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MASARYK UNIVERSITY

FACULTY OF EDUCATION
DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

Women in the Post World War II Britain


in Margaret Drabbles novel
The Radiant Way
Diploma Thesis

Brno 2011

Supervisor:
Mgr. Lucie Podroukov, PhD.

Written by:
Bc. Hana Sedlkov

Bibliografick zznam

SEDLKOV, Hana. Women in the Post World War II Britain in Margaret Drabbles
novel The Radiant Way: diplomov prce. Brno: Masarykova univerzita, Fakulta
pedagogick, Katedra anglickho jazyka a literatury, 2011. Vedouc diplomov prce
Mgr. Lucie Podroukov, PhD.

Anotace

Diplomov prce Women in the Post World War II Britain in Margaret Drabbles
novel The Radiant Way (Ziv cesta) se zabv otzkami ensk emancipace
probhajc v Britnii v osmdestch letech minulho stolet. Zkoum pedevm
vrohodnost dobovch zznam zachycench autorkou v romnu a porovnv je
s dobovmi zznamy zpracovanmi odbornky v pslun oblasti. Zaznamenv shody
a rozdly mezi autentickmi a autobiografickmi udlostmi na bzi romnu. Diplomov
prce se pedevm sousteuje na takov problmy, jako je feminismu, vzdln,
manelstv, rozvod, rodinn ivot, polick a socilnmi reformy v Britnii pod vedenm
Margaret Thatcher a sleduje jejich dopad na osudy hrdinek v romnu Ziv cesta a
Pirozen zvdavost. V prvn sti diplomov prce se rozebraj typick tvr a
vypravsk rysy Margaret Drabble. Druh st se zabv shodami mezi ivotnmi
osudy autorky a jejmi hlavnmi hrdinkami v romnu. Tet st si vytyila jako hlavn
tma vyobrazen skal rodinnho ivota, jak z pohledu utlaovan, tak i emancipovan
eny. tvrt st zkoum historii feminismu a jeho dopad na osudy modern eny. Pt
st se zabv otzkami nerovnoprvnosti en ve vzdln a posledn st zpracovv
politick, ekonomick a sociln rozpory v zemi v obdob Thatcherismu.

Annotation

The diploma thesis Women in the Post World War II Britain in Margaret Drabbles novel
The Radiant Way deals with the questions of women emancipation proceeding in Britain
during the eighties of the previous century. It mainly focuses on the authenticity of

records portrayed in the novel by the author and compares them with the records written
down by the experts in the particular fields. The thesis follows the similarities and
differences between the authentic and autobiographical events on the basis of the novel.
The diploma thesis is mainly focused on the issues, such as feminism, education,
marriage, divorce, family life, the political and social reforms in Britain under the
leadership of Margaret Thatcher, and examines their impact on the destiny of the main
heroines of The Radiant Way and A Natural Curiosity. Margaret Drabbles typical
literary and stylistic features are discussed in the first part of the diploma thesis. The
second part deals with the similarities between the authors autobiographical
experiences and her main heroines in the novel. The third part sets as its main goal the
description of the difficulties connected with the married life, and so as from the point
of a battered woman, so from the point of an emancipated one. The fourth part explores
the history of feminism and its impact on the fortune of a modern woman. The fifth part
deals with the questions of women inequality in the field of education and the last part
treats the political, economical and social conflicts in the country during the Thatcherite
era.

Klov slova

Otzky feminismu, zastnce volebnho prva, premenstruln napt, musk


ovinizmus, tdn rozdly, rozvod, venkovsk msto, Prvn svtov vlka, matka,
pedofilie

Key words
Feminist Issues, suffragist, pre-menstrual tension, male chauvinism, class differences,
divorce, provincial town, World War II, mother, paedophilia

Declaration
I declare that I worked on my thesis on my own and that I used the sources mentioned
in the bibliography.

Brno, 20th April 2011

Bc. Hana Sedlkov

Acknowledgements
I would like to thank to all who have helped me with the work on my diploma thesis,
namely to Mgr. Lucie Podroukov, PhD. for her kind help and valuable advice which
she had provided me as my supervisor.

CONTENTS
1.

INTRODUCTION..............................................................................................................................7

2.

MARGARET DRABBLES NARRATIVE STYLE OF WRITING...........................................10

3.

MARGARET DRABBLE AND HER HEROINES STRIKING RESEMBLANCE................14

4.

FEELINGS OF INSECURITY ON THE JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE..................................24


4.1 LIZS CHILDHOOD MEMORIES............................................................................................................24
4.2 THE FIRST MARRIED EXPERIENCES....................................................................................................30
4.3 THE PROVINCIAL INCONVENIENCES OF THE MARRIED LIFE...............................................................34
4.4 THE PARTYS SECRET.........................................................................................................................38

5.

EDUCATIONAL EQUALITY........................................................................................................44
5.1 THE POST-WAR DREAM WHICH DID NOT COME TRUE.........................................................................58
5.2 THE UNIVERSITY OF THE AIR............................................................................................................61

6.

FEMINISM AND ITS ISSUES.......................................................................................................64

7.

POLITICAL AND SOCIAL REFORMS IN THE COUNTRY...................................................80


7.1 THE FIRST CRUSHING BLOW...............................................................................................................84
7.2 THE SECOND MOMENT OF DOWNBEAT...........................................................................................91

8.

CONCLUSION.................................................................................................................................99

9.

RESUM.........................................................................................................................................102

RESUME..................................................................................................................................................102
10.

BIBLIOGRAPHY..........................................................................................................................103

11.

APPENDIX.....................................................................................................................................115

1. Introduction
There are some writers who wrote too much. There others who wrote enough.
There are yet others who wrote nothing like enough to satisfy their admirers, and Jane
Austen is certainly one of these.
Margaret Drabble
Margaret Drabble is considered one of the most respectable British female
novelists of the post war period. What makes her style of writing so exceptional is the
combination of innovative narrative skills, a rather distinctive female point of view and
her rich literary experience, influenced to a large extent by her contemporary, Doris
Lessing. These features allow Drabble to deal well with the important social, cultural
and political changes, as well as hot feminist issues of the 20th century.
In the past female novelists could not write so openly about burning feminist
demands, they were bound with strictly set literary conventions. Despite that, such wellknown household names as Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf made a very
positive contribution to the concept of feminism through their approachable novels.
Bearing this in mind, Drabble frequently uses their examples in various assimilations of
certain aspects of traditional Victorian and Edwardian feminine roles depicted in her
novels. However, Drabbles main aim is to portray the true and realistic world of
contemporary English middle-class, middle-aged women with all of the crises and
conflicts unfamiliar to their ancestors.
Crossing further literary borders of feminine emancipation was a big challenge
for the women writers of the late 19th and later on mid-20th centuries. The last period
besides long-awaited freedom brought new radical social, political and cultural reforms.
It meant a big responsibility for the output of contemporary female writing society. As
full participants of the ongoing process, it was their task to embody these newly gained
hopes in fictitious arrangements of plots, characters and events of literary works created
at that time. On their way to liberal interpretation of the profound effects, these female
writers were encouraged by the strong power of the second wave feminism. The
meaning of waiting for the long-expected changes might be symbolically reflected in
the begging of Drabbles novel The Radiant Way (1987), which starts with the pompous
New Years Eve party to welcome the new beginning.
Margaret Drabbles literary career is closely connected with the feminist theories
going around in the Britain of the mid-twentieth century. They form an essential
7

component of most Drabbles novels. Margaret Drabble claims that the novel is ideal
place for women to deal with the issues raised by the womens movement (URL 69)
and she adds that many people read novels to find patterns or images for a possible
future to know how to behave, what to hope to be like (URL 69).
Male and female characters of Drabbles novel The Radiant Way focus their
attention on complex feminist issues, such as education, sexuality, marriage, divorce,
motherhood, family roots and political stability of the country. All of them have
significantly altered the should-be solid nature of personal lives, believes, images and
visions. And all of them are mostly portrayed on the background of sweeping political
and economical reforms of the 1980s in England under Thatcher.
The stylistic composition of The Radiant Way is absorbing for its noteworthy
mixture of fictional, autobiographical and historical elements which run through the
whole story and form a complicated relation which is in many sequences of the plot
difficult to hold apart. Margaret Drabble admits that what causes her as an author of
fiction worriers is to distinguish the borders between the real world and the personal
freedom of illusion. Her frequent question is: Could this ever have happened? (URL
70).
The main aim of this diploma thesis is to compare the reality of the Britain of the
1980s depicted in Drabbles novel of fiction, The Radiant Way, to the bibliographical
entries written down by the contemporary experts in the particular fields. The main task
has been based on setting the similarities and differences between the authors evidence
and the historical, political and social records stated in the primary informal sources
listed in the bibliography. This form of research would like to find out to what extent
this novel might be considered the authentic account of life of the woman living in that
era, and to what extent it was influenced by the authors autobiographical experiences.
In the second chapter I am going to deal with the features highly significant for
Drabbles rare narrative style of writing, on the time and setting of the plot and social
classes which Drabble portrays in her novels. In the third chapter I would like to focus
on the similarities and differences between the authors own childhood and mature life
in comparison with the destiny of the novels main heroines, Liz Headleand, Alix
Bowen and Esther Breuer. Then, the fourth chapter focuses on the insecurities of family
life, deals with the issues which Drabble deeply analyses in The Radiant Way, and on
circumstances which influence the destiny of main heroines living in London and
Shirley Harper, a woman who lives in the provincial district of Northam. The fifth
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chapter reveals the feminine unequal path through British educational system, leading
from the mid-eighteenth century to the advantages and disadvantages of the Open
University. There are also stated the main acts and forms of schooling institutions. The
aim of the sixth chapter is feminism and its most important representatives such as
Millicent Fawcett or Emmeline Pankhurst. The final seventh chapter deals with the
political, social and economical reformation in the country under Margaret Thatchers
leadership. Because it is rather difficult to keep the two most important periods depicted
in the book together, there is one chapter for each of them. The system of dealing with
them is then a bit different.
What connects all these materials together is the authors prime interest in the
importance of feminist issues for Margaret Drabbles novel The Radiant Way.

2. Margaret Drabbles narrative style of writing


Writing isnt about writing, it is about the other thing, which is called life.
Margaret Drabble
There are two main themes which seem to connect most of the
novels written so far by the successful female novelist, Margaret
Drabble. It seems to be thus important to pay them some attention.
The first one is her long-standing sympathy with the
widespread feminist movement of the mid-twentieth century. Drabble
proudly considers herself to be a feminist and her heroines are British
women who bravely fight for their equal position in British society.
They are frequently depicted as middle-class, educated wives and
mothers who have presently found themselves facing a crisis in their
ordinary lives. Such an example might be Liz Headleand, one of the
three main protagonists of the Drabbles trilogy consisting of three
subsequent parts The Radiant Way (1987), A Natural Curiosity (1989)
and The Gates of Ivory (1992). Readers start to follow Lizs destiny
since the moment she finds out the devastating news that her
husband Charles intends to get divorced from her:
That ominous expression of sympathy from pebbled-glassed
Jules, who took her hand and asked her meaningfully how
she was? Esthers strange allusion to a hornets nest? That
look of frank dislike and satisfaction form Antonia Haycock?
That uncharacteristically and overly broad anecdote from
Pett Petrie? Hilde Starks excessively theatrical departing
conspiratorial embrace? That odd, bitter comradely crack
about men from Kate Armstrong? That glance of panic from
her daughter Sally? All these messages had been sent forth,
and she had received none of them, had continued to
consider herself in charge. In control, the prime mover. Until,
under the mirror, after many a circle and feint, after many a
playful retreat and renewed approach, Ivan at last cornered
her, and even before he opened his mouth she felt the smell
of fear from herself: her pores broke open, she stood there
panting slightly, her hair rising on the back of her neck in
terror, her heated skin covered in icy water: And when,
asked Ivan pleasantly, are you two going to make the
announcement? Is it to be tonight, or do we wait? (Drabble
1988: 39)
10

Nevertheless,

contemporary

female

novelists

handle

the

concept of married life from a different point of view. Drabble herself


provides other examples of possible matrimonial problems not only in
The Radiant Way, but also in the whole trilogy. In her stories readers
become a part of gentle investigations into the deepest thoughts and
emotions of modern women in distress. The mature novels of
Margaret Drabble tend to deal with topics that manage to maintain
an atmosphere of reality that speaks to womens actual lives (URL
69). Besides, the up-to-date approach to the concept of mutual
cohabitation is more than visible on Alix Bowens teasing extract:
And anyway, what do women need with men? All thats gone out of
fashion (Drabble 1988: 130).
The other common feature is the setting of the plot. In her
previous novels and masterpieces Drabble focused on the subject of
shabby, declining British society of the nineteenth and twentieth
century based on the strict class division. Among the problems which
she connects with the unhappy life conditions of those times belongs
the failure of businesses, the brutalization of architecture, the
diminishing of expectations (URL 20). In The Radiant Way, the novel
which starts with the joyful New Years Eves celebrations of the 1980,
although its main concern is the sequence of events in the following
five destructive years, the depicted issues are even more serious.
There still exist opposing approaches to this period of the recent
English

history

which

brought

such

poems

as

Thatcherism,

monetarism, privatization, greed, envy and selfishness. What is new


here is the way fear and violence have come to replace resignation in
English life (URL 20).

The

concept

of

the

plot

continues

to

highlight the corruption of twentieth-century values through the lives


of three young women whose youthful idealism about the future is
gradually replaced by a distrust of politics as a force for positive
change and cynical acceptance of an unsettled society (URL 69). In

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one sequence of the plot, Liz claims about Alixs socialistic approach
to the declining British society:
Alix has given up hope of ever getting anyone to do
anything. She thinks its all hopeless. Alix told me that she
herself threw a crisp packet out of the car window on the
way to Wanley the other night. Littering the A10. The lovely,
scenic A10. She said she thought it would never come to
that. (Drabble 1988: 246)
The littering of A10 road symbolizes Alixs lost hope in old
values, the implicit assumption that with the changing society all the
important principles of the old regime have definitely gone.
Drabble is considered to be the master of social observation.
She compares different panoramas of the rich south and the poor
north part of the country, she writes about different culture, education
and

attitudes

of

local

people.

Whenever

she

describes

the

contemporary English society, she talks about the shape of an onion


with a few people on the top and a few people at the bottom, but the
vast majority in the middle. And it is the realistic picture of the life of
English middle-class inhabitants what have become a regular source
for her works.
The twentieth century

brought

radical changes

into the

stereotype life of British women which only deepen in the 1980s.


Finally, they were allowed to arise from their domestic servility (URL
72)

and

gain

much

stronger

power

in

education,

marriage,

employment and law. To prove the ongoing process of emancipation,


the solid symbol of this era became a woman, Margaret Thatcher. The
only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who was so much
hated and adorned by her nation. The focus point of the whole trilogy
is London.
The capital city of the 1960s turned overnight into a lively place
full of new ideas, freedom, culture, music and fashion, whereas
London of the 1980s is described as a difficult place to live in.
Londoners, who are forced to pay extremely high rents for the
12

accommodation in the centre, are not able to pay their debts off.
Esther Breuer, who owns a rented flat in Ladbroke Grove, dreams
about a country house where she could live rent-free, in a cottage
standing empty, she could keep at bay the nettles and the ivy
(Drabble 1988: 192). The bad payment conditions make of people
dwellers

of

poor

slums

on the

outskirts.

Unemployment

and

criminality are rapidly increasing. It is also the time when new


American trends start to appear in London streets:
These were the years when strange tattered, vulture-like
grey and black false plastic creatures began to perch and
cluster in the trees of Britain: these sere the years when
cast-away fast-food cartons of indeterminate texture and
substance proliferated in the streets and front gardens and
underpasses and hedgerows of Britain. (Drabble 1988: 228)
This sequence gives away Drabbles attitude to so-called
Americanism. In the era of the U.S. invasion of Iraq Drabble wrote an
article calling herself anti-American, saying: My anti-Americanism
has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me like a
disease. It rises my throat like acid reflux. (URL 92).
However, while the radiant south of the country, despite certain
drawbacks, kept leading its life through luxury, the north part, mainly
Yorkshire, was suffering from mass unemployment and serious
economic instability. The different living conditions, the growing greed
and selfishness in people, the increasing dissatisfaction and violence
of the young generation are the main problems depicted in the first
volume of the trilogy.
Margaret Drabble likes to be inspired by the reality. She enjoys
the rambling sequences of her books. She frequently uses the
intervening voice to comment on her own attitude to the characters
behaviour. Inspired by Thackeray and George Eliot, she thus breaks
the narrative to express herself as a writer. According to her, such an
approach is a vital part of every work and she even dare to claim that
the narrator is part of the story and can intervene whenever she or
13

he wants (URL 48). All these features of her writing are more than
visible in the storyline of the trilogy.
Stella weighs twelve stones, hates university, is very
unhappy, does not get on well with either Liz or Charles, and
with some justification thinks herself neglected, the
neglected runt of the family. She will be neglected by this
narrative too, for thus is the injustice of life compounded.
But it has to be said that none of the Headleand children will
get much of an appearance here. They will serve only as
occasional chorus. There are too many of them to be treated
individually. And anyway, Charles himself is only a small
subplot. This is not the Headleand saga. You do not have to
retain these names, these relationships. (Drabble1990: 30)

Drabble adds the key moments of her own life to the story and
mixes them with the destiny of the main protagonists. On the way
how these grown-up, middle-class people think, behave, dress, study
or eat, Drabble stress out the variety of viewpoints persistently
afloating among the Londons inhabitants. Through their eyes it is
possible to perceive the same inequalities which have been peculiar
to the people living behind the borders of the English Channel for
centuries. Power, authority, wealth, income, unsecure job situation,
political opinions, material conditions are the most significant
symptoms of the class and genre differences, frequently repeated
throughout the story

3. Margaret Drabble and her heroines striking resemblance


Perhaps the rare and simple pleasure of being seen for what
one is
compensate for the misery of being it.
Margaret Drabble
The plot of the Radiant Way is told by three women each with a
different point of view, but coming from the same background. Their
middle-class approach to the fast-paced society is what causes their
mutual resemblance. Drabble adds the key moments of her own
14

personal life to their stories and make them so seem more


autobiographic.
Liz Headleand, a well-off woman with her private and public
income, who does not pay much attention to the political situation in
her country, reminds Drabble of her love to the theatre and acting. At
university Liz sank into the world of the theatre stage. Despite her
complete inexperience in this form of art, she fooled around with a
school acting troupe that casted her in two or three main
performances. In one of the many interviews when asked about her
initial acting career in the Royal Shakespeare Company Drabble said:
At the time, I very much wanted to be an actress and in fact I did act
for a year, but by then I had my first novel accepted. I was still very
keen on the stage but I was losing interest in it because of the
children (URL 12). This lost passion for theatre, taken out of
Drabbles student life in Cambridge, is inserted into the plot by
claiming about Lizs university studies:
In her second year, she met Edgar Lintot. He was a
conspicuous high-profiled figure, in those days, a medical
student and a man of the theatre, famed for his Footlights
appearances and his impromptu wit. Liz also dabbled with
acting, and played several roles rather well an inventive
Helena in A Midsummer Nights Dream and a curiously
haunting, poignant Bellario in Philaster, directed by Edgar.
Wounded loyalty and dignified pathos were her line on stage,
although off-stage she grew increasingly self-assertive. Her
social world, in Cambridge, was largely theatrical (Drabble
1988: 91).
Even in the recent years, despite all the impressive changes,
women are still supposed to give up their preferences and fulfil the
necessary maternal duties. Drabble further comments: I found
myself suddenly in a situation where I couldnt get a job for various
domestic and practical reasons (URL 89). Leonard and Speakman
claim that:
Women and men do make choices about how to conduct
their lives, but not within conditions of their own choices.
15

Individuals (and indeed whole subcultures) may struggle


against accepted ways of doing things and may try to
organize their lives differently, but they are constantly
constrained and regulated. This applies not only to how they
behave, but also to how they think and feel. This ideology of
what family life is like, and in particular what womens role in
it should be, is very strong, and women are made to feel
extremely guilty if they fail to live up to it. They therefore try
very hard to be as they should be: to make their marriage,
their parenting, their relations with kin, and their
housewifery a success. (Leonard 1986: 15)
There are other similarities which connect these two women.
Drabble as well as Liz got married straight after the university.
Nevertheless, they both got divorced very soon after that. The 1960s
was heady, but bewildering time. The increasing number of divorces
in that period was predominantly associated with demographic
changes in the society. A higher proportion of the population was
getting married, and people were getting married younger. (The
average age at first marriage fell by three years for men and women
between 1931 and 1971 to 24.6 and 22.6 years respectively.) In
addition both sexes were living longer. Thus more people were
married for more years; hence there was an increase in the population
at risk of divorce (Arnot 1986: 46). Lizs first marriage turned into
an absolute fiasco right after eight months. At first promising
relationship changed into a fight for gender rights. When, a bit older
and wiser, Liz tries to reveal the main reason of this dispute, she
mentions among others:
Her own domestic incompetence (which was indeed
extreme, but what had Edgar expected from a wife with an
upbringing like hers?), Edgars male chauvinism (though this
was a phrase not yet current) and his expectation that his
work was always, would always be of greater importance,
than her own. (Drabble 1988: 99-100)
Other examples of the mutual resemblance might be the
severe childhood conditions and the lack of maternal love in the
family. Liz Headleand, ne Ablewhite, and her sister Shirley grew up in
16

