The new Victorian : from tradition to innovation : a thematic study of the novels of Margaret Drabble
The main objectives of this dissertation are to establish the tradition of women's writing to which Drabble belongs and to examine her innovative contribution to this convention. The major themes embodied in her corpus are discussed and presented diachronically. Initially an attempt is made to establish the historical tradition to which Drabble adheres and to illustrate how the prevailing socio-economic conditions of women's lives inevitably influence their thematic concerns. Subsequently, Drabble is presented as continuing a tradition which has been established by other women writers conscientised to reflect the fabric and texture of their lives, but she presents both the form and theme of her work from a uniquely individual perspective. Emphasis is placed on Drabble's ability to foreground female protagonists who make choices about their lives: these are essentially the important issues of her earlier novels. Her innovation lies in her voicing these choices. Drabble's acute sensitivity to contemporary social issues is reflected in her middle novels. She is considered as a strong "voice' on women's issues long before the women's movement of the late sixties and onwards gained momentum, and her scepticism towards the movement is wryly revealed in The Middle Ground. Similarly, her attitude to worsening social conditions and the misuse of patriarchal power is validated in her juxtaposition of "male' versus "female' values (The Ice Age'). Drabble's commentary on the importance of the family within the social structure is discussed and her realisation that family life is full of tensions and difficulties is revealed: emphasis is given to the fact that women fulfil a complex and often burdensome role within this structure: in coping with the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood to dealing with difficult teenagers, ageing parents and tense sibling rivalries, women emerge as strong mediators. Drabble explores her own difficult family relationships to show how this tension is reflected in the lives and oeuvre of other achieving female writers. Drabble's strong engagement with the canon in her writing and her interesting allusions and intertextual links are examined, using The Radiant Way as a point of departure. Drabble's growing interest in international affairs is reflected in her later novels, but it is emphasised that she is still aware of social and gender issues (A Natural Curiosity). She is securely entrenched in NW3 but is beginning to question Western values as her narrative shifts between St. John's Wood and Cambodia (The Gates of Ivory). The methods she uses to question these values are surveyed and some observations are made on her changing narrative techniques. Hence Drabble is established as a strong participant in the tradition of women's writing, both in her treatment of theme and form. The place of women in society, their education and career choices, their experiences of marriage, motherhood and the family are all issues which have traditionally preoccupied women writers, but it is noted that Drabble expressed her views before it was socially "correct" to do so: in this lies her innovation. Her widening interest in environmental, scientific and international affairs reflects her interest in what the world is becoming. Thus the designation, Drabble as a New Victorian accurately reflects her status from a late twentieth-century perspective, in the continuing tradition of women writing the story of their lives.
- Humanities