Monday, July 05, 2010

Quite a Dame!

Dame Beryl Bainbridge was more than just one of Britain's most prolific post-war novelists. As well as the 17 novels she leaves behind, of which five were short-listed for the Booker, the memory of her raucous conversation and impish figure, usually clutching a glass of red wine and a cigarette, will remain with all who met her over 50 years on London's bohemian literary scene.

Born and raised in Liverpool, where she died of cancer on Friday, Bainbridge was initially an actress. She moved to London in the 1960s, which would remain her home, though both cities would feature in her work. She was never paid more than £2,000 for any book, and lived amid stuffed animals and high-Victorian paraphernalia in a house in Camden Town. Here, evidence of her helter-skelter lifestyle included a bullet hole in the ceiling, caused by her mother-in-law, who went to shoot her but missed.

Bainbridge married, divorced and had three children, and her greatest joy were her grandchildren. She expected to die at 71, as 11 relatives did. In the event she was 75.
Poet Michael Horovitch thus sums up the author's remarkable life in The Independent after she passed away in hospital after a battle with cancer last Saturday, aged 75.

Elsewhere other friends pay tribute :
I am not saying that Beryl was a liar, because I do not think she was. But she was a novelist, and the crafted versions of events always came to have more substance than mere facts ...
 writes AN Wilson  in The Observer and he tells how she was dictating the last few pages of her novel The Girl in the Polka-Dot Dress :

... a fantastical version of a journey she took across America 42 years ago
even as she lay on her death bed.

Melvyn Bragg writes about the Beryl Bainbridge that he knew in The Telegraph and remarks on how :
Her private complexity alchemised into the clarity of her books.
The passing of Beryl Bainbridge on Saturday made me feel very sad : not only had I enjoyed several of her novels (Injury Time and According to Queenie were my favourites), but I feel I was very privileged to "meet" her via video link-up thanks to The British Council.

Even from this short time in her company I was drawn to her great sense of mischief (even at 71 she sparkled!) : perhaps of all the authors I've ever met, she's the one I would most have liked to spend an evening in the pub with ... though I might have suffered permanent damage from inhaling second-hand smoke!

Postscript :
I think of death a lot, indeed always have, although when young I had a belief that it was a long way off. Now, it isn’t, and I continually think of how I would prefer to pass from light to darkness. I don’t want to be run down by traffic, be shot by a madman, or suffer a sudden shock to the heart. I would like, if possible, to be so conscious of what was coming that I had time to write down a few thoughts on paper. I would remember my parents, the love I once felt for them, and for my husband who left so many years ago, and try to put into words the joy my dear children have brought me.
The Independent reprints a piece Bainbridge wrote about the art of facing death.


Ellen Whyte said...

What a shame. Haven't read her books. Will keep an eye out for them.

Are you feeling more energised these days? It's so hot and sticky, it IS tough to get going.

ArtsVeronica said...

What sad news, Sharon. Thank you for having a posted up a form of tribute to her.

Will always remember Bainbridge's books as being the first I could afford to read one after the other. I had only been able to do so because I had picked six of them up for RM5 each at a warehouse sale. Before that, my appetite for what female viewpoints the publishing industry allowed had been whetted by good girlfriends who had lent or gifted me Woolf's "A Room of One's Own", Roy's "God of Small Things", Otto's "How to Make an American Quilt" & Collette's 'The Claudine Novels".

Before that, school & after-school literature classes & public exams had determined what I consumed; very good works but all the same, those carrying very little female ruminations, whether old or current. For some reason, most of my teachers were male and even one or two highly educated ones could never make up for how these texts left you out if you had feminist questions racing about in your mind as you read.

Bainbridge's works took me along on a joyride as she'd shoot down all these senseless ways in which both men and women are encouraged to respond to life events. I love her digs in "Sweet William" most of all & have actually recommended it to some young women who can't seem to extricate themselves out of buying further into the sweet-talking of two-timers.

"Harriet Said" said so much of what goes on --- and not just the stereotype of the forever lamenting victim (kind of like in older Indian movies, I'm not afraid to say) --- in the heads of young girls who face sexual harrassment and denial.

"Injury Time" actually touched on a part of me that, at the time, I had begun to become aware was conditioned not to argue, especially with men!

Today, I'm two books into Muriel Spark (she's my current fav! I love, love, love her work!), three books into Woolf, one book into Iris Murdoch and have one more Woolf, and three more Collettes on the shelf. Yummy! Reading is even more a thing to look forward to!

Oh, the joys a Beryl Bainbridge brings! May I never forget to have her sense of humour every now and then.