Northam, a small provincial town in the north of the Shakespearean


country. For them the years of tough childhood, protected by a
despotic, rather bizarre mother would forever call in uncomfortable
memories. Margaret Drabble grew up in Sheffield, in a steel town
with chimneys belching out soot and smoke... Her father, John
Frederick Drabble, was a middle-class Quaker judge. Her mother,
Kathleen Marie, now dead, was a bright working-class girl who fought
her way to Cambridge, but gave up teaching for her children. Her
mothers anger at being a housewife cast a terrible pall over all four
Drabble children (URL 84). The examination of antagonistic mother
and daughter relationship (URL 90) occurs in many of Drabbles
novels. The inspiration was found in the difficult childhood of
Drabbles mother, Kathleen Marie Drabble, and the resultant uneasy
and bizarre approach to her own children. During one of her
interviews Drabble admitted: The worst mother in my novels is the
one in Jerusalem the Golden who was modelled on my grandmother
who made my mothers life a misery (URL 12).
Unlike her sister Shirley, Liz always tried to get away, to escape
from her despotic mother, her odd household duties and her isolated
teens. In her dreams she wanted to get to the world of luxury. As a
child she dreamt about a heroic father who would come on a white
horse and take her, a bewitched princess, away from the kingdom of
tyranny. She dreamt about a different, hardly accessible world in
which her father would be a commander. When the War was over, he
would return gloriously, he would rescue his daughter Elizabeth (but
probably not Shirley) and remove her to a fitting place Her mother
would at this point die, conveniently. Maybe her mother would be
revealed, after her convenient death, to have been a princess in
disguise, under a spell, bewitched. Anyway she would die, and
Elizabeth would be free (Drabble 1988: 139). This seems to slightly
reveal the circumstances in Drabbles family, not only because of her
disappointed mother, but also in the case of the heroic father who
went to war with the RAF before Margaret was born (URL 81).
17

What might be noticeable in this extract is the sibling rivalry


between Drabble and Byatt and not always easy relation with her
mother, Kathleen Marie Drabble. In one of the many interviews, when
asked about her sister, A. S. Byatt openly admitted:
My mother liked Maggie much better. They could fight and
scream, and slam doors at each other and then feel better. I
just froze. As to whether her sister was more gifted, Byatt
replies: She certainly thought she was cleverer than I was,
but I dont think I ever did. I thought she was likely to be
more successful because she was more outgoing. And
because she wanted to outdo not only my mother, but me. I
set a high standard, and she did. We were close, and still
are, in a basic way, but I always felt very threatened by her.
She always made me feel very temporary somehow. (URL
96)
Later on, when Liz realised that such a dream of hers is nothing
more than a midsummer madness, she: devoted all her energy to
success at school, to escape through university, an outlet that had
received her mothers approval (Drabble 1988: 141) Mira Stout
claims that intense value was placed on cleverness in the Drabble
family: when Antonia was 5, her mother informed her, Of course you
will go to Cambridge. All the young Drabble did (URL 96). Thus Liz,
as well as Margaret, managed to enrol for a full-time course in
Cambridge. It was quite a different life full of young men and wild
parties. It was there where she met her two present ex-husbands, but
mainly Esther and Alix.
Esther Breuer is portrayed as an intellectual woman highly
interested in art and its history. What is important for her is precision,
the depth of things, rather than their width. There is certain
connection between Esthers interest in the studies of human soul and
Freuds psychoanalytical approach. It is also the main bond between
Esther and Drabble. They both seem to pay attention to this science.
Drabble contrasts this feature of Esthers character with the novel,
Sense and Sensibility (1811), written by Jane Austen. The theme
seems to be the same, the focus on the depth of human feelings is
18

evident, but the content itself is rather different. For Esther, Jane
Austens novel is too shallow, ironic, influenced by the old-fashioned
manners of the eighteenth century which she cannot fully understand
because of her foreign origin:
In fact, perversely, Esther Breuer disliked the only Jane
Austen novel she had ever read (which was, perversely,
Sense and Sensibility) and frequently boasts of her inability
to tackle the others. Too English for me, she will
sometimes add, in her impeccably English middle-class
intellectuals voice (Drabble 1988: 84).
The crucial drawback in Esthers life was the impact of the
World War II, especially fascism. Esther Breuer, the second key female
protagonist, is a daughter of Jewish immigrants. As a child born in the
bad war time of the Nazi regime, her parents were forced to flee
native Germany and settle down in Britain. They were one of the
luckier families who were given the permission to become regular
British citizens. The huge immigration wave ended in 1938 with the
vian conference, which gave the green light to Hitlers inhuman
abuse. The horrid circumstances of the uneasy childhood tightly
joined Esther with her brother, Saul, a student of the law in one of the
redbrick universities, the Kings. As Drabble further comments: They
were both lucky to be alive (Drabble 1988: 93):
Saul had been born in Vienna, in 1931. Esther in Berlin, in
1935. They were both lucky to be alive. They had huddled
together, small exiles, refugees, in a boarding-house in
Manchester, while their mother looked for work and their
father hung on in Berlin trying to assemble his papers. He
assembled them: he got out just in time, he joined his wife
and children: he re-established himself as a manufacturer of
optical devices: but those early years left their mark. Or so
Esther said. (Drabble 1988: 93-94)
To support the starving family, their father started his own
business, which turned out to be a great success. According to the
statistics, for a hundred years at least, many of the most successful
19

entrepreneurs in Britain have been the former European immigrants


(Childs 1992: 45).
What makes Esther odd is her relation to the married satanic
anthropologist and the married hard-drinking architectural journalist
(Drabble 1988: 106), frequent suspicious occupants of her college
room. Esther was a unique personality with a simple wish to acquire
interesting information (Drabble 1988: 85)
Esther Breuer, an unmarried and unsettled woman, perceives
the contemporary British political situation with the outside view. As
an immigrant, she seems to pay only slight attention to the current
political changes. Thanks to the kitchen table conversations with her
friends, Liz an Alix, Esther stays in touch with the problems around
her. Nevertheless, she is persuaded that they have nothing to do with
her. Such an adverse attitude of hers is more than visible in the part
dealing with the Miners Strike (1984 1985):
What I cant see, said Esther to Alix, is what any of this has
got to do with you. Or with me. Its simply not our problem.
We didnt make it, and thats that. Ive never met a miner,
and Im sure a miner wouldnt want to meet me. Its not as
simple as that, said Alix (Drabble 1988: 343).
She keeps to the academic life, the deep admiration of Italy,
[Drabbles claims about her father that when war broke out, he went
abroad with the RAF, and she didnt recognize him when he came
back from Italy (URL 81)], and the interest in the detailed
examination of human soul, which she acquired during the university
studies. The way of life which she led in Cambridge appeared to be
unique and radical. She soon gained a reputation of a cult figure of
mysterious portent (Drabble 1988: 87). It might be possible that
such an extreme behaviour helped her to express the disagreement
with the continuous oppression of the female element on the board of
the university. Her college room was always full of strange, young
and old people who stopped there to discuss various matters. She
dined in the company of doubtful individuals. She claimed to be in
20

love with her older brother, Saul, whom nobody had ever seen
(Drabble 1988: 93).
By the use of all these signs, Drabble probably intends to
highlight Esthers different sexual orientation. It is suggested that
one way in which women have protested against being accorded an
inferior position in society is through lesbianism, not just as sexual
preference, but as a style of life (Arnot 1986: 42):
It took Liz over two decades to read the signals of Esthers
room, and to recognize the affinities of its dcor. Through her
Cambridge years and long afterwards she simply accepted
them as evidence of Esthers eccentricity and originality
and it was not, after all, difficult to be original in a period
when most female undergraduates, fresh from school and far
from well off, ventured little further in terms of home-making
than a cushion or a chianti bottle, a photograph or a teddy
bear, a gingham frill round an orange box or a postcard
collage on the wall, a modernist paper mobile or an
arrangement of seaside pebbles (Drabble 1988: 94).
Another resemblance between Esther and Drabble is in their
shared interest in the red colour. Even if it seems impossible to find a
particular connection between red and Freuds psychoanalytical
approach, Drabble often uses their combination in the story. She
personally says about her passion for red: I love red wall. I love being
inside red. I am sure that there are all sorts of ways to read into that
(URL 91). It is obviously believed that red is the colour of fire and
blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power,
determination, as well as passion, desire, and love (URL 74).
Margaret Drabble provides the explanation for her passion for the red
colour in one of her interviews:
I did a reading in North Yorkshire back home, and a woman
came to a reading who was wearing the most beautiful red
dress. She must have been in her 70s. She had this long full
red dress. It wasnt at all a formal occasion. She was really
wonderful. She said, Im doing this especially for you. One
of the things Ive learned in life is that every woman needs a
black dress and every woman needs a red dress. And I just
21

thought that so amusing that she felt this sort of kinship with
it. (URL 70)
All these emotions have become a fixed part of Drabbles
storytelling skills. The Radiant Way is not thus an exception.
But, years later, Liz found herself visiting the Freud museum
in Berggasse in Vienna, and there she suddenly saw it all
the red walls, the figurines, and, perhaps most distinctively,
the predominance of red carpet-cushions, the characteristic
mixture of Persian geometric patterns on floor and couch a
Jewish mixture, a Viennese mixture, a Freudian mixture? Liz
did not know, and doubted if Esther knew. She had noticed
earlier, of course, Esthers particular liking for red. The walls
of Freuds consulting room were red also. Liz found this very
interesting, but did not comment on it to Esther. Esther
claimed not to be interested in Freud. (Drabble 1988: 94)
Alix Bowen, ne Doddridge, is the third notable character of the
trilogy. There isnt much what Drabble shares with this heroine except
the early marriage. There arent many articles which inform Czech
readers about Drabbles interest in the policy of the country apart
from a few interviews. But one thing is obvious; she rather prefers the
end old system with a certain hint of cynicism being afraid of the
unstable future of her country. The same pattern of persuasion is
evident from Alixs behaviour in the extract stated above. Margaret
Drabble once said about her political identity:
I recently re-read The Realms of God [1975], and it was a
very strange experience because I did find it quite optimistic
and innocent and hopeful in some ways. It did go back to a
period of my life when I had different political expectations. I
think that the voice in The Witch of Exmoor [1997] is most
cynical. It was written at the end of Margaret Thatchers
regime, well, in the post-Thatcher period when politics in
Britain had become so shabby and despairing that even the
people who were in power had lost all faith in themselves.
There was just nothing happening at all, and I think The
Witch of Exmoor reflects that. There was a feeling of
complete cynicism. (URL 48)

22

Alix is presented as a representative of the left-wing


approaches to the political situation. Unlike her two friends, she is
aware of her socialist origin. Being affected by her parents political
behaviour, she soon developed a real interest in the Soviet Union and
with it associated communism. During her studies in the private
boarding school, Alix started to spread her strong political convictions
among her schoolmates. Uncritically, she admired the Soviet Union as
the country in which the labour revolution had successfully gone
through, the class differences had been withdrawn and the ideas of
socialism and communism were practically applied. At the same time,
this Bolshevik country gained her respect for its ability to propagate
its socialistic ideas on the global level. She also looked up to Stalin as
to the powerful ideological leader of the biggest country in the world.
As other followers in 1924, she saw in him a definite winner over the
Nazism and a leading authority of socialism in the world. In the
following sequence, A Natural Curiosity (1989), Drabble depicts a
vivid conversation about this topic between Alix and her historian
teacher, Miss Fawcett. She looks at the same problem from two
different viewpoints. Through the eyes of an enthusiastic teenager
who knows absolutely nothing about the horrid consequences for the
political system of the country and through the eyes of an
experienced woman who how horrible the whole system was:
Miss Fawcett offered Alix a cup of tea, and a biscuit. She had
a gas ring and kettle in the hearth, and a tin of biscuits on
the table at her elbow. The biscuit was ceremonial. Alix
nibbled it, as slowly as she could, as Miss Fawcett told her
that she was distressed to hear Alix defending the Soviet
Union and Joseph Stalin to her classmates. Youre an
intelligent girl, Alix, she said, her grey face intent, quizzical,
her corkscrew curls bobbing as she nodded in emphasis, an
intelligent girl, Im sure you are just trying out ideas, but
these matters are too serious to play with, you know, too
serious to make games of.
Im not making games, said Alix. Im interested in
communism. I think its a good idea.
What is it that attracts you to it? asked Miss Fawcett,
sipping her pale tea.
23

And Alix had spoken of equality, of sharing, or her dislike of


divisions of wealth and class. Her ideas were muddled, halfbaked, she had no hope of defending them, she was acutely
uncomfortable during this interrogation, for Miss Fawcett was
a historian, she knew about the Soviet Union and the Second
World War and the Treaty of Yalta and the show trials of the
thirties and the death of Trotsky. She knew the god that
failed. Alix knew next to nothing about any of this. (Drabble
1990: 226-227)
It seems that the topic of socialist conscience plays its
important part in Drabbles narration. Rosamund Stacey in The
Millstone (1965) deals with the problem of social guilt evoked by her
posh upper-middle class socialist parents upbringing (URL 93).
When Alix finally got into the selected group of the university
students, she found out that her socialist spirit would fade out among
various

political identities

present at the colleges: socialists,

communists, socialites, die-hard dinner-jacketed Pitt Club Tories,


Bohemians, Christians, lacrosse and rugger players, sloggers, poets,
actors, Leavisites, wits, bores, eccentrics, homosexuals (Drabble
1988: 80). She made a lot of friends among these people during
political rallies which she often visited thanks to unbroken allegiance
to her upbringing (Drabble 1988: 91). On one of these meetings she
met Sebastian Manning, a man from the upper society who made her
happy, but only for a short while:
She had married one of these complications, for that is what
young women did in those days: educated young women
married, straight out of college, as she and Liz had done.
Lizs first marriage had lasted all of ten months: Alixs had
lasted slightly longer, and had been terminated not by
divorce but by death. (Drabble 1988: 81)
Alix is a woman of many faces. She knows what it is like to live
in poverty and thrift is her frequent companion. She strongly
disagrees with the class division. She married her second husband,
Brian Bowen, because of his working-class origin.

24

Such were the first years of the durable friendship. The


heady times of three young women who succeeded in their
determination to change their fate and whose lives Drabble joined
with a witty and intelligent approach. These three heroines are forced
to change the direction to reach the self-contained individuals in them
several times. There are tears, bitter memories, shame, but also love,
passion and trust which connect them with every woman. They have
changed, but they have done it together.
But one cannot, really, wholly differentiate these three
women. In their mid-forties, after more than half a lifetime of
association, they share characteristics, impressions,
memories, even speech patterns: they have a common stock
of knowledge, they have entered, through one another,
worlds that they would not otherwise have known. They
have pooled their discoveries, have come back from outer
regions with samples of leaf, twig, fruit, stone, have turned
them over together. They share much. The barriers between
them are, they think, quite low (Drabble 1988: 108).

25

4. Feelings of insecurity on the journey through life


Family life itself, that safest, most traditional, most approved of
female choices,
Is not a sanctuary: It is, perpetually, a dangerous place.
Margaret Drabble
Drabbles main aim is to provide her readers with a trustworthy
picture of declining British society doing thus on the destiny of three
main female protagonists. These middle-aged women are common
examples of contemporary London citizens. Even if divided by class
privileges, still living in the same city. Knowing this, the story does not
want to lead the readers three separate ways. Instead it is about a
strong friendship which can survive despite the difficult situations on
their journey through life an insane mother, World War II, rationing,
chauvinism, a homosexual partner, a lack of qualifications, job
insecurity, criminality, divorce and infidelity tightly joined together:
They would meet for an evening meal, once a week, once a
fortnight, once a month if a monthly gap occurred, each
would feel the need for apology, explanation. They met
alone, without their men, as over the years they more often
than not had done: a pattern of relationship that considered
mildly eccentric by some, mildly avant-garde by others, but
to themselves was natural. (Drabble 1988: 107)

4.1 Lizs childhood memories


The main thing which has influenced Lizs childhood as well as
the life of an adult woman is the distressful background of her family.
Lizs poor childhood was to a certain extant influenced by the
dramatic effects of the Second World War and with it directly linked
rationing. The reduced amount of the most needed foods, such as
26

bread, potatoes and meat got even stricter after the war because of
the bad economic situation of the country devastated by the continual
era of fighting. These cuts of the budgetary strategy were carried out
till the 4th July, 1954 (URL 95). It is known that such strict rationing
caused many people to buy food on the black market, however people
were often tricked with cheaper substitutes such as horsemeat
instead of beef (URL 95). There are two extrinsic parts of the story in
which Drabble wittingly describes the tough life at that time.
Firstly, people were forced to live on a tight daily budget.
Various substitutes and replacements were then in need. Rita
Ablewhite, the cursed mother, is described as a person who: had
lived for years on diet mixes and biscuits, on raw packets of jelly and
soup cubes (Drabble 1988: 147). She didnt bake, she didnt cook,
she fed her daughters on dry goods, raw goods, straight-from-the-tin
goods (Drabble 1988: 147). It is therefore easy to imagine how Lizs
younger sister, Shirley, must have been amazed after she had
entered the kitchen of one of her school friends mother to see her
baking:
A smell of cooking and warmth filled the kitchen from the
old-fashioned kitchen range. Jam tarts, rock buns, a lemon
cake, coconut fingers, cheese scones. Those were the days
when a housewife would bake for a week. Rationing days,
still: substitute ingredients, poor substitutes, to Junes
mother; dried egg, turnip-extended jam, margarine; but to
Shirley and June, Gods plenty (Drabble 1988: 147).
Secondly, all the things that surrounded Lizs lonely and isolated
childhood days in their home in Abercorn Avenue were there only
because of their practical purpose. No place for toys, for baby dolls,
even not for a tiny Christmas tree. When Liz returns back in her
memories, she sees her first home as a place which:
It had been dark, and cold: low-watt electric bulbs had to be
extinguished each time one left a room, a corridor, noting
could be left lit or burning. Bedrooms were unheated there
was a single-bar electric fire in the dining-room which Shirley
27

and Liz would carry secretly upstairs in bitter weather. They


would sleep in socks, in jerseys, wrapped up in dressinggowns. Nothing in the house seemed to have any softness,
any warmth in it: the bedcovers were shiny, the cushions
were shiny, the lavatory paper (which was strictly rationed,
to so many sheets a day) was both coarse and shiny.
Everything was rationed, except the water from the tap. Rita
Ablewhite had not thought of that (Drabble 1988: 181).
In each family there is a skeleton in the cupboard and in each
family there is a mystery which tries to be forgotten, but which
attracts attention of hungry paparazzi. Ivan Warner, a tabloid
journalist who leads Liz Headleand to the secret world of Lady
Henrietta, her husbands Charles snobbish mistress, brings back bad
memories. Readers might overhear in their conversation:
Had she not heard of the skeletons in Henriettas cupboard?
Had she never heard the story of the old marquess, the
grandfather? Ivan rattled on, assured of his audience.
Madness, violence, crime: as in all the best family tree.
There was even a candidate for the role of Jack the Ripper.
But if you look at any family, Liz mildly protested, you find
the same horrors. (Drabble 1988: 203)
Liz knows why she objects, her family is not an exception. Who is the
man staring out of the locket on the sisters neck? Is that cleanshaven man really their absent father or is it only an old photograph
and their mother is a virgin? Peculiar questions to be asked and
demanding answers to be given, but Rita Ablewhite stays stubbornly
silent, hiding the truth in the cuttings of old newspapers:
The desk drawers and the bottom drawers of the wardrobe
were stuffed with them. Newspaper cuttings, going back to
the 1920s, the 1930s. Nothing very personal, no letters, no
family photographs, mainly cuttings. Marked cuttings. Dated
cuttings. From local papers, national papers. Mingled in with
them were a few apparently random documents: school
reports for Liz and Shirley, vaccination certificates. What I
am looking for, wondered Liz, as she spread them before her
on the floor. A marriage certificate or a death certificate?
Some pre-Northam memory? A photograph of my father?
(Drabble 1988: 382)
28

Slowly getting through the forbidden past, Liz comes to the


conclusion that her father suffered from a psychiatric disorder called
paedophilia. First formal references about this deviation of human
soul date back to the late nineteenth century (URL 97). The various
cuttings in Ritas locked drawer then stand for the era of media panics
which followed later on in the twentieth century. There are several
criminal cases mentioned in the text. Shocked Liz might read:
A man had killed himself in Stanhope Wood with a penknife,
reported an item in the Evening Star. A man had been
charged with the murder of a six-year-old girl. Suspicious
behaviour on school premises. Claimed to be depressed
because of operation. Committed an offence on the railway
bridge. Sentence reduced on Appeal to three years. Suicide
while of unsound mind. Found hanging in slaughterhouse,
after police alerted neighbours. Stocklinch Hall to be opened
to the public on Saturday afternoons. A Pleasant Day Out
From Leeds. Van Dyck sold to pay for death duties.
Attempted an offence in school bicycle shed. (Drabble 1988:
383)
By the use of their newspaper headlines the author probably
wants to point out either the permissive attitude rotating in the veins
of English society or stress out the increasing level of criminality in
the

fifties

and

sixties.

