to Margaret Drabble and our narrator has earlier confessed that David is "much the most impenetrable" of the three Ollerenshaws: "I must confess that I had at this point intended to in166

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troduce him in greaterdepth,"says the narrator."Thetruth is that David was intendedto play a much largerrole in this narrative,but he became" the more I looked at him, the more incomprehensible (pp. 174-75). The final gentle irony of the book comes when we discover, in the last paragraph,that Francesand Karel-who are very close and in love -are nevertheless individualswith distinctcodes of from as return visit to David'sflat, Frances their interpretation: they "saidto Karel,what a surprising place. But Kareldidn'tknow what she was talking about. David'splace hadn'tsurprisedhim at all."26 Drabble'snovels exploreareasthat are very much eviMargaret dent in contemporary criticism,but they arriveat differentconclusions. That knowledgeis never certain, that languagedoes not representor clearlyand infalliblycommunicate,that personalidentity is a fiction and that our belief in other "selves" restsupon shakyevidence-these "facts"are not for her grounds for celebrationlike Pynchon's,but neitherdo they plungeher into an abyss of nothingness from which there is no return. Despite all this, life of a sort seems to go on, and somethinglike communitycan be erectedupon knowledgethat is always questionable.It is a narrowcommunity, stretchingwith difficulty from lower-middleto upper-middleclass but unable to comprehendradicallydifferentcontexts. Even within this narrowrangeit cannot includeeveryone:in TheRealmsof Gold Frances'nephewStephenkills himselfand his childin a despairfrom which he cannot be reclaimedthroughthe interestand affection of others. But communityis possible, MargaretDrabblesuggests;it is alwaysa fiction, but one that can be constructed by its members,who are its only authors.Hencethe infamouschallengeto the reader:"So there you are. Invent a more suitableendingif you can" (p. 346), is not what it has so often been mistakenfor -a coy piece of self-congratulationby MargaretDrabbleupon her own superiorpowersof It is a serious invitation to create a different fiction by artistry.27 a differentsociety. creating,throughcompassionand understanding,
26Patricia Sharpehas a good discussionof the issuesinvolvedherein her review
article "On First Looking Into The Realms of Gold," Michigan QuarterlyReview, 16

authorialinabrupt,uncharacteristic (1977), pp. 225-31. She observes:"Drabble's trusionsalso testifyto the existenceof situations whichsheas individual cannotfully or accept"(p. 229). comprehend 27EricKorn, "Archaeology begins at home," TimesLiterarySupplement,26 an old-fashionedand obtrusivenarratorwho September1975, p. 1077: "There's flaunts her omnisciencein a most distractingfashion ... She even gives the plot away,but I refuseto do so: it'sa good plot andin no needof its author's deprecation a flauntingapologetic,seizesher ... so what . . At timesa defiantdefensiveness,
is she doing, fishing for compliments? ... As the end approaches, Margaret
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The form of MargaretDrabble'snovels is not the result of unthinking acceptanceof Victorian conventions, or of nostalgia for "therichesof the past."It is rathera workingback to a reconstituted and subjectsit to a realism,in whichDrabblebeginswith modernism If criticshave not been critiquethat is profoundand contemporary. quick to realize this, and have consequentlylabeled her authorial commentaryself-indulgence,part of the reason lies in that public image of MargaretDrabblethat appearsto disclaimall pretenceto serious "art"and to promise only a "good read." But why should Drabbleherselfcooperatein promotingthis image, as she clearlyhas done? The answer, I suspect, can be detectedin a little joke in The Realms of Gold. At one point Frances "reada few pages of The Charterhouse of Parma (she'dbeen meaningto readit for yearsand God could she see why)"beforegivingup in boredomand turningto the Sunday newspaper(p. 244). When a Drabble heroine is faced with "Kulchur," hererepresented by Stendhal,she soon givesup, preferring a journalismthat is vitally connected to her life to an embalmed "art"which is not. So does a Drabble hero: Franceslater lendsthe book to Kareland he becomes"very bored" verysoon: " 'I'm not up to this seriousstuff,' he pleaded.'Do get me somethingwith a bit less action in it. Please'" (p. 328). If Margaret Drabblehas sacrificed some seriouscriticalattentionas a resultof the publicimageshe has created,this is the pricethat I suspectshe has been willingto pay for somethingmore importantto her-the attentionof a largenumber of intelligent,willing, and seriousreaderswhom she wants her work to affect but who, not entirelywithout reason, will begin to yawn at the mentionof the word "Art."This discouraging response of manyreaders to "Art" is partlythe legacyof that modernistorthodoxy by which Drabble'snovels have been found "old-fashioned." to many people in a society "Literature" still means "unreadable" whose responseto the esoteric modernistmasterpieces has been to veneratethem as museumpieces. "Theremust be a lot of people like is somethingshe seems me," Drabblehas said, and the title "Artist" willingto renouncein orderto reachthose people throughher work. ScrippsCollege Claremont,California
Drabblebecomespositivelyskittish:'So thereyou are. Inventa moresuitableending of character,as though Jane if you can.' . .. it reads like a gauche dissembling or NormanMailerto alexandrines." Austen had taken to streamof consciousness Ricksvoice similar comof the novelby LoreDicksteinand Christopher The reviews an articleby Joan Manheimer, Drabbleand the Journey as does plaints, "Margaret
to the Self," Studies in the Literary Imagination, 11, No. 2 (1978), pp. 127-43; see

esp. pp. 139-40.

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CONTEMPORARY

LITERATURE

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