Suddenly

the

secret

in

Lizs

family

circumstances has a remorseless logic. It makes narrative sense. Of


the silence, the seclusion, of the barrier of secrecy, the fear that had
possessed the daughters (Drabble 1988: 383-384). It is also
important to notice that Liz assigns this defect of human being to the
individuals from the lower-middle classes. As if this mental disorder
was a nasty word to use for the elite, to which she now so proudly
belongs.

However, lifting the veil of secrecy shocked Liz finds out

that: She was very near these monsters: she could smell them in
their caves, she could smell them in the cave of her own body
(Drabble 1988: 385)

29

Lizs blood is the same blood of her mentally ill father, who
finished his tragic life by committing a suicide. Is it because of her
origin that Liz feels lust which tempts her to her former husband,
Charles Headleand? Is it the reason why she tried to hide the first
symptoms of the unavoidable ripening in front of her mother? It all
makes sense now after the uneasy discovery:
Guilt, furtiveness, shame, concealment. Liz had experienced
more of these in her girlhood than might, she had later
discovered, be considered normal. She had known early that
sex was wicked, that the changes in her body augured
delinquency, that the satisfying of its urges would bring
disaster. She could never discover the roots of her
knowledge and was disappointed (lastingly) in Karl her
analyst because he could suggest no acceptable
explanation: he continued, apparently, to believe that Liz
had merely been struggling against a strong parental
prohibition against masturbation in early infancy. Liz knew
that there was more to it than that. (Drabble 1988: 140)
In The Radiant Way to mark the beginning of moral decay,
Drabble explores one of the seven major sins in Theology lust, and
with it connected incest and adultery. Theologians often speak about
various forms of lust as it is a consummated external sin, e.g.
fornication, adultery, incest, criminal assault, abduction and sodomy
(URL 75). Drabble spots the beginning of Lizs internal sexual
addiction in her fathers objectionable behaviour. It is generally
believed that father-daughter incest was for many years the most
commonly reported and studied form of parental incest (URL 76).
Nowadays, when the social banned taboos are openly revealed,
many participants claim to have enjoyed the act and its physical and
emotional

consequences

(URL

77).

Drabble

depicts

the

rare

moments of parental love writing: Yes, she had sat upon her fathers
knee, learning to read from this very book. She had rubbed herself
like a kitten up and down, sitting astride her child-molester fathers
knee. Spelling out words to Father. Enjoying the coarse fabric of his
trousers. Enjoying his illicit smell. Giggling as he tickled her and
30

played with her. Damp between her innocent infants legs (Drabble
1988: 386).
Meanwhile, Liz Headleands mother, Rita Ablewhite, had been
shut in her attic flat in Abercorn Avenue, cautiously tried to avoid the
noisy world behind its threshold. Being an upper-middle class woman
expecting an illegitimate child, she was forced to marry a man who
later turned out to be a criminal. Thus, she condemned herself to the
life in despairing solitude, evidently afraid of the refusing public
opinion.
Nevertheless, in the storyline Rita seems to be satisfied with the
life on her own in a three-bedroomed, bay-windowed, 1920-built
suburban semi-detached house (Drabble 1988: 182), enjoying the
only company of her old-fashioned wireless. British elderly generation
prefers its independence and privacy for various reasons and the
radio seems to be a powerful means of entertainment.
The radio broadcasting started shortly before the war. In the
World War I wireless transmission proved itself an invaluable military
tool on land, sea, and air (URL 98). The reliable source claims that
the radio broadcasting reached the height of its influence and
prestige worldwide during World War II, carrying war news directly
from the battlefronts into the homes of millions of listeners (URL 98).
Its announcers were known to speak with the polite RP accent. Thus
Rita made her daughters learn to speak correctly, to speak like the
voices on the wireless to which she so tirelessly attended (Drabble
1988: 149). The British Broadcasting Corporation kept people
informed in many forms and about many topics. And so the woman
who Liz describes as alone, ever alone untelephoned, distant,
incomprehending,

incomprehended,

remote,

mad,

long

mad,

imprisoned, secret, silent, silenced, listening to the silence of her


house (Drabble 1988: 6), does not appear to be so barmy because
she keeps informed about the surrounding world:
But she had not been totally out of touch, she had known
which was the correct school, had fed Lizs ambitions, had
31

even made one or two surprising ventures into the


annexation of the outside world. She had, for instance, paid
for both girls to have elocution lessons. At the time, this had
seemed odd, by not nearly as odd as it seemed in retrospect
(Drabble 1988: 148).
During the Christmas time, when all people are supposed to be
together, Shirley Harper thinks over her mothers peculiar behaviour:
She doesnt get out much, a phrase that Shirley had
learned to use of her mother to forestall enquiry,
impertinence, sympathy: a middle-aged phrase that she
heard in her own voice as parody indeed, she had noticed
that when the family gathered together all of them spoke in
parodies of clichs, and some of them knew quite well that
they were doing it. Dora knew, Cliff knew, Fred knew. And
everybody there at that table knew that in the case of
Shirley Harpers mother, the phrase she doesnt get out
much conveyed the distilled essence of a withdrawal so
extreme that the term agoraphobia would hardly do it
justice. (Drabble 1988: 52]
In the last part of the book, it is the year of 1985, Drabble
depicts Rita as an old woman slowly recovering from a mild heart
attack. Her once rebellious daughter Shirley is now her frequent
companion. Ritas second loyal companion is the radio. Liz visits her
mother rarely, it is impossible for her to stand the smell of her home
town and she hates her dying mother. She does not understand her
sisters caring behaviour. Drabble depicts Lizs cruel treatment of her
family through Alixs thoughts:
Shirleys resentment of Liz was too naked, too raw. Liz had
treated Shirley, her mother, and Abercorn Avenue badly. Alix
agreed with Shirleys unspoken proposal that this was so.
But nevertheless was cheered, in the back of her mind, to
think that selfish, bracing, energetic Liz existed, that she
continue to inhabit the other world, the old world, the
familiar London world. (Drabble 1988: 377)
There is no way back for Liz, she has become a member of a
different world, a different society.
32

In her numerous novels, Drabble tends to portray so-called bad


mothers and Rita Ablewhite is such an example. In one of her
interviews, when asked about the reason for her negative attitude,
Margaret Drabble said: One thing I have never been good at is
creating good mothers. Id written books and books before someone
pointed out that I was perpetually producing these bad mothers
(URL 84).The reason for her hostile behaviour to these maternal
characters might be hidden in Drabbles own mothers unhappy
infancy, affected by a cruel parent in the same way. Drabble explains
that the worst mother in her novels is the one in Jerusalem the
Golden who was modelled on her grandmother who made her
mothers life a misery (URL 84). The author doesnt accuse Rita of
being mad, barmy in her words, but explains her oddity on the lack
of male element in the household. The years of the 1940s were the
years ill-omened with the effects of the Second World War.

4.2 The first married experiences


The three busy years spent at the college and its surroundings
had passed on terribly quickly preparing these three highly selected
young women for their respective careers (Drabble 1988: 94). From
the innocent girls became three grown-up women whose knowledge
and experiences were not gained just on the board of the educational
institute. In 1956, in the middle of her studies, Liz decided to get
married to Edgar Lintot, a man who changed his theatrical ambitions
for medicine. At that time the institution of marriage showed slightly
increasing

popularity

among

young

people.

Liz

detested

the

possibility of coming back to Northam. She wanted to embark on a


new stage of life.
However, Lizs first matrimonial experiences are depicted on the background of
domestic violence. Drabble makes a comment on the hostile conditions inside Lizs first
domestic environment writing: She was determined never again to be a party to the
hideous transformation which overcomes the partners of a bad marriage, who grow
33

fangs and horns and sprout black monstrous wolfish hair, who claw and cling and bite
and suck (Drabble 1988: 13). To put end to domestic violence and sexual harassment
were only two of the main goals of the feminists in the sixties. A divorce followed.
Many experts on profound questions about family matters claim that there had been a
considerable increase in the incidence of divorce, which trebled from 1966 to 1976
(Arnot 1986: 44). Their approaches to the matter of the radical Divorce Reform of 1969,
which simply required evidence of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage after a
period of two years (Hopkins 1991: 165), are divided into two viewpoints. On the one
hand, it was believed to help people locked in bad marriages (especially those with an
insane or cruel spouse) (Arnot 1986: 45). On the other hand, some of them argued that
to make divorce any easier would further encourage the breakdown of the family
(Arnot 1986: 45). There were also those people who opposed the reform blaming for the
inability to deal with necessary family obligations the increasing hunger for new sexual
adventures preferred to the stability of home environment. Drabble treats the questions
of lax morality and deviant behaviour of the 1990s British society in the subsequent part
of the trilogy, A Natural Curiosity (1989).
The second engagement of Alix and Sebastian Manning soon
followed. Unlike Liz, Alix was sure, right from the wedding day, that
she got married to a man she no longer wanted, at the age of
twenty-one (Drabble 1988: 97).
The marriage of the children of the hour (Drabble 1988: 96),
of the revolting teen generation, showed to be a big mistake from its
beginning. Sebastian Manning, a man with great future ambitions, is
an example of a weak male character inside the novel. In hints
Drabble slowly discloses Sebastians different sexual orientation. In
1953 the conception of homosexuality was not a taboo. Its presence
had been reported in all the existing levels of English society. The
sources claims that this different sexual orientation was to be found
not only among those possessing a high degree of intelligence, but
also among the dullest oafs (Hopkins 1991: 192). At the time of
Sebastian Manning youthful manhood experiences, homosexuality
was still treated as a major criminal offence, till the Wolfenden Report
(1957) changed the global view. It is interesting to notice Drabbles
34

use of the number 21. In the Report this number was approved to be
the recommended age of consent between homosexuals. Drabble
describes Alixs first emotional disillusion:
Alix was a virgin. She had tried to disembarrass herself of
her virginity, and had been certain, once she started going
steady with Sebastian, that this would be accomplished. But
Sebastian had not seemed eager to take the final step. She
had suggested to him, although of course not in words, that
it would be a good idea to alter their pattern of lovemaking
to something a little more adult, but he had moved away:
shrunk, dwindled, and moved away. And since that
movement, that rejection, Alix had felt her own desire
diminish. (Drabble 1988: 97)
The ongoing affluent time, the time of plenty had its weak
points. The promised happiness of the sensibly married couple soon
changed into boredom, followed by the feelings of depression and
distress. The desperate Alix unsuccessfully tried to commit a suicide
and life on the pills did not cheer her up, either. Drabble describes
Alixs hopeless situation stating: Sebastian got a job, as easily as he
had said he would, working for an intellectual left-wing magazine. Alix
applied for jobs until she found she was pregnant, then gave up and
sat at home. She was deeply depressed, and felt guilty about her
depression She did not want a baby. She never wanted to sleep with
Sebastian again (Drabble 1988: 98). The birth of their son Nicholas
helped her get over the days spent alone, without her unfaithful
husband. She no longer knew if she was happy or unhappy, cheerful
or depressed, as she gazed at the infant lying in his pram, asleep in
his cot, kicking on a rug before the fire (Drabble 1988: 98).
Some of Sebastians holy friends instead of begging gratefully
accepted by him offered generosity. They belonged to the group of
people who preferred free love and experimented with soft drugs, socalled hippies. Drabble describes the hippie ideology: They had
long hair and said they knew Jack Kerouac. They thought life was holy.
They also smoked dope. Sebastian was not used to dope and one
night he drowned in the swimming pool (Drabble 1988: 98). Drabble
35

uses the poem dope, but it was mostly marijuana, LSD and magic
mushrooms that enabled them to explore alternative states of
consciousness (URL 93). About 1964 cannabis in particular became
popular among the young, especially as it appeared to be relatively
harmless and non-addictive. Joints (cannabis rolled for smoking)
would be passed around at parties, and the smoking of pot spread
even among the respectable professional classes, who wished to show
that (in the idiom of the day) they were with it (Hopkins 1991: 177).
The overuse of drugs brings its penalties to those who once tasted
them. Sebastian Manning became one of its victims and Alix blames
herself for such a horrid disaster:
Alix, naturally, was almost (but not quite) overwhelmed with
guilt, at not grieving enough, at not having been the perfect
wife, at having ceased to love Sebastian. Maybe her love
would have kept him alive. Maybe she had killed him. The
sympathy of others was hard to bear. She felt a fraud, as the
letters poured in. (Drabble 1988: 99)
As a single mother with a little baby to care about, Alix was
doomed to the life on the outskirts of the city. There, among the
lowest class, accommodated in one of the numerous slums, Alix found
out what real poverty could taste like. The evacuated tower block with small flats, broken and demolished lifts, and unwatched playing
grounds - caused severe problems with safety, criminality and malice
against immigrants. The reliable sources claim that in the mid-1950s
local authorities calculated that about 850,000 houses fell into the
slum category (Hopkins 1991: 144).
Its inhabitants, mostly immigrants from the West Indies, came
to Britain in search for better working conditions. They were willing to
do anything, often used as cheap labour force. After long walks with
Nicholas in nearby parks around North London, Alix often stopped to
talk to them. They always welcomed Alix for the purpose of company:
Dirty, ragged, high-smelling, communing with the Lord. They told her
not to worry, the worst would never happen (Drabble 1988: 105). As

36

a supporter of the Labour Party, Alix did not really mind the tough
conditions, she enjoyed them instead.
Drabble uses the pronoun it to write about poverty as an
opprobrious feature of the working class, the better expression is
underclass. The use of negative qualities expresses the hostile
attitude of the middle-class the differences were still evident.
Poverty was treated as an illness:
It was grey, shabby, and somehow infectious: to be avoided.
It was also rough and noisy and unmannerly. It lived in back
streets of terrace houses and on sprawling housing estates.
It wasted what money it had on drinking and it spoke with
rough accents. It was feckless, unthrifty, sluttish, violent,
loud mouthed, and materialistic. Its children taunted nice
little middle-class children in school uniforms who strayed
into its terrain. It did not need wells dug or tractors
purchased. Poverty was an attribute of the working classes
in England.

37

4.3 The provincial inconveniences of the married life


One of the features characteristic of Drabbles style of writing is
her immense interest in various approaches to the moral and social
dilemmas of her central characters. Inspired mostly by stories of
everyday life, she masterly depicts middle-class people who have lost
a sense of direction, either because of their position in British society
or because of the importance of the decision they are supposed to
make. In the case of Lizs younger sister Shirley Harper it is the life of
an under-employed housewife.
In the early part of the twentieth century there were various
ways how provincial girls tried to get away from their uneasy social
position. Some of them, like Liz Headleand, tried to hide themselves
from the temptations of the outside world behind the piles of school
books, dreaming about university studies in bigger towns, such as
London or Cambridge. The others, like Lizs younger sister Shirley,
considered higher studies a sheer fantasy and sought the way out
through a marriage:
Adventure and possibility lay before them, as they had not
lain before Lizs sister Shirley, who married at nineteen and
stayed on in Northam, or before Dora Sutcliffe who left
school at fifteen and sold sweets in Woolworths until she
married Shirleys husbands brother Steve (Drabble 1988:
88).
The reason why working-class and middle-class girls, like Shirley or
Dora, hated their shabby school uniforms was the knowledge that
there was nothing better for them than to start to lead an ordinary
domestic life as soon as possible. The moral values of the nineteenth
century stressed a deep division in the family life of a married couple:
As nineteenth century values increasingly stressed the
division between the private and public spheres, women
became associated with the private sphere, with the home,
and with the values attached to it. Men were expected to be
38

competitive, outward-looking, calculating and unemotional,


while women the angles of the house were supposedly
warm, caring, calm and stable, supporting other family
members unquestioningly. Women and the home were the
emotional lynch-pins for their menfolk: a secure haven from
the pressures of the world (Arnot 1986: 10).
The school system of the country based on the strict distinction is not
the only one to be blamed for such a prevailing belief. There are other
factors, such as the complex set of relations that exist between
family, school, class culture and peer group (Arnot 1986: 137). The
teeny working-class girls manifested their dissatisfaction with the lack
of further career through rude words to teachers, smoking, make-up
and first sexual experiences. Beechey and Whitelegg are persuaded
that as a result, they freely headed for domesticity, towards lowskilled and low-paid employment and dependence eventually on the
male wage. These symptoms of foolish rebellion are fully described
in Shirleys schooling years:
Shirley had been the rebel, the self-willed, the unappeasing.
She had lied and deceived, she had painted her lips with
toxic red paint form a box of water colours or with the less
toxic red dye of rationed Smarties, she had darkened her
lashes with shoe polish and perfumed herself with sample
offers of cheap perfume solicited through sycophantic
correspondence with cosmetic manufacturers. She had
visited coffee bars with boys. She had been to the cinema
with boys. She had left school against her mothers wishes,
married against her mothers wishes (Drabble 1988: 49).
Such a negative attitude towards the ongoing schooling system had
its own impact, mostly on the destiny of the working-class girls. In the
past they voluntarily neglected all the educational opportunities
offered to them, chose the role of a subordinate member of their
families, but the obstacles of such a choice start to appear later
during their married life. Shirley has to make several crucial decisions
before she reaches the feeling of final emptiness:

39

Shirley sits in a multi-storey car-park in Luton. She thinks of


Cliff, slumped in the drivers seat. He seems quite unreal to
her. Much of her past life seems quite unreal to her. She
walks round Luton, has a cup of tea in a department store,
collects her car, and drives on, down the M1, towards the
south. (Drabble 1990: 123)
First of all, under the pressure of household duties she was
forced to repress the teeny independence and take care of her
immediate family. Shirleys mature world has stayed strongly rooted
to her hometown, Northam. Getting married at nineteen and soon
giving the birth to her first child made from a former stubborn,
rebellious girl a bored, middle-aged housewife. However significant
changes have appeared in the public expectations, married women of
the twentieth century are expected to work only when they are not
needed full-time to care for members of the family who are sick or
infirm, when they are young children, or when they can help their
husbands with their employments (Arnot 1986: 30). Drabble narrates
Shirleys engagement on New Years Eve:
Yet while Liz, the good daughter, the dutiful daughter, was
taking a deep hot bath on New Years Eve before changing
for her party, Shirley the rebel was serving up a hot meal for
her mother in the old house in Abercorn Avenue before
rushing back (without appearing to rush) to see what was
happening in her oven at home, where she was cooking a
goose for the husband Cliff, his brother Steve and his wife
Dora, her own mother- and father- in law, and Doras Uncle
Fred (Drabble 1988: 49).
Unlike her sister Liz who appreciatively looks upon her
broadening hips as an affirmation of life (Drabble 1988: 15), Shirley
feels scared of gaining the image of a dried-up country mouse
(Drabble 1988: 199), so much resembling their insane, elderly mother.
Jessie Bernard [1903-1997], a reputable sociologist once stated: To
be happy in a relationship which imposes so many impediments on
her, as traditional marriage does, a woman must be slightly ill
mentally (URL 80). Whats more, she adds that in the stage that
40

follows women often dwindle into wives: they become helpless, lose
ground in personality development, lack confidence and lose interest
in sex (Arnot 1986: 29). This opinion of hers is approved by Drabble
when she writes: Cliff knows she is bored, underemployed, mildly
depressed, that her mother gets on her nerves, that she needs a
change (Drabble 1988: 199).
There are not many things present Shirley shares with her
husband, Cliff. Some experts claim that problems between married
couples might be caused by their mutual estrangement. They are
persuaded that they even share the same household despite the fact
they do and experience different things. They frequently hide from
each other their intimate feelings, thus ending with almost nothing to
talk about:
But Cliff is my husband, says Shirley. How can I call a
meeting with my husband? He wont speak about these
things, anyway. Hes very depressed. At least, I think hes
depressed. He wont admit it. But he is. (Drabble 1990: 41]
Several years ago Shirley tried to fight back, but finding herself
pregnant again, this time not consciously, she hopelessly gave up.
The anger inside her is now fully transmitted to Celia Harper, the only
daughter of Shirleys scattered family. Drabble states that Shirley has
made Celia aware of her anger, rather than of her delight (Drabble
1988: 196). The heritage of certain family features is more than
visible: Of course, it recalls her sister Liz, under the bedclothes, thirty
years ago. Shirley shivers, begins to fold, diverts her irritation to the
non-folding qualities of fitted bottom sheets. Every improvement
creates a new problem, she reflects (Drabble 1988: 197).
Although middle-class Shirley got married to a successful
businessman, Cliff Harper, later on, after their two older sons, Bob and
Berry, have left the home nest, she finds herself underemployed and
bored (Drabble 1988: 149). Cliff strongly refuses her idea to look for
any of the low-paid jobs, evidently afraid of the loss of their social
41

status. Instead he is willing to hire extra domestic help to increase


their prestige:
Cliff tells her she should have domestic help, more domestic
help than that provided by Mrs Rathbone who comes twice a
week, but Shirley resists. She is afraid of domestic help and
anyway what would she do with the extra time? Some of her
so-called friends have domestic help and fill their time with
coffee mornings, good works, discussion groups, even a little
part-time real work. Shirley wishes she could work but Cliff
would not like it, and anyway she is good for nothing, trained
for nothing (Drabble 1988: 198).
There Drabble points out the difference between the northern
middle-class wives of young businessmen, who were supposed to
earn less than their husbands and thus destroying the good name of
the family and the employed wives in the south, whose contribution
to the family budget was seen as essential and at the same time
equal to their husbands incomes. Shirleys observes the ritual work
of her northern friends: She is afraid of domestic help and anyway
what would she do with the extra time? Some of her so-called friends
have domestic help and fill in their time with coffee mornings, good
works, discussion groups, even a little part-time real work (Drabble
1988: 198).
Shirley finds her provincial life absolutely boring. Despite the
frequent misunderstandings, she is afraid to lose contact with Liz
living in the living London. This means for Shirley the only real contact
with the changing world behind her provincial bars. Drabble
comments on this inner dispute:
She does not like her role as country mouse. But she thinks it
wrong to lose touch with Liz, can see the probability of losing
touch with Liz altogether, of their becoming strangers. Does
she feel this because she sees her own boys growing away,
estranging themselves from her, finding her and Cliff
tedious? Cliff is quite a heavy father, and they resent it. If he
is not careful, they will vanish. (Drabble 1988: 199)

42

These are the pros and cons of the boring country life, the life
which through the wasted educational possibilities limits people in
their abilities to change the circumstances around them. Shirleys
moments

of

quiet

contemplation

finishes

with

unpropitious

declaration: Coldness, nothingness, grips Shirley as she stands in her


kitchen. She knows herself to be biologically dead. Her spirit
shudders: she has seen a vision, of waste matter, of meaningless
after-life, of refuse, of decay (Drabble 1988: 200).

4.4 The partys secret


The first part of the novel The Radiant Way leads its readers
right in the middle of an ordinary New Years Eve party. But this year
the charming night is exceptional. It is the beginning of a new decade,
the decade of the 1980s, which is supposed to bring many social,
economic, industrial and other general changes into the British
households.
Liz Headleand, a remarkable hostess, is nervously getting ready
on the first floor of her luxurious house in Harley Street. As a wife of a
successful manager, Charles Headleand, she is more than willing to
present their prosperity, the manner so typical for the British upper
class society of those times. When she was in her teens, she secretly
longed to be invited to a party, a longing which presented itself to
her as a weakness and a wickedness, as well as impossibility
(Drabble 1988: 5). The situation slowly changed and after long years,
she had become a party-goer. How those oblong cards with her own
name upon them had delighted her! Crazily, disproportionately
(Drabble 1988: 5). And now, at the age of forty-five, Liz has become
the person in charge of this special nights meeting. All the privileged
individuals slowly gathering downstairs have come here to bid,
together with the whole Headleands family, farewell to the leaving

43

1970s, the period full of distress, homelessness, lack of money, and


increasing unemployment:
Liz and Charles Headleand have invited them, and
obediently, expectantly, they will go, dragging along their
tired flat feet, their arching heads, their over-fed bellied and
complaining livers, their exhausted opinions, their weary
small talk, their professional and personal deformities, their
doubts and enmities, their blurring vision and thickening
ankles, in the hope of a miracle, in the hope of a midnight
transformation, in the hope of a new self, a new life, a new,
redeemed decade (Drabble 1988: 1).
This is a well-taken portrait of the social class who still consider
itself to be the most powerful and influential sort of people in Britain.
One of the significant features of such a group in the 1970s was
consumerism. A theory based on a consumer society whose main
values are personal affluence and personal choice. It was thus Lizs
personal choice to marry her second wealthy husband Charles, a
former successful director, but now a widower, with three small
children to take care of. Without previous knowledge she accepted
this new uneasy role, because only this way she could become one of
those to whom she always wanted to belong to the high class lady:
Oh, this is different, said Liz. At twenty-five, she felt mature.
She had seen people die, she had seen them give birth, she
had chopped them into little pieces: more significantly, with
Charles she had achieved orgasm, which she had never
managed with Edgar. She knew it was all right this time.
(Drabble 1988: 101)
In the disastrous conditions of the premature marriage with
Edgar Lintot, disappointed Liz was not able to soothe the inner sexual
feelings of hers. They finally reappeared in the relation with Charles
Headleand, a man who woke up in Lizs body not love, but longforgotten lust. Ed Tarkowski is persuaded that thinking lustful
thoughts about another person is sinful, but acting on that thought is
even worse because it has social consequences (URL 99). Drabble

44

first mentions Lizs sinful thoughts when she is going through the
difficult phase of puberty:
And yet, and yet. During the terrible transformations of
puberty, she had sat and brooded on her father. Shaming
fantasies. Sexual fantasies. She had masturbated while
brooding on her father, not knowing what she was doing, but
knowing it was wrong. She sat herself penances, but they did
not help. A dark cluster gathered, inexorably, in her spirit.
Increasingly masochistic grew its manifestations, its
yearnings. Steel knitting needles featured. She dreamed of
tortures, imprisonments, knives, daggers, dark towers.
Wounds, blows, penetrations. Even now she does not like to
look back on them. They continue to shame, these fantasies
(Drabble 1988: 139).
In the following part, Drabble describes Charles and Lizs sexual
intercourse based on the shared perverted sexual drive:
Charles had called to the forbidden in her, demons had
answered, from the place where they had been waiting. His
mixture of brutality and desire had matched something in
herself. He was cruel and enslaved. He came to her as a man
acquainted with grief, a widower expected to run wild, an
excessive man seeking comfort in dissolution and
promiscuity: a romantic figure. She had fallen in love with it.
Love? Well, she had thought it was love, but lust might have
been a more fitting word for whatever it was that bound
them together, in those early days - were lust not a word
that suggests simplicity and brevity rather than obsession.
Their lust had certainly not been brief, simple or easily
satisfied. It fed on his mild sadism, her mild desire for
punishment, a desire that in no way reflected their social
relations (Drabble 1988: 141)
These two middle-aged people became involved in the mutual
sexual relations in the time which is widely associated with the new
attitudes to sexuality, arts, abortion, homosexuality and capital
punishment (URL 78). The beginning of such liberal changes is
nowadays connected with the 1960 trial of Penguin books for
publishing an unexpurgated version of the novel Lady Chatterleys
Lover (URL 79). At the end of the trial Penguin Books were found not
guilty, and thereafter a number of novels were published which could
45

scarcely have been printed before 1960 (Hopkins 1991: 190). What
seemed to be so offensive to most of the ordinary readers was the
use of the four-letter words. Some of the features of the perverted
novel are attached to Liz and Charless relationship when Drabble
writes that it had seemed a harnessing of perversion, a permitted
exploration of the psyche and the flesh, an odyssey of the 1960s
(Drabble 1988: 142).
What Drabble seeks for in this issue inside the book is the
response on what causes the fact that a married couple after some
years spent under one roof look at their mutual attraction completely
different. It might seem that Liz and Charles have gradually grown
away from each other. The institution of marriage has lost its former
meaning.
The era of so-called new marriage and partly womens
stronger self-confidence cause the fact that Liz refuses to follow her
husband to New York. There is shown the difference in the female
social position which has changed within the two centuries. In the
past a woman was forced to follow her husband, now she is allowed to
make her own decision and stay. Liz is persuaded that it is right to
stay where she is, pursuing her own career and pursuing her own
inner life, whatever that might be (Drabble 1988: 9).
This is the first symptom of mutual disaffection and broken
marriage, another one is the evidence of infidelity. And Charles really
proves to be an unfaithful husband who has had a long-term love
affair with Lady Hanrietta Latchett, a woman whose upper class origin
is out of question. Each encounter with this noble lady evokes in Liz
the feeling of jealousy. Hetty represents for Liz the luxurious world
filled up with boredom which she once desperately wanted to reach. It
is interesting to notice that most Drabbles characters are terrified of
being bored themselves. This has something to do with the authors
personality she tries to avoid boring people and boring situations
(URL 12) whenever possible. Hetty observes the surrounding world in
frigid and dull style, which irritates the cheated wife.
46

The sight of her filled Liz with a subdued and dreary panic.
Henrietta (Hetty for her friends, of whom Liz was not one)
embarrassed her, she could never say why: she represented
pain, failure, tedium, though not in her own person:
somehow, magically, she managed to transfer these
attributes to those with whom she conversed, while herself
remaining posed and indeed complacent, secure of
admiration. Liz had never admired and had at times
expressed somewhat freely ( and in her own view wittily) her
lack of response to Henriettas frigid style and vapid
conversation, but nevertheless felt herself, in Henriettas
presence, rendered almost as dull as Henrietta, and
moreover uneasily aware that in other houses, other milieux,
at a distance, in other circles, she had seen Henrietta
sparkling, laughing, surrounded by life vacuous life,
feverish small talk, no doubt, but life a life that froze in Liz
as she contemplated her guests stiff blue taffeta gown (this
was surely a gown, not a dress, and, not even English,
probably French), her exposed white bosom, her diamond
necklace (well, probably diamonds, why not?), her high white
forehead, her thin dark-red lips. (Drabble 1988: 29-30)
Everyone present at the party seems to be well-informed of this
situation except Liz. The curious elite expect the announcement. Ivan
Warner, an eager journalist, is patiently waiting for his chance to put
on the first pages of his tabloid newspaper a fresh article with a juicy
headline revealing the infidelity in the upper circles. The press in the
1980s was much freer to write about anybody and anything what
could at least slightly shock its readers.
As the approaching hour announces the arrival of the new
promising decade, in the distance nearby Big Ben starts to strike Auld
Lang Syne. Liz, who has been up to now in hurry, starts to realize the
cruel truth. Her unfaithful husband and Lady Hanrietta openly present
the admiration for each other. Now she understands why the eyes of
everyone in this room stare at her filled up with expectation. Hints,
glances, sliding words, oblique smiles, incomprehensible references.
Why had she not received them earlier? (Drabble 1988: 39)
The number of divorces in Britain in the 1980s was steadily
increasing and therefore it was not so embarrassing to become one of
47

those less happy, divorced couples. Worse consequences it had for


the woman than for the man, especially when she came from a high
social class. It seems to be more than possible that Liz is afraid of
losing her sovereign position, of becoming no one, belonging
nowhere. She does not want to be one of those ordinary people who
she meets walking down the streets. That scares her more than the
loss of the man who she once loved and who has had such a strong
power over her body. This feeling of hers must be connected with
consumerism.
The only securities of Lizs life are the loyal friends Alix and
Esther who provide her with support and valuable advice. Their
friendship has dated back since the radiant years spent together in
Cambridge. Their careers have since then parted several times, but
their friendship has always stayed strong. Originally outsiders coming
from three different edges of English society, now belonging to its
elite, they have remained trusty to each other.
They did not know then, were not to know for many years,
were never fully to understand what it was that held them
together a sense of being on the margins of English life,
perhaps, a sense of being outsiders, looking in from a cold
street through a lighted window into a warm lit room that
later might prove to be their own? Removed from the
mainstream by a mad mother, by a deviant ideology, by a
refugee status and the war-sickness of Middle Europe?
(Drabble 1988: 90)

48

5. Educational equality
Human mind can bear plenty of reality but not too much
intermittent gloom.
Margaret Drabble
The Radiant Way, Drabbles tenth novel of fiction after a sevenyear gap, makes a break-through in the authors later writing style. It
seems to be different because for the first time in her career,
Drabble is writing about a group of friends rather than a single
heroine (URL 20). In the era of Thatcherite England, in the era of the
second-wave feminism, the author slowly reveals the destiny of three
middle-aged women, long-aged friends, who found each other during
their Cambridge admissions interviews in 1952. (It was the same year
as Elisabeth II, a strong female individual, became the queen.) By
using their example, Drabble leads a gentle investigation into the
courageous hopes of the middle-class female inhabitants of the 1950s
and 1960s for better educational possibilities and bald dreams about
equal social security for everyone.
It is obvious that education and its quality are important issues
connected with the position of every person in their society. Thus, one
of the topics frequently questioned throughout the novel is the
problem of British national education, largely considered from the
female point of view. The school system of the overseas country with
49

its numerous exceptions and contradictions has always been a


difficult arrangement to be understood correctly. Within its framework
women have been forced to proceed step by step with determination
to be given the equal status with men. Drabbles aim is to chronicle
some of the key moments of the countrys educational history
intervening in the destiny of her three women characters.
For a few last centuries there have been several significant
factors contributing to the explanation of male and female unequal
educational reality, largely based on family conditions and labour
force.
Before and in the mid-eighteenth century education was
thought to be only for the upper and more polished classes, and
even among the upper classes women were not expected [even
permitted] to obtain an education (URL 1). The received opinion was
expressed that a woman could not fulfill her preordained place in
society if she was wasting her time gaining knowledge (URL 2).
Drabbles Lady Henrietta Latchett is a member of the contemporary
nobility, however, the author introduces her as a woman whose
education had been devoted to the art of getting and keeping a
man (Drabble 1988: 119). By writing this the author gives a broad
hint at the Victorian era, in which noble young women were taught at
home by their governesses. Their education included the knowledge
of French, drawing, dancing, music and the use of globes (URL 3).
What men expected of their female counterparts three centuries ago
was to be pure, pious, domestic and submissive (URL 2).
A significant breakthrough was achieved at the turn of the 19th
century

when

intelligent

middle-class

women

were

given

the

permission to read and write. If they wanted to know more, they had
to turn to self-education. Nevertheless, education of the female
element inside the family circle was still supposed to disturb the
social balance of the time (URL 2). Therefore Drabble writes: Esther,
Liz and Alix, who in Jane Austens day would never have met at all,
met in Cambridge in 1952 (Drabble 1988: 84). Even if Jane Austen
50

did not come from a noble family like Lady Henrietta, she was born
and connected well enough (URL 1) to obtain adequate education:
She was well educated according to the requirements of that
time, though she could not have passed an examination to
enter any ladys college, or had the remotest chance with
the Harvard Annex or the University of Chicago. But she is a
fine example of the cultivation and refinement attainable
before womens colleges were thought of. (URL 1)
Jane Austen [1775 1817] is claimed to be one of the
most notable women writers in the history of British literature. She
contributed greatly to the education and the emancipation of the
women of the nineteenth century (URL 1). Nevertheless, in her
novels, the female protagonists do not seem to worry much about
their educational level as about their financial and social position.
Drabble keeps this approach in mind when she writes that Esther
Breuer disliked the only Jane Austen novel she had ever read
(Drabble 1988: 84). In Austens days, it was not expected from a
woman to seek a professional career, women were not recognized as
equal members of the society, but to look elegant, have good
manners and know how to deal well with her domestic chores. All
these things Drabble subsequently stresses in connection with the
narrative of university studies in the twentieth century: In Jane
Austen, to come nearer home, the protagonists are not, it is true,
titled, but they are privileged. By youth, by wit, by beauty, and
sometimes by wealth. The Princesses of their Country Villages
(Drabble 1988: 88).
Another resistance to better educational possibilities was the
tight family budget. The crucial factor prevailing in the late part of the
nineteenth century was cheap child manual work and reluctant
approach of their working-class families to give up the regular daily or
weekly earnings for the benefit of education (URL 4). Reliable
information sources indicate that the successful exploitation of child
labour was vital to Britains economic success (URL 5). To prove such
a belief they state that in 1821, approximately 49% of the workforce
51

was under 20. In rural areas children, as young as five or six, joined
women in agricultural gangs that worked in fields often a long way
from their homes (URL 5).
The terrible working conditions were initially improved with the
government approval of the Factory Act of 1833. At that time
especially higher classes realized the importance of education for
childrens wealth. The situation started to change thoroughly after the
implementation of free and compulsory state schooling for children
aged from five to ten (Bromhead 1991: 133) through the Elementary
Education

Act

(Fosters

Elementary

Education

Act)

of

1870.

Nevertheless, not everyone liked the idea of mass education. Many


people claimed that the act would make labouring classes think and
that these classes would think of their lives as dissatisfying and
possibly encourage them to revolt (URL 6). Despite these objections
the attendance was made compulsory for all children until the age of
12 (URL 6). Shortly after that, new School Boards set up or took
control over 3,000 elementary schools in places where they were
recognizably needed. It is believed that a driving force behind the
Act was a perceived need for Britain to remain competitive in the
world by being at the force front of manufacture and improvement
(URL 6).
It thus becomes obvious that the earliest boarding schools
(from the 12th up to 19th century) in England were used mainly by
white, wealthy, Christian boys (URL 7), coming from middle and
upper classes. Positions of teachers at those public schools were
mostly occupied by clergymen who had once run them in the form of
charity schools. Until the 16th century, female well-off students were
excluded and taught either privately or occasionally in single-sex
schooling institutions. In the following centuries it was assumed that
adolescents of any rank might best be educated collectively (URL 9)
and social standards were forced to adapt to the new situation. Many
experts agree that even then the feminine ideals kept the same:
boys were to be made manly and girls were to be womanly (URL 8).
52

In the early 19th century the boarding schools expanded throughout


the country and gradually continued to change their appearance.
Parents of their attenders harmoniously claimed that one of the main
reasons why they kept sending their children to the boarding schools
is:
... to develop wider horizons than their family can provide. A
boarding school a family has attended for generations may
define the culture parents aspire to for their children.
Equally, by choosing a fashionable boarding school, parents
may aspire to better their children by enabling them to mix
on equal terms with children of upper classes. (URL 9)
Later on former boarding schools gave a distinctive character
to most UK, independent education, even in the case of day pupils
(URL 10). Such a day-time student was once, in the 1940s, even
Stephen Cox. Drabble draws comparison between rather strict rules of
his school and the life of a soldier in the Second World War:
Stephen, although delicate, was stoically unappalled by the
rigours of Army life, which could not rival, he declared, the
incomparable physical and mental misery of boarding
school. He perversely praised the food, about which it was
customary to complain: bangers and tinned tomatoes were a
treat, corned beef fritters a delicacy, after the stinking fish
pie of Moxley Hall, he said. He praised the bedding at least
weve got enough blankets, I couldnt sleep for the cold all
winter at school, he would say. He admired the uniform,
which he claimed to find much more becoming than the
damn-fool blazers and boaters which had attracted such
unwelcome attention from the local Teddy boys. The
arbitrary nature of the discipline and the incomprehensibility
of the rules made him feel quite at home, he maintained.
Ideologically, he was committed to preferring the Army to
Moxley Hall. (Drabble 1988: 158-159)
Childrens life on the board of public schools was rather tough.
Its teachers since the late Victorian time focused mostly on the
formation of the attenders strong characters through the applied
means of stern discipline, the general use of corporal punishment
and the frequent practice of fagging (URL 8). It appears that Drabble
53

refers to these key principles based on the secular virtues of


determination, self-control, and a sense of duty (URL 8) through
Stephens surprising obedience.
Nowadays, Alix Bowen being affected by her middle-class
socialistic backgrounds teaches the basic of English literature at the
Garfield Centre. This community home is mostly inhabited by young
women delinquents and criminals - who once got on the other side
of the society. What makes Alix regularly commutes to this, by local
residents disreputable place is her family background. Drabble offers
the explanation in Alixs response to Jilly Foxs questions: Do you
ever ask yourself about yourself? And why you come here? which
Alix answers: I think its because I feel at home, here. After all, I
was brought up in an institution (Drabble 1988: 214). Childhood
spent in the boarding house is the special bond of Alix and Stephens
friendship.
Alix is first caught in this institute at the moment of the
Christmas entertainment. Her students had invited her to take part in
the celebration which reminded Alix of the end-of-term pantomime at
school, a regular feature of her girlhood (Drabble 1988: 76). When
Alix Bowen thinks about her first schooling experiences she surely
feels uneasy, even embarrassed. Such a feeling is evoked by a picture
of her father, Dotty Doddridge, a French teacher and the deputy head
of a Yorkshire boarding school:
How she had suffered for him, for her poor pitiable father,
how she had hated her cruel peer for their relentless
mocking, how she had dreaded each Christmas pantomime,
each school-leavers farewell, each assembly that she knew
her father was due to conduct, each occasion on which she
heard him open his mouth in public. (Drabble 1988: 78)
The first reason why little Alix perceived her father as a funny
creature with the sharp red nose, the usually broken bifocal
spectacles, the striped woolly lunch-spattered waistcoats, the bald
shining brown freckled Professor Branestawm brow, the pockets full of
string, the green socks and brown sandals, the little pedantries, the
54

favourite quotations, the antiquarian commentary, the hydrometer,


the tufts of hair in his ears, the batty, potty, dotty, hurt, persistent
grin (Drabble 1988: 78) is because of his resemblance to Professor
Branestawm,

an

archetypal

absent-minded

character

(URL

11),taken out of Alixs childrens books written by Norman Hunter


[1899 1995]. This is one of Drabbles attempts to make her novels
amusing. As she says: I think what Im most surprised about is the
fact that theyre [her novels] quite readable and, I think, quite
amusing. Other people dont agree, but I think theyre quite funny
(URL 12). The second reason was Dottys odd left-wing, revolutionary
approach to education which he wanted to implement on the board of
his schooling institute:
Odd, though, that they had once seemed so odd, so isolated,
for the school at which Dotty Doddridge vainly endeavoured
to teach French had been non-conformist, faintly
progressive, certainly egalitarian in its religious and social
complexion: it had offered a liberal, secularized, healthy
coeducation, and had on its foundation in the 1860s set out
to attract the children of vegetarians, Quakers, free-thinkers,
pacifists, Unitarians, reformers. (Drabble 1988: 79)
Dotty Doddridge is used as a staunch advocate of secularism
inside the public service. And the reason why Drabble makes from
Dotty a French teacher is because he takes the French Revolution of
1789 as an example of human bravery and ability to stand up to the
long-term oppression. Alix points out how proud her parents were of
the French people who decided to overthrow not only the monarchy
and its supporters, but also the whole social and political system,
including the Roman Catholic Church (URL 13). The same rebellion
soon followed in other countries. Educational authorities in Britain
and France have suddenly become heroic defenders of secularism,
despite the existence of religious schools in both countries, and the
Anglican churchs status as the established church in the UK (URL
14):

55

Secularism was a key demand of the leaders of the


bourgeois revolutions of the 189th and 19th centuries in the
West, in France, America and elsewhere. They thought that
human beings (or at least a minority of them) could arrive at
truth through reason and construct rational social
institutions. They wanted to reduce the role of religion and
expand the role of the non-religious secular sphere in
public life, with the aim of separating the functions of Church
and State. (URL 14)
What therefore makes the British public schools unique is a set
of their typical characteristics, such as institutional independence,
the ideal of a liberal curriculum, and a fee-paying student body that
frequently

boards

at

the

school

(URL

8).

Alexs

childish

embarrassment was then exposed to the terrible influence of each


Christmas pantomime, each school-leavers farewell, each assembly
that she knew her father was due to conduct, each occasion on which
she heard him open his mouth in public (Drabble 1988: 78).
In the following part Drabble points to the increasing number of
wealthy, fee-paying students from the North and the impact of their
political identity on the core values of the school. Reputable educators
claim that despite the former beliefs, the increasing demands for
fees meant that the schools quickly became the sole preserve of the
wealthy and attendance became a rite of passage for the elite of
British society (URL 8). Drabble states:
Its academic success had been such that it had become
progressively less progressive, its original zeal swamped by
the fee-paying prosperous solid Northern Conservatism of
parents and offspring: it had become a bastion of
respectability, its one-time principles upheld by stray
survivors like Doddridge, who appeared blithely not to notice
that at election time the entire school, with one or two
flamboyant exceptions, howled its enthusiasm for the Tory
Party. (Drabble 1988: 79)
By the end of the nineteenth century, with the increasing
number of girls secondary boarding and day schools, it came to a
strong dispute over educability of girls, the power of their brain and
possible detrimental effects of their further studies (Arnot 1986:
56

144). Over the leading British feminist campaigners towered the


name of Sarah Emily Davies [1830-1921] who fought to have women
gain access to the Cambridge Local Examination on the same basis as
boys ..., and opened [them] doors for a professional future (URL 15).
The ability to receive a degree was an important intervention in
the emancipation of women. Therefore Alix Bowen gets her fathers
strong feeling of pride when together with Liz and Esther enters the
imaginary and in the mid-twentieth century widely opened doors of
tertiary education in the University of Cambridge. Cambridge and
Oxford, two prominent temples of knowledge, have been for many
years home of new and radical ideas. In 1873 Cambridge, followed by
Oxford in 1879, became the first academic institutions that opened
their doors to the female population. Finally, women were legally
permitted to seek the same career opportunities as men when
Oxford University in 1920 decided to allow degrees to be awarded to
women; Cambridge University was more conservative in this matter
and did not admit women to degrees until 1948 (Reynolds 1966: 89).
Despite the progress, several restrictions remained valid till 1987 and
the number of female students at Cambridge was gradually even
limited to 500 (Raw 1994: 154). Since then many important heads of
British political system have gone through their massive entrance.
Especially those, who wanted to focus on the studies of science. But
only the privileged ones, chosen by the score of their final year
exams, were allowed to touch the imaginary door handle the same
way as Liz aimed at the study of medicine, Alix whose main interest
was English Literature and Esther who wanted to read Modern
Languages (Drabble 1988: 84) did in 1952, when they first met
during their admissions interviews. They were lucky to belong to the
selected few, because at that time Cambridge had the lowest
proportion of women undergraduates of any university in the United
Kingdom (URL 16). Full of expectations, dreams and ambitions they
encouraged each other on the radiant way to the top. For them, the

57

individuals coming from the inferior social backgrounds, this was the
only way to fulfill their deepest hopes:
In the 1950s, one of the surest ways forward for an
intellectual young woman from the provinces, for a socially
disadvantaged young woman from the provinces, was
through
Oxford,
through
Cambridge.
Not
through
Manchester, or Leeds, or Durham, or Bristol: but through
Oxford or Cambridge. (Drabble 1988: 86-87)
Drabble makes a comment on the victorious atmosphere when
she depicts Alixs first impressions of the interior of her college with
long brown corridors and an unexpectedly high proportion of young
women apparently wrapped up in the triumphs of yesteryear on the
hockey field or in the prefects Common Room (Drabble 1988: 8081). It was a long, hard, but won battle, which was not aimed at
everyone. The change was only meant, to a large extent, to influence
the educational situation of upper and middle class girls. Thats why
Drabble adds: These three women, it will readily and perhaps with
some irritation be perceived, were among the crme de la crme of
their generation (Drabble 1988: 88). Otherwise, it remained obvious
that childrens learning experiences would verify according to their
social-class status and location position. It could be therefore stated
that beside gender differentiation, certain signs of social class
differentiation were evident (Arnot 1986: 147).
The same marks of social class pertinence might appear
noticeable in The Radiant Way when Drabble writes about Alix and
Esthers behaviour and clothes during their university interviews:
Alix was mousy, square-faced, healthy of complexion, and,
even then, extraordinarily pleasant of expression, with a
pleasantness that was at times radiant, and almost always
irrefutable: she was wearing, as girls who had them did for
their Oxbridge interviews in those days a two-piece middleaged suit on an oatmeal mix, with square shoulders and a
straight skirt. Esther was small, neat, brown of skin, smooth,
tidy, even (almost) elegant, yet somehow at the same time
pugnacious of aspect, subversive, aggressive, commanding,
Napoleonic of manner. She was wearing a severe school
58

uniform, olive green, from an expensive private school. It


looked ironic, satiric, suggestive on her small frame.
(Drabble 1988: 86)
Drabble subsequently points to the conditions of Esthers secondary
schooling in connection with her later passion for travelling. Drabble
states that Esther was acquitted only with rainy Manchester, with a
smart girls boarding-school in Shropshire, with the Cheshire homes of
friends, with London (a little), and, yet more fleetingly, the Oxford and
Cambridge of her interview (Drabble 1988: 189). However, all the
possible objections were pushed aside during her first conversation
with Liz and Alix, when Esther finds out that none of them was much
used to speaking to strangers, but this lack of practice was balanced
by a strong desire on the part of all three of them to enter upon a new
life in which speaking to strangers was possible. Otherwise, each had
separately recognized, the future was circumscribed (Drabble 1988:
84). Nevertheless, at that moment all the social differences vanished
with the same school uniform, the symbol of participation and
equality on the university premises.
More important on this sequence of events is the fact that in the
late nineteenth century first well-educated and smart English women
were allowed to cross the borders of tertiary education, studying
mainly at teacher training colleges (Crompton 1992: 57).
A significant factor that directly influenced girls school-leaving
possibilities at that time was the 1944 Education Act. Its importance
was the increased provision of secondary school places for girls. With
the radical changes inside the British system of higher education in
the 1960s a considerably bigger number of working-class children
found their way to universities. It was estimated that since the prewar period the number went up by 2 per cent. Despite such a
progress it remained plain that the system still favoured the middleclass children coming from a more cultured home (Hopkins 1991:
153). Those children whose academic careers started at grammar
schools which were at that time supported by the 11+ selective
59

process. Grammar school students not only had the necessary wit to
succeed in the important examinations, they also had to study hard
such as Liz and her husband Charles Headleand who had studied
long hours, both of them, who had burned the midnight oil while
munching their way through textbooks and qualifications (Drabble
1988: 19). Studies at university meant for Liz the only possible way
out of the boring provincial life, but as her sister Shirley points out this
goal was hardly attainable:
She assumed her sister was referring to getting into
Cambridge, which she herself considered a poisonous,
disreputable fantasy, and one unlikely ever to be fulfilled:
the number of girls who had achieved Cambridge places
from Battersby Girls Grammar in the last ten years could be
counted on the fingers of one hand. (Drabble 1988: 59)
However, it is difficult to agree with her point of view because at that
time the grammar schools were the only ones that offered an extra
term of school to prepare pupils for the competitive entrance exams
for Oxbridge (URL 17). Thus, there is no wonder that Liz who sat at
home, missing all the fun, deaf to the call of the flesh, with her
Alternative Mathematics, her Chemistry and her Biology, wasting her
youth, wasting her opportunities, obeying the will of their mother,
programmed, docile, chaste, pale (Drabble 1988: 59) managed to
fulfill her deepest dreams. Her success was to a certain amount
influenced by the encouragement of central government and some
local authorities which have started to investigate and make
recommendations to improve girls education (Arnot 1986: 152). By
the introduction of Education Act 1902 the responsibilities of the
School Boards were completely taken over by local authorities who in
the form of either county council or county borough council set up a
committee known as a Local Education Authority [LEA] (URL 18). Its
main activity was from 1907, as it is evident from the list above,
focused mostly on promoting scientific and technological subjects

60

(Arnot 1986: 152). This information Drabble included in The Radiant


Way when she wrote:
Liz Ablewhite was offered, and graciously accepted, the
Alethea Ward Scholarship in Natural Sciences (an annual
college award specifically designated by Dr Ward, 18531935, for female students of medicine from the County of
Yorkshire, her own home county), the goal towards which her
mother had been directing her for the past ten years.
(Drabble 1988: 86)
Drabble uses an example of Charles Dickenss Pip [1860] to
illustrate the beneficial effects of education on a poor child. When Liz
receives a scholarship to continue with her studies in Cambridge,
Drabble writes: Great Expectations. Is there anything more peculiar,
more idiosyncratic, more circumscribed in these expectations that in
those of Pip, or of Dickens himself, towards being a gentleman?
(Drabble 1988: 86) Plenty of adventures and possibilities then lay
before the three friends and the money were used to help Liz taste
the other side of the life wild parties, male friends, strangers from
the so far unknown world:
Liz, like a pale convent girl too long mewed up, went wild in
her first year, as she discovered the world of parties she had
hitherto known only by reading and by hearsay: in those
days, such was the imbalance between the sexes, women
were much in demand as status symbols, as sleeping
partners, as lovers, as party ballast, and Liz went out a great
deal, her appearance improving dramatically as she did so.
She had little money for clothes, but that did not matter; it
did not even matter, much, to her, though sometimes she
wished she had more than two dresses, one pink, one grey.
She hung herself around with cheap earrings and necklaces
and bangles. Her stockings were always laddered. She was
much invited. Men accosted her on bridges, in lectures, in
bookshops. She tried them all. But she never disobeyed the
rules by spending a night, illicitly, out of college. Like
Cinderella, she returned at midnight. In the morning, in the
long vacations, she worked. (Drabble 1988: 91)

61

Drabble herself was awarded a major scholarship to Newnham


College, Cambridge, where she read English and received double
honors (a starred first) (URL 19). Her vivid memories from the
studies there might have helped her to picture the protagonists new
experiences so realistically.
British lowclass society was determined to reach better life
conditions

together

with

the

improvement

of

educational

opportunities. To encourage the increase of birth rate and to use the


remaining sources of money, the country started to invest in
schooling. The respectable sociologist and professor at the University
of Oxford, A. H. Halsey claims that the following era of the Welfare
State could be described as a period of remarkable expansion in this
respect (Hopkins 1991: 152). The public authorities, central and
local, more than doubled their expenditure on school education during
the 1960s. By 1970 the total had risen well above 2,000 million, or
over five per cent of the gross national product (Bromhead 1991:
149). Drabble makes a clear comment on the government education
policy in connection with Esther Breuers plans:
Esther had elected to take a higher degree, in the History of
Art. Art History as a subject was not yet available at
Cambridge: she would attach herself to the Courtlaud
Institute. There was plenty of money around to finance such
choices. Esther was encouraged to continue her studies.
(Drabble 1988: 96)
The self-governing college of the University of London is nowadays
also used as a great fine art museum, a paradise for art lovers.
The bitter truth is that despite major political and economic
changes in the country, the social position of women remained the
same with the stress put on domesticity as their primary functions
(Arnot 1986: 151). After the Second World War women were time and
again forced to give up their jobs and newly gained educational
opportunities for the benefit of their families. The general public of
the 1950s and 1960s was sure that being a good mother meant full62

time devotion to the care of children (Crompton 1992: 55) and their
husbands who were supposed to be the only ones to bring home the
bacon. The author comments on the reluctantly-accepted reality by
making from her main heroines enviable exceptions, so mentally
different from Jane Austens heroines:
Liz, Alix and Esther were not princesses. They were not
beautiful, they were not rich. But they were young, and they
had considerable wit. Their fate should, therefore, be in
some sense at least exemplary: opportunity was certainly
offered to them, they had choices, at eighteen the world
opened for them and displayed its riches, the brave new
world of Welfare State and County Scholarships, of equality
for women, they were the lite, the chosen, the garlanded of
the great social dream. (Drabble 1988: 88)
Intelligent young women had to cover much ground before they
finally managed to get fully accepted among the intellectual elite of
Oxbridge. However, it kept openly claimed, even in 1973, that in
higher education, fewer girls went to university; in some families, it
was still considered that sons needed more education than daughters,
and that higher education was wasted on girls who might soon get
married and settle down to domestic life (Hopkins 1991: 171). In one
sequence Drabble remarks on her heroines educated originality
writing:
And it was not, after all, difficult to be original in a period
when most female undergraduates, fresh from school and far
from well off, ventured little further in terms of home-making
than a cushion or a chianti bottle, a photograph or a teddy
bear, a gingham frill round an orange box or a postcard
collage on the wall, a modernist paper mobile or an
arrangement of seaside pebbles. (Drabble 1988: 94)
Teaching played an important part in educational possibilities of
middle-class girls. Teacher training institutions meant for them the
only way how to widen the gained knowledge up to the 1970s. Even if
teacher training was of lower cost and status than university [higher]
education, it enabled to combine professional employment with
63

maternal and caring aspects of young women (Crompton 1992: 58).


Therefore Drabbles Alix Bowen, a former Cambridge student, is in
one part of the novel depicted as a 22-year-old-widowed mother who
takes care of her baby son, Nicholas, living on scraps from the
educational world (Drabble 1988: 102), teaching other, less fortunate
students. Drabble describes Alexs newly-found way of living:
Inconspicuous, accepted, she discovered new talents. She
found she could teach. At first she took a few private
students, through Gabbitas and Thring (her first-class
Cambridge degree came in handy at last) and found that she
enjoyed coaching them for their English O levels and A
levels. She understood so well what it was that they did not
understand. Then she taught one or two illiterates on an
illiteracy scheme. Then she started to teach two classes a
week at College of Further Education: aspiring caterers on
Day Release. (Drabble 1988: 104)
After 1951 the General Certificate of Education with its O-level
(Ordinary) and A-level (Advanced) examinations was the highest
degree that middle-class secondary students could reach. Those less
fortunate ones either because of their insufficient economical or social
conditions or the lack of former possibilities were supported by
Gabbitas, an educational charitable institute. The growth in normal
schools

(teachers

colleges)

for

women

both

encouraged

and

accompanied a tendency throughout the Western world the


feminization of the elementary teaching profession (URL 15).

This

new lifestyle surely brought Alix a well-known feeling of immediate


social class inferiority, at least from the view of her former Cambridge
fellow-students, who observed Alexs

decline with disrespect:

Cambridge visitors, visitors from outer space, childless visitors, asked


her how she could bear to teach such stupid, such dull, such
unambitious, such ill-read folk. She did not answer that intelligence is
relative, like poverty. She did not think her students stupid, just
different. (Drabble 1988: 104)
Further education in Britain flourished with the introduction of
the Education Act of 1944.

The Act is considered to be the most


64

important legislation act of that period. It stated that it shall be the


duty of the local education authority for every area, so far as their
powers extend, to continue towards the spiritual, mental and physical
developments of the community (URL 21). It thus opened the door of
free secondary education to girls and the working class, and as a
result, a higher percentage attended higher education after secondary
school (URL 22). Drabble probably writes about illiteracy in
connection with rather a low literacy level of working class women
caused by their low school attendance. It did not take long after it was
appropriate for girls to be involved in domestic labour in the home,
looking after younger children and the sick, or doing domestic chores
(Arnot 1986: 147). This new educational world must have been an
exciting challenge. Did they feel uneasy in the unfamiliar schooling
surrounding?

5.1 The post-war dream which did not come true


The volume title of The Radiant Way refers to the primer from
which Charles [Headleand] had learned at the age of four to read at
his mothers knee (Drabble 1988: 174) and which in 1965 inspired
him to make a documentary on education of the post-war era. On the
time that was mostly important because of numerous reorganisations
inside the system of secondary education. The 1944 Education Act
was attacked due to the strong disagreement with its damning
selective power. In retrospect, the Department of Education in 1944
held the view that in order to meet the obligation to provide
education according to age, ability and aptitude, separate schools
should be established, providing differentiated programmes, and
children should be selected for admission by means of a selective
test (URL 23). Those who passed were supposed to reach better life
conditions in the future. Therefore, a place at a grammar school was
seen as the beginning of a path leading to university and the
65

professions and it was seen by working class parents as a route to


social mobility and white collar employment (URL 23). Such
possibilities of escape from the harsh realities of provincial life also
enticed Liz Ablewhite who devoted all her energy to success at
school, to escape through university, an outlet that had received her
mothers formal approval (Drabble 1988: 141). Liz belongs to the
more fortunate young women whose vivid dreams really came true
and helped her gain the desirable privilege:
Liz Ablewhite of Abercorn Avenue had become Liz Headleand
of Harley Street, London W1. Nobody could argue with that,
nobody could question it, it was so. Her largest dreams, her
most foolish fantasies, had been enacted and bricks and
mortar and mantelshelves and tiled floors and plaster
ceilings. It seemed improbable, but it was so. The
Headleands of Harley Street. (Drabble 1988: 18)
Later on, the hope of equivalence in educational status between
those who were selected at 11, and those who failed proved naive
and disingenuous (URL 23). It seems therefore quite easy to
understand why Charles Headleand decided to call his television
series about people living under the pressure of this blind decision the
same way.
The first series were shot in 1965. They depicted the ongoing
changes caused by Circular 10/65 which was issued by the
Department of Education and Science (DES) (URL 24). Its main aim
was to remedy the inaccurate selection based on the Eleven Plus
examination the unfair division into the secondary technical schools,
the secondary grammar schools attended by the most intellectually
able 25% of the school population (URL 15), such as Liz Ablewhite,
and the secondary modern schools attended by the failures coming
from the working surroundings. It was stated that the majority of
secondary modern pupils left school at the end of compulsory
schooling: ... at fifteen years of age (URL 23). Moreover, there was
little opportunity thereafter for transfers between schools to remedy
inaccurate selection (Hopkins 1991: 153). What contributed to the
66

abolishment of the unreliable educational system was the massive


pressure of discontented parents who demanded something more
flexible and beneficial, something what might be valid for the wide
nation.
The introduction of so-called secondary comprehensive schools
was believed to improve the educationally and socially unfair
situation (Hopkins 1991: 153). The programme dealing with various
attitudes to the problem became an overnight success and the author
himself, Charles Headleand, a respectable director to be, a household
name:
The nation wept as little Olive Peters, twelve years old in
Barrow, revealed her humble expectations from life, as
Johnny Maher, son of a driving instructor, seventeen years
old in Liverpool, discovered hed got a State Scholarship, as
twenty-four-year-old Barry Furbank, from a London childrens
home, was shown clocking eagerly in for night school after a
long working on the buses. The nation smiled as the camera
elicited words, accents, attitudes of extraordinary, outmoded
quaintness and patronage from Oxford dons, from
headmasters and pupils from public schools, from prepschool boys in short trousers, then frowned thoughtfully as
the camera showed these attitudes to be entrenched within
the educational structure itself, and within the very fabric of
British society. (Drabble 1988: 174)
Some of the knowledgeable readers could spot in Charless
behaviour features similar to Denis Mitchell [19111990], a wellknown British documentary filmmaker. Their interest in the extensive
use of real peoples speech and their cooperation with the BBC has a
lot in common. They shared the same aim to promote a new style of
television journalism (URL 25):
It was great television: Charles let his people speak for
themselves, they condemned themselves in their own words
from their own mouths, they won sympathy by the way they
stood at a bus stop or fed their rabbits or bought a copy of
Exchange and Mart at the corner shop: or so, at least, it
seemed to the British public, which was still innocent in its
response to the television documentary. (Drabble 1988: 174)
67

Charless vision of the Brave New World (the same title has a
famous novel about life in the future written by Aldous Huxley in
1931) slowly started to fall apart. Drabble blames the Labour party for
a failure of this plea for a radical change of the equality. The main
problem was the political system established by the government. The
effects of the Welfare State with all its securities had an enormous
impact on a forward-looking, forward-moving, dynamic society, full of
opportunity, co-operative, classless (Drabble 1988: 176). Drabble
points to the effects of social benefits when Alix Bowen expresses her
dissatisfaction with the living conditions of her son, Nicholas Manning.
According to her, Nicholas is a slacker who wastes his life on
worthless paintings claiming the dole from the state. The real
situation in Britain of the 1980s was actually more serious than that.
Young people found it very difficult to find a job at all and the lack of
job opportunities bred an arrogance among them, a belligerence, a
sense that the world owned them a living (URL 26).
Undoubtedly, the prosperity of that time was secured by the
rising popularity of the trade unions. The rules adjusted by this
powerful organisation were another serious problem, though. Once a
modest society, under its influence, suddenly changed into a vain,
temperamental, coy and hard to please (Drabble 1988: 177) group of
individuals. The frequent repetition of various strikes, mostly without
any further reasons, meant a great problem for the blue and white
collar workers. At that time both political parties tried hard to avoid
threatening inflation. They wanted to keep the wages down, at any
rate. This made the trade unions very suspicious, especially when the
cost of living was rapidly increasing. Charles thus felt rather annoyed
to see the changing attitude of his film crew. They complained about
everything, they wanted more money:
Charles watched this process with very, very slowly
accumulating rage. What the hells the point of comparing
what they earn with what I earn, or what the Director
General of the BBC earns, or what the fucking Prime Minister
earns, he would splutter, late at night, at Liz. And what the
68

hells the point of not working another five minutes? I work,


why cant they work? Id rather mend the fucking fuse
myself, Charles would roar, than lose a whole two hours of
work. Dont they care? (Drabble 1988: 177)
The programme was never finished. In November 1972 Charles
handed in his resignation. His dream about the radiant world ended
with a bleeding nose. Despite the bitter disillusion, the time brought a
long-expected shake-up of the educational system in England and
Wales. The truth is that the dream of educational equality did not last
long, but at least something happened to set the class-conscious
society right. At the end of the novel Drabble portrays a scene in
which two of Charless five children, Jonathan and Alan, argue about
the quality of documentaries made in the sixties and in the nineties.
Among other rude remarks Jonathan expresses his view that The
Radiant Way was the fantasy of social progress, the discredited
dream of Utopia, and states that it is better to show people as they
are, than to make them dream they can have what they cant have
(Drabble 1988: 299).

5.2 The University of the Air


Another significant miracle in higher education gave the
second chance to mature students, especially to thousands who
had either failed to get into a university, chosen not to go to one, or
had chosen non-university professional qualifications (Childs 1992:
280). It came to its existence in 1969. The Open University, the
University of the Air, has been a great success since the
introduction of its plan by the Labour government in 1963. It boomed
so rapidly due to its new teaching methods. Its part-time tutors
devise lectures that are presented on one of the BBCs television
channels and by radio (Bromhead 1991: 149). Alixs husband, Brian
Bowen, is thus depicted as a professor at the College of Adult
Education who starts as a sideline to teach a course for the Open
69

University (Drabble 1988: 186). His work-place, the College of Adult


Education, was consequently closed down for the reasons of moneysaving cuttings carried out by the Conservative government of
Margaret Thatcher. The time of its glory, starting with the World War I,
was definitely over.
People of all professions and all ages have already taken
advantages of the Open University enrolling in one of the courses
which have been annually provided. It became popular with those
who cannot physically attend a traditional university because they
are disabled, abroad, in prison, serving in the armed forces, or looking
after family members (URL 27). Alix herself gives some lessons in the
Garfield Centre for the female offenders. To her students belongs Jilly
Fox whose life destiny is depicted in this short summary:
Jilly Fox had been educated at an expensive boarding-school.
She was doing time for several rather serious drug-related
offences. She was having an affair with Toni Hutchinson of
the blonde braids, who was the daughter of a pharmacist in
Hendon. Jilly had passed her A- level in English Literature the
summer before, having notably failed to acquire any
qualifications except a pass in O level Divinity at her
expensive school: now she was hoping to qualify for a course
at the Open University. Jilly Fox had once said bleakly to Alix
Bowen on a bad evening that her release would be the death
of her. (Drabble 1988: 77-78)
As Jilly Fox herself predicts, her life ends in the hands of a
mass-killer, the Horror of Harrow Road, Paul Whitmore. The destiny of
the multiple-killer is a part of Drabbles thoughts over the perversity
of the human soul related to the differences between nature and
nurture which are analysed in the second volume, A Natural Curiosity.
What is more important is the fact that in her work Paul, who is
sentenced to life imprisonment, is allowed to study history and botany
through the Open University.
Alix Bowen has a talk about the problem of further education
with one of Liz Headleands guests at the New Years Eve party. She is
well-aware of its importance for the working class population. Since
70

its foundation it has allowed many women to make up for their missed
opportunities and women students have responded by increasing
their share of applications to join the university (Arnot 1986: 142).
Alix has got involved in a conversation with Teddy Lazenby, the
professor of the Department of Education and Science, who appears
not to understand the institutes real purpose. For him it seems
useless and a waste of money to educate housewives and taxi
drivers who could so far manage without such a privilege:
Alixs face was expressing a most delicate mixture of
disbelief, disapprobation and polite attention as Teddy,
somewhat indiscreetly presuming on their long, if longinterrupted, acquaintance, revealed what were clearly his
own opinions on the inadvisability of wasting money on the
education of housewives and taxi drivers. (Drabble 1988: 26)
It is difficult to negative his opinion. Many people laughed at
the idea, but it became part of the Labour Partys programme, to give
educational opportunity to those people who, for one reason or
another, had not had a chance to receive further education (R.
Musman and D. A. Vallance, p.108). On the other hand, there is also a
large group of women who decide not to enrol. Madeleine Arnot
claims that on the basis of some of the surveys carried out to find out
real reasons of refusal:
62 per cent of women compared with 44 per cent of men
gave non-work demands as the reason for withdrawal from
studying (e.g. social and domestic duties, care of children,
moving home, new baby, death in the family, etc.). In
contrast, the pressure of work, change of job, travel, etc.
were reasons given by 43 per cent of men but only 27 per
cent of women. Personal and family commitments affected
30 per cent of all women and 50 per cent of all housewives.
The lack of financial independence also affected 35 per cent
of all women and 47 per cent of housewives, who could not
afford even the relatively low cost of the Open University.
Womens domestic and family commitments have, therefore,
greatly affected their chances of taking up second chance
opportunities for higher education with the Open University.
(Arnot 1986: 142)
71

6. Feminism and its issues


And there isnt any way that one can get rid of the guilt of having a nice body
by saying that one can serve society with it, because that would end up with
oneself as what? There simply doesnt seem to be any moral place for flesh.
Margaret Drabble
The question of differences between female and male position
in the society has been there for centuries, therefore Drabble as a
typical female novelists pays these differences in human equality
special attention throughout the whole novel.
Margaret Drabble is considered to be one of the most significant
contemporary female writers whose novels are frequently recognized
because of the problematic question of the emancipation of women
protagonists treated in them. Such a feature is especially evident in
Drabbles early writings, such as A Summer Bird Cage (1963) or The
Millstone (1965). Despite the fact that the female characters
portrayed on the pages of these books are sophisticated, educated
and self-assured individuals who long for the privileged opportunities
in

the

surrounding

world,

but

are

bound

to

the

inevitable

responsibilities for their maternity, children and households, they


were written in the pre-feminist era. It is claimed that the second
wave of the feminist movement rose out of the Civil Rights that
reached England from America in 1968 while Drabbles first novel

72

came out in 1963. The author is persuaded that her initial ability to
deal with this topic so freely was due to the fact that:
There was no womens movement, there was no feminist
criticism. Feminist criticism was born in 1968 precisely, and I
published my first novel in 1963. So I was able to write in the
innocent pre-feminist theory days when no one was going to
get at me for writing a sort of a feminine book or writing
about marriage or clothes. Nobody. There was no prototype
feminist novel at all, which made the life easier (URL 48).
The traditional duties of every woman were the care of the
household and the upbringing of children. Women were denied some
of the basic human rights, among others the right to vote. Such an
unequal approach was unlikely to evoke female satisfaction. First mild
changes became a topic for discussion in the late part of the
nineteenth century organised by a group of suffragists around
Millicent Fawcett [1847 1929]. They moderately argued for the bill
to give the vote to single and widowed female heads of household
(URL 50). Even though all their rather peaceful than radical attempts
failed, they managed to alter public opinion. Besides, Fawcett focused
most of her energy on higher education and was involved in the
organisation of womens lectures at Cambridge that led to the
establishment of Newnham College (URL 51). In 1871 it happened to
be the second Cambridge college to admit women (URL 51).
In 1903 the name of Emmeline Pankhurst first appeared in
newspapers in connection with a small group of women running a
militant campaign in Manchester called the Womens Social and
Political Union [WSPU]. Their main aim was to enable female citizens
to take full part in the democratic process (URL 53). Although
Fawcett admired the great courage and determination of the
suffragettes, she frequently criticised them for too much revolutionary
violence in their actions. The suffragettes were prepared to give their
lives for womens rights doing thus by breaking windows, throwing
stones, burning slogans on putting greens, cutting telephone and
telegraph wires, destroying pillar boxes and burning or bombing
73

empty buildings (URL 53). Their rebellious behaviour did not evoke
much appreciation of the equality they represented:
By the early part of 1908, the Pankhurst campaign had not
achieved much; public opinion had not been captured. A
glance at photographs of the scuffles in which suffragettes
were arrested shows few signs of sympathy among the
onlookers; no popular daily newspaper took up their cause,
nor had one of the political parties added Votes for Women
to its programme. Indeed there were signs that opinion was
hardening against the ultra-militant suffragettes. A generally
expressed view was that their methods were unladylike,
and that was by no means an expression of snobbery.
(Reynolds 1966: 37)
Despite their persuasive manners, the suffragettes were not able to
do much for the change in female conditions until 1914. Then, all their
effort, which caused public outrage and disbelief, was pushed aside
by the attacks of a common enemy Germany.
Some signs of equal concept began to transform gradually
during the First World War when more women were given the
opportunity to work outside home(URL 54). As a lot of men left their
home for the defensive needs of the country, women were needed to
take up their positions in the workforce, mostly in munitions factories.
Thus, by 1918 it was impossible to deny womens contribution to the
war effort and The Electoral Reform Bill of that year granted voted
rights to all women property owners of thirty or more (URL 53). The
legally agreed age was in 1928 extended to all women over 21 (URL
55). Such an important step forward granted women more political
power. Even though it took another year than the first female MP, the
Labour MP for Northampton, was elected the first woman cabinet
minister (URL 56). Margaret Bondfield, the Minister of Labour, and a
politician who fully intended to oppose the British involvement in the
war, gave her first speech in the House of Commons welcoming the
passing of the 1928 Equal Franchise Act (URL 57). However, her
words had a soft touch of bitterness:

74

Since I have been able to vote at all I have never felt the
same enthusiasm because the vote was the consequence of
possessing property rather than the consequence of being a
human being... At last we are established on that equitable
footing because we are human beings and part of society as
a whole. To me the enfranchisement of women is not so
much a question of rights as of opportunity not a privilege
but an obligation to add their share to the common stock in
the building of ever nobler forms of social life... It is an
entire mistake, and I always said it was a mistake on the part
of some of the ultra-feminist suffragists, who argue the
specific woman point of view in connection with political
questions (URL 58).
Sylvia Pankhurst on Bondfields behalf once said: Miss Bondfield
deprecated votes for women as the hobby of disappointed old maids
whom no-one had wanted to marry (URL 58).
The profound impact of feminism has two different sides.
Professor Elizabeth Meehan, an expert in social studies, argues that
while quality newspapers and traditional womens magazines have
extended or introduced coverage of womens rights and new
magazines have been launched, the organs of popular culture are
often criticized for not giving up the old images but simply advising on
how to combine old duties with new opportunities (Meehan 1990:
202). She adds that: Awareness of feminist consumers is not
matched by better representation of women at the higher levels of
media and academic occupations. In political parties, government
departments and public bodies women are rarely allocated safe seats
or appointed to senior positions. (Meehan 1990: 202). This statement
is strengthened by the fact that since Margaret Bondfieldss political
regime not many female representatives have managed to succeed in
getting to the British lobby. The markedly low number of female MPs
is briefly mentioned by Drabble in connection with Polly Piper, Alixs
former boss in the Home Office:
Alix was, almost despite herself, interested in the
premenstrual tension business. She had discussed it with her
class at Garfield, had read them some Sylvia Plath poems
and some Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle. Moons and
75

tides, sanity and lunacy. She was also anxious to promote a


campaign to remove VAT from sanitary towels. Polly had
become predictably excited by this proposal and had
thought of standing for Parliament on the issue. Both Alix
and Polly agreed that the poor representation of women in
the House of Commons in Britain in the last decades of the
twentieth century was a deplorable manifestation of well,
of what? This too they would discuss. (Drabble 1988: 154)
What is important to point out in this sequence is the term premenstrual tension, which is in many cases connected with womens
social oppression. The original purpose of this syndrome was to
protect middle class working and house women overwhelmed by
excessive housework. Alexandra Robinson is persuaded that the
cultural-feminist literature suggests that PMS medicalizes womens
social complaints by placing them in a reproductive domain and thus
reinforces patriarchy in Western society (URL 59). In 1953 Dr.
Katharina Dalton diagnosed the premenstrual syndrome as the
worlds commonest disease (URL 73). Other experts have claimed
that some women report deliberately using the premenstrual time to
vent some of their rage and frustration ..., calling these times of rage
symptoms of disease is a handy way of not looking at what women
are upset about and why (URL 73). In 1995 Kathy Kendall provides
another explanation when she indicates that many of the practices
involved in the social construction of PMS are forms of violence
against women and PMS is a way of silencing womens accounts of
the violence they experience at the hands of intimate partners (URL
59). Drabble further comments on the problem stating that:
Alix did not know what to make of the concept of premenstrual tension. She had never knowingly suffered from it
in her life. Did this mean that it did not exist, that it was a
ghostly excuse, a medieval demon waiting to be cast out not
by pills but by common sense? Or that she herself was
merely lucky? She did not know. She and Polly Piper would
talk for hours of these matters. Polly Piper did suffer from
pre-menstrual tension, but then, she belonged to a slightly,
significantly, younger generation of women for whom the
76

rights rather than the opportunities of women were in


sharper focus (Drabble 1988: 153).
The reason why Alix Bowen cant possibly understand the concept of
PMS is the lack of domestic responsibility in the life of college
women (URL 59). Drabble illustrates Alixs domestic inability when
she is furnishing a new house in Northam: Alix was, in theory, settling
in. Buying lampshades, tea towels. Alix was very bad at this kind of
thing. (Drabble 1988: 373).
Apparently, more radical changes came with the Second World
War when women equally participated as important work forces either
in the military industry or in the defence service of the country. They
had to assume overall responsibility and carry out mens work
assigned to them by the government. In the year of 1943 almost 90
per cent of single women and 80 per cent of married women were
employed in essential work for the war effort (URL 60). By doing this
they proved the ability to win their own recognition in the privileged
mens world.
However, not all female citizens enjoyed the privileges of the
changing conditions. In the novel Radiant Way Drabble focuses mostly
on the destiny of women coming from or living in the Yorkshire region.
The reason why she decided to deal with the fate of northern female
citizens and reveals their lives in particular fragments of British
history since the 1960s came from the outside. Drabble in one of her
interviews openly admits: On a more serious level, somebody did say
to me that I had been condescending to the northern housewife and
should give the northern housewife another scene which I did in the
second part of The Radiant Way trilogy (URL 48). Radical changes in
the private sphere of British households came sooner than the
changes in the public sphere.
According to Jenni Murray [1950-], a Yorkshire radical feminist
journalist and broadcaster, in a small mining village in Yorkshire the
politicisation of the female population created barely a ripple until the
vagaries of the miners strike in the eighties drove them into
77

collective action and later the need to become breadwinners (URL


53). She adds that the women in her family joined a long line of
tough Yorkshire matriarchs who ran the home and the family budget
with the cool efficiency and high moral standards of a Mother
Superior (URL 53).
One of those women overwhelmed by duties to their provincial
houses was Rita Ablewhite. Although she strenuously supported her
daughter Liz on her way to higher studies and consequently the
privileged class, she deliberately withdrew from any direct touch with
the surrounding world. Drabble depicts Ritas decision to hold
responsibility for the household chores stating:
Light streamed through the handsome semi-circle with its
repousse wrought-iron pattern, and fell at her feet on the
pavement. She had never deserved it. She had reached too
high, travelled too far, from Abercorn Avenue, and the house
in which her mother had walled herself up: a semi-detached
house, a twenties house, a frozen house, a house held in a
time warp, stuffed with her dead fathers suits and shoes,
stuffed with ancient magazines and medicine bottles. A
pupa, a chrysalis, it had been to her and to Shirley, but to
her mother a tomb. Her mother would never emerge again. I
should not cling to my house, said Liz to herself, but she
shivered as she stood there in the cold night (Drabble 1988:
121).
The lack of male element in the one-parent household is
expressed in Lizs reflections on childhood: Her father had left to
join the Army, according to ill-defined family assumption in 1940,
had been killed abroad, again according to ill-defined family
assumption, in 1944 (Drabble 1988: 383). Rita Ablewhite was thus
forced to look after her two daughters on her own.
The twentieth century, otherwise called the Womans Hour,
brought a big change into the contemporary womens lives. The term
is derived from a daily hour-long radio programme of topical and
general interest to women, broadcast each weekday afternoon on
Radio 4 since 1946 (URL 61). The programme consisted mainly of
78

reports, interviews and debates on health, education, cultural and


political topics aimed at women and mothers (URL 61), which had a
profound impact on the consciousness of its female listeners after the
Second World War. Jenni Murray recalls the long hours spent in the
company of her mother sitting together in excitement at the wireless
and claims that the programme has never been afraid to tackle
controversial issues and was the first one to discuss the menopause,
homosexuality

and

cohabitation

(URL

62).

This

means

of

communication thus appears to be the main reason why Rita keeps


herself so well informed:
No, Rita Ablewhite had not been barmy. She had kept her
daughters alive, she had fended off enquiries with
considerable shrewdness, she had driven away intruders,
and preserved her citadel. She had abided by the laws of the
land, had sent her children off to school regularly, had
attended to their vaccinations and immunizations, had
nursed them through sickness, had fed them regulation cod
liver oil an thick, sticky, strong government orange juice, had
clothed them and taken them to have their hair cut (Drabble
1988: 148).
Jenni Murray further comments that in the Second World War
the country women in the north managed to rise up slightly by
taking in evacuees and working in the food office whilst women in
other part of the country took on the tasks that only men were
believed capable of carrying out (URL 53). Such as heavy factory
work, driving huge vehicles, arduous agricultural duties there was
nothing by the end of that war that women couldnt do to keep a
country running smoothly (URL 53).
Then, in the 1970s, Drabble started to realize the pushing
urgency of feminist demands going around in public. The second
wave of the feminist movement reached Britain in the late 1960s.
Originally coming from America, it broke out in the UK as a response
to the attempts at the re-establishment of the pre-war patriarchal
code of society. At that time, as soldiers re-appeared on the threshold
of houses, women were expected to return back to their duties of
79

wives and mothers, which gave rise to a lot of aggression and


displeasure. It was claimed that the image of a properly functioning
nuclear family based on the Victorian traditions limited the female
genre in social, cultural and political opportunities. This intense
anxiety started to appear in the literary works of contemporary
woman authors.
Drabbles heroines - college-educated, middle-aged women deal with the questions of equal pay, equal education, 24-hour
nurseries, free contraception and abortion on demand. According to
numerous mines of information on the problem of feminism treated in
the novels of Margaret Drabble it is claimed that:
Margaret Drabble leisurely inspects patterns of female
development and also the nuances of both male oppression
and sexual liberation. Neither a missionary, nor an idealist,
nor a prophet, she offers to the reader practical limitations of
the real world. The novels incisively diagnose female
complaints. She explores the various options of women of
today. The conversion of the sexual protest into novels is
what makes her work interesting (URL 63).
Drabble herself admits that she finds feminist attitudes and feminism
extremely difficult to deal with as a creative writer, and shes very
glad that she started writing in a period before they became
conscious issues (URL 48).
The main drawback of the second-wave feminism was its
emphasis on the social rights and economic opportunities of middleclass women over poor and working-class ones. Although the first
group profited from the new legislations, the second one suffered
from

their

subordinate

position

to

men,

itself

the

product

fundamentally of biological limitations stemming from the role of


woman-as-mother (Hopkins 1991: 171). Disillusioned British women
forced to choose between their career and family thus started to
express their radical opinion more openly. The pressure to achieve
formal equality in everyday life for the sexes was extremely

80

important in bringing about the required changes in attitude and


practice (Crompton 1992: 67).
After the war British social life was quite different. Women did
not want to give up their finance independence from men. Whats
more, the postwar economy in the country needed the female labour
force to keep the productivity run smoothly. The importance of female
elements at work thus began to increase. In the following period
various womens groups and ideologies were established to support
the frequent call for emancipation. Rather a contradictory opinion of
Thatchers deeds for the sake of British women strengthened in 1952,
when she wrote in the Sunday Graphic that women should not feel a
duty to stay at home (URL 64). On the one hand, she encouraged
young women to seek work outside their home. She expressed her
belief that it was possible as she had to bring up a family while
working, as long as one was willing to make a great effort to organize
ones time properly and with some extra help (Thatcher 1993: 631).
Drabble highlights the necessity to rely on somebody elses help
when she portrays Lizs struggles on Christmas Day: The domestic
infrastructure could not support its extra burden and Liz, accustomed
moreover to three days a week of well-paid skilled domestic help from
an energetic young Polish woman, was overwhelmed by mess, by the
indifference of others to that mess (Drabble 1988: 296). On the other
hand, Thatcher did not believe that it was fair to those mothers who
chose to stay at home and bring up their families on the one income
to give tax reliefs to those who went out to work and had two
incomes (Thatcher 1993: 631).
This process led during the 1960s in the formation of the
extreme feminist association, so-called radical feminism. Unequal
work conditions, considerably low wages and the increasing number
of sexual assaults were the basic origins of their complaint. Its most
important aims was to challenge and overthrow patriarchy by
opposing standard gender roles and the male oppression of women
and called for a radical reordering of society (URL 65). It is generally
81

believed that the early form of radical feminism viewed patriarchy as


not only the oldest and most universal form of domination but the
primary form and the model for other sources of oppression(URL 65).
Nevertheless, the only alternative way out of the doubtful fortune for
the less privileged girls, girls from the north, remained the marriage
despite certain difficulties. In the late sixties, being herself a young
mother from the provinces, Drabble truly well managed to incorporate
the differences between the social and economical conditions of these
two class levels into the plot of The Radiant Way (1987).
There certainly appeared conflicts between the old and the new
approaches to the question of men superiority in British families.
Drabble deals with this tricky problem when she explains the
disastrous circumstances of Lizs first divorce. The author describes
the mixed feelings of the agitated young woman telling their readers
that: Liz was at this stage engrossed by the dramatic, blinding,
smoky disaster of her own marriage, which after only six weeks
managed to transform [her] and Edgar into mockeries of their former
selves, loud puppets mouthing insults on an unreal battlefield
(Drabble 1988: 99). In the decades which followed the marriage
disaster, the new position of the female element in British society has
become more and more accepted. The whole situation has got so far
that nowadays adherence to the old-fashioned principles of genre
differentiation from the male point of view is called male chauvinism.
One of the typical symptoms of a male chauvinist is an increased
level of anxiety. At the same time, such a chauvinistic representative
perceives himself especially intellectually more gifted than the
opposite sex. These signs of male superiority are considered rather
peculiar in the contemporary western countries. Drabble expresses
her point of view by stressing all these characteristics in Lizs
explanation of Edgars behaviour:
Later, she could hardly remember what the issues were that
had so roused them to mutual abuse. Her own domestic
incompetence (which was indeed extreme, but what had
82

Edgar expected for a wife with an upbringing like hers?),


Edgars male chauvinism (though this was a phrase not yet
current) and his explanation that his work was always, would
always be of greater importance, than her own these were
aspects of their mutual dissatisfaction, no doubt, although
both were, decades later, to concede that Edgar at this time
was paying a high psychological price of having renounced
his theatrical ambitions (old Cambridge friends of his already
had their names in lights in the West End, while he was a
mere house officer) and that Liz was still suffering from the
trauma of confronting her mother with her total, final
defection (Drabble 1988: 99 100).

Another example is Alix Bowen who after graduation voluntarily


opts for the marriage bond rather than being the unemployed who is
forced to return back to the hostile conditions of the hometown.
Drabble there expresses a certain sign of hesitation when she writes
that Alix did not feel entirely at ease about this, and went to consult
the Careers Adviser in Cambridge (Drabble 1988: 95). However, her
chances as a person highly qualified in Wordsworth, Chaucer or Eliot
were rather poor. Rosemary Crompton, an accredited professor of
sociology, claims that in the period of labour shortage, women have
been overtly or covertly recruited as less advantaged workers even
when relatively well qualified (Crompton 1992: 66). And Drabble
declares that the moment of bitter awaking came after the interview
that made her look at the sample examination papers with alarm and
concluded that she was lamentably ignorant about the way the world
worked (Drabble 1988: 95). While the numbers of [working class]
women (single or married) at work, either full-time or part-time, went
up by 1.4 million between 1961 and 1971 (Hopkins 1991: 163), Alix
as a fresh graduate received only a few job offers which mostly
involved trainee courses. Whats more, the Careers Adviser gave her
various leaflets, told her about trainee courses at the BBC, and sent
her off for a two-day inspection of the Civil Service (Drabble 1988:
95). Alix immediately rejected the idea. She appears to be looking
forward to the possibility of becoming an ordinary housewife, but the
truth might be hidden somewhere else. She is surely well-aware that
83

in comparison with the seriously looking young men who in their


early twenties, before taking their Finals, were already worried about
their pensions, and their wifes pension (Drabble 1988: 95) had
hardly any chance to become the favoured candidate. The reliable
sources state that the selection of junior staff engaged in clerical and
manual work was based on fair and open competition (Britain 1986:
59). Alix with her knowledge of English literature could not compete.
Nevertheless, there was no complaint on her side:
She was happy. She would marry Sebastian, she would never
have to go back to cold and sooty Leeds to drink brown soup
and eat gristle stew with dark greens and mashed potatoes.
Sebastian bought her a ring, with a little gold heart and an
inscription. Forever, it was said, in Victorian script (Drabble
1988: 95 96).
Fortunately, in the late twentieth century, it seemed that British
government was finally for the first time willing to express its
agreement

with

feminine

strong-mindedness

by

passing

two

important legislative acts:


In 1970 the first British conference of the Womens
Liberation movement in Oxford resolved to press for
employment legislation. That same year Barbara Castle as
Secretary of State for employment introduced the Equal Pay
bill. It was enacted in 1975 together with the Sex
Discrimination bill. The laws have not proved perfect, but
they provided a legal framework for change (URL 53).
They both make the discrimination between men and women
unlawful in employment, education, training and the provision of
housing, goods, facilities and services (Britain 1986: 27). Yet, the
radical changes did not prevent ardent feminists, including Dr
Germaine Geer [1939-], who published the best-selling The Female
Eunuch in 1970 (Hopkins 1991: 171) from complaining about
remaining social inequalities within male and female relationship. Dr
Germaine Geer is considered to be one of the most significant
feminist voices of the later 20th century (URL 66). In her
84

revolutionary work Geer argues that women do not realise how much
men hate them, and how much they are taught to hate themselves
(URL 66). Drabbles Rita Ablewhite is depicted as a mother who, under
the impact of her husbands criminal behaviour, suppressed her
maternal instincts and became solidly absent, a constant and
insoluble distress, a damaged being, a victim, a mystery. Too painful,
too inexplicable to contemplate (Drabble 1988: 138). Drabble
amplifies this point further when she describes confused feelings of
Ritas daughter Liz, during her adolescence:
Her mother being mad, and madly fastidious, there was
nobody to warn her about the onset of adult life, of bodily
changes. She knew about menstruation from school friends,
from advertisements in magazines, from labels on discreet
packets of sanitary towels read sideways in the chemists.
But nobody thought to warn her of the changes that precede
menstruation, and she had thought herself uniquely
diseased (Drabble 1988: 139).
The Female Eunuch evocated a wave of contradictory opinions
which made Dr Geer state clearly her provocative point of view in
public. In one of many interviews for the New York Times in 1971 Geer
said:
Women have somehow been separated from their libido,
from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've
become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who
are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's
ulterior motives - to be fattened or made docile - women
have been cut off from their capacity for action. It's a
process that sacrifices vigour for delicacy and succulence,
and one that's got to be changed (URL 66).
Drabble identifies this form of suspicion when she makes additional
comments on Ritas reaction to the weird conditions of her daughters
underwear writing that she was angry about her daughters
existence, about her daughters growing, her daughters threatening,
burgeoning flesh (Drabble 1988: 140). She was well-aware of the

85

possible consequences, such as male physical strength and unwanted


pregnancy.
The fear of the physical abuse and rape of women in public
places was generally acknowledged. The use of brute force against
the weak sex is a thorny problem repeatedly questioned throughout
the novel. In one sequence of the plot Alix gets stuck on an empty
motorway in the middle of the night. Despite the considerable
discomfort, she refuses to give in and bravely seeks a possible way
out:
Wherever was the telephone? She plodded on. A car slowed
down to inspect her, and she waved at it for help, but it
drove on: kerb crawling seemed an unlikely pastime on such
a night as this, think of her discomfort, but one never knew,
some people were desperate. Maybe she presented a mad, a
formidable figure, as she walked alone through the darkness
in a yellow cagoule, wisps of grayish hair escaping and
blowing in the gale? Motorway rape was a relatively new
phenomenon: women drivers forced off the road, kidnapped,
abducted, raped, hijacked, dumped in distant fields or
trussed in warehouses. Alix fingered the stubby smooth
closed heavy knife. She refused to be afraid of her fellow
citizens. She refused. Defiantly, she put up her thumb for the
next passing car (which ignored or did not see her), but a
moment later caught sight of the welcoming phone (Drabble
1988: 277).
In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate
against men and women on the ground of sex and marriage. The Act
concerned

employment,

education,

training,

harassment,

the

provision of goods and services, and the disposal of premises. (URL


67). It is noteworthy to illustrate an example on Lizs attitude to her
husband Charles when Drabble lets him complain about his spouses
mocking behaviour:
She had become knowing, prescient. She had spoken
sharply, foreknowingly, of his own thoughts, of the thoughts
and actions of his colleagues: she had treated them, and him
with scant respect, as though his world were trivial,
superficial. Hew own had seemed to her solid, deep, serious;
86

once too often she had made him feel that his was hollow,
timeserving, transient, peopled by boys playing grown-up
power games, while she attached herself to the timeless, the
adult. She had excluded him from her knowingness, had
indulged him with titbits, in passing. She had sapped his
energy: he had felt it begin to wane (Drabble 1988: 115).
A distinctive change that might be visible in Drabbles literary
work of the 1970s is her increased interest in the social environment
depicted in her later novels. The newly emerged radical and socialist
feminist attitudes made her change the point of view. Instead of
telling a bare personal story of one individual, Drabble tries to
emphasize their social status in the patriarchal British society. Her
novels of that time get rather a complex view of the unstable political
situation inside the country than deal with an uneasy fate of a single
woman. The narrative displaces the individual with the collective.
(URL 68). Such an approach suddenly makes from Drabbles heroines
typical examples of contemporary British class system, and the
author treats them without feminine point of view. Nevertheless, in
one of her numerous interviews Margaret Drabble said, I do call
myself a feminist. I am a feminist. Im not the kind of feminist that
some feminist are, but I would say that I am a feminist. I want to get
that clear (URL 48). Her speech evidently points out at the thirdwave feminism of the 1990s in which the f-word became too
shameful to admit, with lots of women prefacing their opinions with
Im not a feminist, but . (URL 53).
Nevertheless, T. H. Marshall [1893-1981], a reputable British
sociologist, claimed that the twentieth century had been the decade
of social citizenship (Crompton 1992: 63). The central focus of the
second wave [feminism] was on total gender equality women as a
group having the same social, political, legal and economic rights that
men have (URL 71). From the late 1960s women strove to extend the
range

of

their

social

opportunities

limited

by

the

continuing

significance of traditional gender roles and patterns of socialization.


The numbers of women [married and single] at work, either full-time
87

or part-time, went up by 1.4 million between 1961 and 1971


(Hopkins 1991: 163). By the 1980s it was widely known that female
supporters succeeded in changing the general social attitude. By the
end of the century it was normal for a married woman to work to
have her own career.
Finally, women were allowed to rise up from their domestic
servility (URL 72) and gain much stronger power in marriage,
education, employment and law. To prove the ongoing process of
emancipation, the solid symbol of this era became a woman, Margaret
Thatcher. The only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who
was so much hated and adorned by her nation. Brian Bowen, an
ardent supporter of Yorkshire miners in 1984 and 1985, expresses his
feelings about this resolute woman by claiming in one part of the
storyline:
Brian says everyone is very nice. Another pause, as Alix
relays this comment to Brian. Alix says: Brian says to say
that he doesnt think Dr Streeter is very nice. Or Mrs
Thatcher. Or Mr McGregor.
Of those, I only count Dr Streeter, says Esther. Brian
doesnt know Mrs Thatcher and Mr McGregor. He might quite
well decide he liked them if he did.
Another pause. Brian says, fair enough, but unlikely, says
Alix.
(Drabble 1988: 216)
There have been many opposing views on Margaret Thatchers
appearance in the political leadership of the country. Many feminist
theories discussed the effect of her rare success on the public welfare
of ongoing female emancipation. Shirley Williams [1930-], a Labour
MP and academic, states that Thatcher did very little by being a
woman, she did it by being herself (URL 64). Another Labour Party
politician, Patricia Hewitt [1948-], asserts that: Margaret Thatcher
broke through the glass ceiling in politics. But it is a tragedy that,
having become the UKs first women prime minister, she did so much
to undermine the position of women in society (URL 64). Elizabeth
Meehan came to the conclusion that the social policies of the
Thatcher administration, not explicitly or necessarily about women,
88

have particularly adversely affected women (Meehan 1990: 202).


She is persuaded that:
Decisions about staffing levels and service provision in the
health and social services have affected womens
employment opportunities, their own well-being and have
increased their responsibilities for dependants. Education
and training policies have also had direct and indirect
adverse consequences for women. New Right policies link
ideas
about
economic
libertarianism
and
social
conservatism, a combination which makes many people
pessimistic about the prospects for womens liberation
(Meehan 1990: 202).
Not all women had to bitterly face the harsh realities of life in
Thatchers Britain. Such an example is Drabbles heroine Liz
Headleand who is so well placed that she almost suspects herself of
an exceptional cunning, of having foreknown that she would find
herself here without Charles, in 1980, with her own life still to
consolidate (Drabble 1988: 181). In the late twentieth century the
number of women in managerial and other highly paid jobs
reasonably increased. Such a change also meant a shift into a higher
income group. Drabble presents a shining example of what a
determined young woman with a university degree could do to
change her stereotypical destiny since the 1970s forward on Lizs
social advancement, her move to the upper-middle class:
They needed a large house, with four children already,
possibly more to come, with a housekeeper and an au pair
girl: impossible to survive much longer in their cramped,
narrow, bijou terrace in Fulham. From Fulham to Harley
Street was an extravagant removal, not the kind of move
that young professional couples made, in those days, but the
Headleands, ambitious, imaginative, self-appointed pioneers
of they knew not what, had done it, and with aplomb. The
house, in 1980, would be worth, their friends enviously
muttered, perhaps a million, perhaps more. True, the rates
had soared, but so had the Headleands incomes. It now
lodged not only what was left of the Headleand family, but
also the private part of Lizs practice, and the practices of
two of her colleagues: a shared secretary had taken over
89

what had once been an au pair girls flat. A going concern, a


successful enterprise (Drabble 1988: 17-18).

7. Political and social reforms in the country


When nothing is sure, everything is possible.
Margaret Drabble
Whenever Drabble describes the contemporary English society,
she talks about the shape of an onion with a few people on the top
and a few people at the bottom, but the vast majority in the middle.
And it is the realistic picture of the different life style of English
southern and northern middle-class inhabitants what have become a
90

regular source for her trilogy. Together with the capital city, London,
which is used as a focal point and which in the 1980s turned into a
lively place full of new ideas, freedom, culture, music and fashion.
However, in Drabbles novels the differences between the two
genders and among the sharply defined social classes are more than
visible. As an example may be used the contrast between Celias
quiet, old-fashioned, middle-class life in the Yorkshire countryside and
the noisy, energetic and luxurious lifestyle of Sally and Stella, her
aunts two teenage daughters living in London. While the seventeenyear-old Celia secretly dreams about the radiant way out, studying
hard for her A-levels, the other two girls reap the full benefits of the
metropolitan town. Drabble compares the differences writing:
Lizs daughters Sally and Stella do not seem to suffer from morbid
intensity. They dissipate their energies in a hundred directions, they
are always out and about, rushing and restless. London life. The street
life of the 1970s, the 1980s, with its affectation of working-class
manners and speech, its toughness, its colour. Celia leads a
protected, quiet, refined life, in Northam. A provincial life, a middleclass life, an old-fashioned life. (Drabble 1988: 199)
Drabble is considered to be the master of social observation.
She compares different panoramas of the rich south and the poor
north part of the country, she writes about differences in education,
culture and social attitudes of local people. As a vivid example of such
social

differences

might

be

used

the

description

of

Charles

Headleands feelings to his aunt living in the country:


A few families in a Country Village. A few families in a small,
densely populated, parochial, insecure country. Mothers,
fathers, aunts, stepchildren, cousins. Where does the story
begin and where does it end? Even Charles Headleand has
an aunt, though you would not think it to look at him across
a board-room table, across an editorial desk, to watch him
address a meeting. He is ashamed of his aunt. She is a
woman of the greatest, the most unself-conscious
eccentricity. She runs the village shop. He would not like
Lady Henrietta to meet his aunt. His aunt, however, expects
91

to meet Lady Henrietta. I wonder what Jane Austen would


say. (Drabble 1988: 172)
Another effective comparison is made when Drabble writes
about Lizs memories of the old times spent in native Northam.
Among the differences which have occurred during the long time of
her prolonged absence, Liz notices a distinctive change in the smell
of local people. The waiters in black with white aprons had smelled
human, of heat and seat. Everybody had smelled more, in the old
days. Only deep poverty and eccentricity smell, these days (Drabble
1988: 355) .Drabble aims to stress the fact that while the radiant
south of the country was leading its life through luxury, the north
part, mainly Northam, was suffering from mass unemployment and
serious economic instability. The different living conditions, the
growing greed and selfishness in people, accompanied by the
increasing dissatisfaction and violence of British adolescents are the
main problems depicted in the first volume of the trilogy.
Drabble uses a certain hint of the same rebellion mood to depict
one of her minor characters, Ursula, who arrived in London from
Manchester to study, and took up residence in Esthers small spare
dark-blue room (Drabble 1988: 106). She came there to study and
enjoy the ongoing radical changes in the social life of Londoners. At
that time, the capital city was an amazingly open place brimful of new
tastes in music, fashion and culture. Everything was possible and
everything was allowed. The number of strikes and dissatisfaction
among local people started moving ahead. Thus Ursula, instead of
proper studies, was getting more and more attracted to the forbidden
site of the society:
Her niece Ursula, who has a taste for the louche, likes it immensely, strikes
up terrible friendship in public houses and on street corners, sits drinking
cans of beer with impossible people in condemned and boarded cottages in
the middle of rubble wastes. The Apocalypse Hotel is her favoured
rendezvous. (Drabble 1988: 192)

92

In its beginning, The Radiant Way expresses hopes of the 1980s


for better and more righteous society led by the newly elected
Conservative Party. People are persuaded that the era of the Winter
Discontent is definitely over and that the turn of the new decade with
Margaret

Thatcher

as

the

competent

leader

will

secure

the

establishment of the longed-for social concerns. This hope is


noticeable in Lizs decision to raise her family in better conditions of
the newly bought house than she once experienced:
Liz loved the house, she loved the neighbourhood. It gave
her great delight, to see her children and Charless, here,
thus, in the centre. Her own childhood had been lived on the
margins: she had wanted theirs to be calm, to be spared the
indignities of fighting unnecessary territorial and social wars.
They would have greater freedom thus, she argued. Charles
shared this faith. His own childhood, though markedly less
stenuous, less arduous than Lizs, had not been without its
privations, its humiliations. He liked the centre as much as
Liz herself. (Drabble 1988: 18)
Nevertheless, the first heady days of joy and desire slowly turn
into the period of the dreadful governments cuttings, increasing level
of unemployment, growing violence on streets and the lack of moral
values among young people. In one sequence of the plot Shirleys
mother-in-law says on the account of her grandchildren who left for
the disco: In my dayNew Years Eve was a family evening, young
people didnt just suit themselves. We all used to be together on New
Years Eve, didnt we, Dad? (Drabble 1988: 49)
Such a mixture of blind alleys inside the gradually corrupted
British society is the location into which Drabble sets the destiny of
the three female characters. These college-educated, middle-aged
women serve as embodiments of the particular culture and class the
middle one. Their everyday lives are full of conflicts between their
careers and responsibilities as wives and mothers. Drabble wrote
about the time:

93

But I think that the feminist movement didnt really get


going until the late 1960s and I began writing in the early
1960s. Its as though it was gathering strength at exactly the
time I began writing. There were a lot of coincidences. Its as
though it was a Zeitgeist really. It was a Zeitgeist of human
response to a lot of economic factors and I was part of it and
I felt in the mainstream. I dont know but I did then. I didnt
think I was part of it, but it was there and it was only when I
started writing that other people said to me: I agree with
you. They said, Yes, Im part of it that too. So its as
though it all began to cohere in the movement. (URL 48)
In the flow of the storyline Drabble starts to perceive Britain as
a shabby place, suffering from distress and discomfort caused by
severe economic crisis. In the decade of the 1970s the whole country
found itself under threats from the irresponsibility of its political
representatives who managed to lead the place from a prosperous
post-war time almost to a total economic collapse in 1973.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the United Kingdom was
sometimes known as the sick man of Europe because of industrial
strife and poor economic performance compared to other European
countries, culminating with Winter of Discontent of 1978-1979 (URL
49). The whole situation got even worse under the influence of
frequent strikes triggered by continuously dissatisfied trade unions. In
the novel Drabble depicts a growing amount of pressure, vanity,
outrage and disbelief among local inhabitants by Liz Headleand
comments on her husbands unsuccessful attempt to shoot a
documentary saying she did not think Charles vulnerable, was
surprised and rather touched to find him so, in these power struggles
of the late sixties and early seventies, as the television unions flexed
their muscles, as teachers and nurses and other nice people watched
and worried and learned how to strike (Drabble 1988: 177-178). The
self-assured

behaviour

of

trade

unions

raised

discontent

and

increased the number of mostly needles strikes in the country. One of


such a ridiculous stoppage of work is described in the following part:

94

On a Friday night in November in 1972 it flowed, at the end


of a day of disaster, when fifty men had come out on strike
because a technician had driven a van from one end of a car
park to the other to unload some equipment at Charless
request: work had stopped on several programmes,
recriminations had buzzed furiously round high and low
places, settlements were offered and rejected and
renegotiated and finally accepted, and Charles had raged,
stormed, and handed in his resignation. (Drabble 1988: 178)

7.1 The first crushing blow


The plot of the fictitious novel Radiant Way, a novel which
provides a vivid and penetrating portrait of an entire [British]
society (URL 29), is set in England of the late part of the twentieth
century, beginning with the joyful New Years Eve party in celebration
of the promising 1980s, which is being thrown in London. In the
general election of 1979, the prospering innovative situation in
southern part of the country resulted in the landslide victory of
Conservatives, whereas the vision of better future of steel, coal
mining, car and shipbuilding industries was slowly dying in the north.
In the late 1970s Britain found itself in a tight spot caused by a
gradual economic decline and worldwide recession. The Labour
government with its political leader James Callaghan [1912 2005]
was not able to fulfill its electoral promises because of the wave of
mass discontent over the pay restraint which culminated in a number
of general strikes over the winter 1978 79. Later on Sunny Jim
admitted that in the Winter of Discontent he had let the country
down (URL 30). On 3rd of May 1979, 10 Downing Street could again
see waving the blue colour when the Conservative party with its first
female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, took the lead on the
domestic ground, with the anti-government slogan Labour isnt
working (URL 100). It gave an impulse to the brave socialist hopes in
the north of the country:

95

Further out, in the fashionable village-suburb of


Breasbrough, civic spirits were high at a New Years Eve
party, where left-wing councillors, left-wing teachers, leftwing journalists, left-wing social workers and a few agnostic
entrepreneurs raised their glasses and looked forward to the
exhilarating confrontation of the approaching steel strike:
they were high on a recent freak by-election in the
neighbourhood which had reversed the national trend to the
Right and given, in their own view, a renewed popular
blessing to their defiant, daring programme of high social
expenditure. Socialism begins at home, they told one
another as they filled their glasses with Oake and Nephews
Special Christmas Offer Beaujolais. (Drabble 1988: 48)
What is noticeable in this extract is the contrast between the
declining state of British steel industry and the successful wine
production of developed France. The planned modernization hit the
overseas continent much later than most other European countries.
Home sales in 1979 were the lowest because of the steep fall in
customers demands and thus industrial profit caused by strong price
competitiveness and international recession. According to the ingoing
prime minister British goods could have been made attractive only if
they could compete with the best on offer from other countries, in
respect of quality, reliability and price, or some combination of the
three, and the truth was that too often British industrial products were
uncompetitive (Thatcher 1993: 92).
One of the things which are pointed out in the storyline is the
quality of fabrics from which the shiny dresses and suits of strolling
passers-by at Lizs party are made.

The foreign origin is visible

almost on every present cloth and the provided explanation is easy to


follow. The new government formed by the Conservative Party with
Margaret Thatcher as the Prime Minister decided to introduce certain
restrictions in the desperate situation of the home market. These
reforms focused mainly on the reduction of public sector of industry,
introduced in December 1944 under the leadership of the Labour
Party with Clement Attlee in head, and the support of private
ownership. Thatchers main aim was to promote privatization for
which she was strongly criticized. Of course this process had its strong
96

and weak points. On one side, more and more ordinary people started
to buy shares in various companies. On the other side, the number of
the unemployed started to rapidly increase and the home market was
flooded by foreign goods, mostly of Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Mexican
and Taiwan origin, such as the clothes. None of us, thought Liz, is
wearing a dress made in England. Moroccan, Chinese, Indian. I
wonder what that means, thought Liz (Drabble 1988: 23).
In 1980s Japan was one of the most influential countries with
rapid economic growth. In the whole story there are several hints in
connection with this at that time rather developed country. As an
example could be used the moment when Liz declares her desire to
visit Kyoto and Osaka to have a speech about adoption and
stepparents: yes, two weeks in Kyoto and Osaka, it should be quite
fascinating, quite an opportunity to see a completely different
culture... (Drabble 1988: 31).
After gaining the power in the state, Thatcherite thus started to
implement a stricter control of inflation at the cost of frequent cuts.
Some of such necessary reductions portrayed in Radiant Way are
Alixs [literature] classes at Garfield [a centre for female prisoners
and lunatics] which were suspended, cut like the tablecloths,
ostensibly from economy reason (Drabble 1988: 341 342).

The

truth is that in the 1980s there was a considerable fall in educational


standards of the country.
At the beginning of her first term, Thatcher was strongly
supported by some representatives of the northern working class,
mainly because of her campaign focused on the most problematic
issues largely caused by the strong power of the trade unions, such as
high inflation and excessive budget expenditures. Struggles between
unionist shop stewards and management-appointed overseers are
part of twentieth century folklore (ODriscoll 1997: 144). James Prior
[1927-], former Employment Secretary, once said that Thatcher
loathed the trade unions and if she had a free hand their activities
would have been severely curtailed (Childs 1992: 298). Drabble
97

expresses this initial assurance of better life through the lines of Eddie
Duckworth, a manager of a metal company Pitts and Harley, and his
faith that at least a government had been elected that would put a
stop to inflation, high interest rates, rocketing domestic and industrial
rates, shameful capitulation to the unions, centralized bureaucratic
planning and the consequent decay of the manufacturing industries
(Drabble 1988: 48). His final words show a sharp contrast with the
consequential reality. At that time the British believed in the success
of such a big political change, nowadays the strong woman politician
is blamed for increasing unemployment, rapid deindustrialization of
the country and widening the income differences among local people.
Nevertheless, the approaching decade of the 1980s saw in
Thatcher a strong and unyielding woman in so many aspects different
from her governing predecessors, a tough political leader who
stubbornly refused the Keynesian consensus with its nationalisation
to succeed in changing the destiny of the whole nation. One of the
male heroes, Alan Headleand, with his political opinions is a typical
representative of the old Labour Party. In his talk about domestic
current affairs, in one sequence of the plot, he strongly criticizes the
woman prime minister, blaming her for not being enough motherly
to her home country despite being a mother alone (Drabble 1988:
17). The truth is that Margaret Drabble, a member of the newlyelected Conservative Party, has implied rather drastic policy to cut the
high budget deficit.
Her refreshing policy was expected to fulfil many unspoken
hopes of people in the south:
Liz and Charles Headleand have invited them, and
obediently, expectantly, they will go, dragging along their
tired flat feet, their aching heads, their over-fed bellies and
complaining livers, their exhausted opinions, their weary
small talk, their professional and personal deformities, their
doubts and enmities, their blurring vision and thickening
ankles, in the hope of a miracle, in the hope of a midnight
transformation, in the hope of a new self, a new life, a new,
redeemed decade. (Drabble 1988: 1)
98

Margaret Thatcher believed that the existing trend of unions was


bringing economic progress [of the country] to a standstill by
enforcing wildcat strikes, keeping wages artificially high and forcing
unprofitable industries to stay open (URL 31). The government
inclined to the view that outdated plants and redundant jobs should
have made necessary place to the new opportunities. British heavy
and car industries in the 1980s were getting into severe difficulties,
whereas light industry and service trades were promoted. Drabble
uses an example of such industrial contrast for narrating the tragic
destiny of Shirleys husband, Cliff Harper, at first a successful
northerner manager who ends up in huge debts because of his bad
inclination for investments:
Wing mirrors were selling better than they had ever
anticipated, owing partly to a rumour that legislation was
being drawn up to make provision of an offside wing mirror
on all vehicles compulsory. Driving instructors had taken to
recommending them, Ministry of Transport inspectors
recommended them, new cars were built with them as an
obligatory rather than an optional feature. Cliff and Jim were
not interested in the new car market: they assembled an
Attach-It-Yourself model for older cars, to replace damaged
mirrors on newer cars. The parts came from Taiwan, as did
the parts of their other, less briskly selling line of knifespoon-corkscrew-bottle-opener picnic kit. (Drabble 1988:
151)
Cliff Harper finally gassed himself under pressure of overdraft
facilities, unpaid interests, overmanning. But what really got him on
his knees was AIDS and inflation. Where was it going to end?
Inflation made one run to stand still. What if one ran and slipped
backwards? A nightmare world (Drabble 1988: 62).
The hostile situation towards the old industries and workingclass in the country gave rise to an enormous wave of unemployment
and

increased

social

unrest.

Despite

decreasing

number

of

supporters, the prime minister kept sticking to the tough economic


policy planned by Richard Edward Geoffrey Howe [1926-], Margaret
99

Thatchers longest-serving Cabinet minister. It evoked a wave of


hatred and black humour. Margaret Drabble depicts these thoughts
when a loyal left-winger Alan Headleand, a stage director to-be,
explains her step-sister Sally about inflation and unemployment and
monetarism and the economic implications of the new rhetoric
praising the Victorian values of family life (Drabble 1988: 16). Among
other essential information, but probably not so understandable for a
low-experienced womans ear, he is overheard to put the blame for
bad conditions in the country on its prime minister:
He spoke of the state as mother, of the history of those who
clung to the state as mother, of the psychology of those who
wished to orphan themselves from the mother, of the novel
oddity of a woman prime minister who was in fact a mother
but was nevertheless thereby motherly. (Drabble 1988: 17)
Inside the Radiant Way, Drabble deals with rather depraved
English society which in 1979 woke up from the ineffectual labour
dream of the welfare state into the harsh reality of Thatcherite life. In
1977, in her speech in front of the Zurich Economic Society in
Switzerland, the prime minister to-be stated:
We want a society where people are free to make choices, to
make mistakes, to be generous and compassionate. This is
what we mean by a moral society; not a society where the
State is responsible for everything and no one is responsible
for the State. (URL 32)
Thatcher was strongly persuaded that the basic Victorian values, such
as thrift, hard work and traditional family life, which had made
Britain great during the 19th century would make the country great
again under her leadership (URL 33). Drabble uses one of the
promoted characteristic features of humble life in the paradox way
when Alix Bowen, a left-wing teacher, goes over the previous events
of her private life:

100

Thrift is one of Alixs familiars. Thrift does not often leave her
side. Thrift has nearly killed her on several occasions,
through the agency of old sausages, slow-punctured tyres,
rusty blades. Thrift now recommends that she apply the rest
of this blob to her complexion rather than wastefully flush it
away. Thrift disguised as Reason speciously suggests than an
excess of Fluid Foundation on ones face, unlike a poisoned
sausage, will cause no harm. Thrift apologizes, whingeing,
for the poisoned sausage, reminding Alix that she ate it
twenty years ago, when she had no money and needed the
sausage. (Drabble 1988: 2)
At the same conference table the lady in the opposition remarked
that: a free society is morally better ... because it entails dispersal of
power away from the centre to a multitude of smaller groups and
individuals (URL 34). Thatcher wanted to make ordinary people
responsible for their lives and for the good of the whole country.
Liberty and individualism were some of the basic principles of social
mobility

under

the

Conservative

policy.

Other

main

goals

of

Thatcherism, such as the creation of a more competitive economy,


raising Britains status in the world and the defeat of British socialism
[the Labour party] (URL 35) were the fruits of the partys strong will
to

do

something

noticeable

for

the

welfare

of

its

voters.

Unfortunately, the ongoing deindustrialisation posed a major threat to


the standard of living and to the economic and political stability in the
country.
The first group of unsatisfied workers who rose up against the
suggested economic reforms of the Tory party in the nationalised
industry were steel workers. Because the supplies of steel were big
enough not to cause any further worries, the stoppage of work was
launched at the governments instigation. It could only help to hasten
the process of intended restrictions. It was a confrontation which the
unions were determined to avoid, and the government was equally
determined to provoke (URL 36). On 2nd January 1980 most of the
British Steel Corporation furnaces were shut down in support of the
steel mens demand for a 20% pay rise (URL 37). It was the first
massive strike since 1926. After prolonged rounds of negotiations the
101

management came up with a derisory offer of 2% and later of 6%


pay increase, which aroused even stronger resentment towards the
unavoidable

ineffective

staff

reduction

and

unprofitable

plants

closures. For bewildered Margaret Thatcher the BSC inability to tackle


with the difficult situation represented a bad combination of state
ownership and trade unionism (URL 38) and claimed that the
overpriced steel industry was in a serious danger of being
completely pushed out of the world market. What followed was a
thirteen-week long strike which paralysed activity of the whole nation
and which Drabble depicts in Brian Bowens feelings:
He said he would pass the message on, exchanged a little
mild gossip, and returned to marking a pile of essays on
Hard Times, his mind wandering from the texts before him to
the hard times of Northam 1980, and the hard line being
taken by BSC and the unions. He supposed he was well out
of it, but it was uncomfortable, sitting on the sidelines, while
other men marched and picketed. His friend Otto Werner
now tended to blame the unions, for intransigence, for
unrealistic demands, for filing to understand the true and
inevitable economic shift away from the manufacturing
industries, for exacerbating the conflict, but Brian argued
that Otto himself failed to understand the governments
intentions, which were neither realistic nor benevolent: they
want conflict as much as the unions, he would argue.
(Drabble 1988: 209)

It was a long and demanding sit-in that nearly culminated in a general


strike, but which was finally called off on 1st April 1980. On the one
hand, some experts are persuaded that the return to work was a
defeat for the steelworkers, that the TUC had sold out again and the
closure program decimated the steel towns across Britain (URL 39).
On the other hand, most of the strikers argue that they were lions
but they had donkeys for leaders (URL 39). Because the trade
unionist skated on thin ice, they rather chose the easy way out to
survive. Nevertheless, steel workers showed off their class strength
and confidence, managed to increase their monthly payments and
102

made the Conservative government tried hard to defend their position


in the general election of 1983. Margaret Thatchers only salvation
was the unexpected Falklands war [2nd April 1982-3] that helped to
restore the governments popularity and calm down increasing hatred
after the following wave of large-scale redundancies. It seems that
Drabble does not pay too much attention to this politically important
event, because there are only these few lines in the middle of the
book:
These were the years of inner city riots, of race riots in
Brixton and Toxteth, of rising unemployment and riotless
gloom: these were the years of a small war in Falklands
(rather a lot of people dead), and of the Falkland Factor in
politics... (Drabble 1988: 227)
However, the official statistics after 1983 show that Mrs. Thatcher
successfully returned to power in 1983, ready for the big miners
challenge, with unemployment soaring up to 3 million and the closure
of other tens of ineffective plants. Drabble comments on her
characters feelings: Nobody in their right mind, Brian, Alix, and Otto
all agreed, could listen to the Prime Minister saying Rejoice over the
death of hundreds without wincing, could hear a Secretary of State for
Employment tell people to get on their bikes without groaning: yes,
they were agreed on that. (Drabble 1988: 23)

7.2 The second moment of downbeat


Margaret Drabble, nowadays a widely recognized, middle-aged,
female writer, grew up in Sheffield, a metropolitan borough of South
Yorkshire.

Her

personal

childhood

experiences

and

memories

gathered up in Radiant Way reflect everyday life and worries of local


inhabitants. Those working class Yorkshire communities that were, in
the 1980s, dependent on traditional local industries as the main
source of their regular income. Drabble draws her readers nearer to
their hard life through her male protagonist, Brian Bowen. She depicts
103

the destiny of this loyal supporter of the Labour party in connection


with the approaching miners strike:
Brians father had worked all his life at Pitts and Harley,
hammering circular saws. His fathers father had been a
furnace-man, and his father before him. Brian had been
brought up in the heart of urban England, in industrial
Yorkshire. He had attended the local school, where he
neither shone nor offended. When he was little, he wanted to
be a policeman. A town child, and insider, one of the boys.
(Drabble 1988: 158)
The unavoidable collapse of the coal mining industry in the
northern area under Margaret Thatchers constant pressure of
accelerated closure made a dramatic change in his destiny. After the
victorious general election of 1983, the Conservatives continued to
close down the less effective pits outside the Yorkshire area, one by
one. It raised frequent disputes of the working class organizations of
trade unions under Arthur Scargills leadership throughout the
country.

Nicholas

Jones,

former

BBC

political

correspondent

declares: By the time Mr Scargill took the helm, miners were among
the highest-paid industrial workers in the country and they were often
asked to support other groups fighting for higher wages (URL 40).
But thanks to his decision that a national ballot (a new law to stop
widespread strikes) was not needed, the strength and growth of the
coal-mining industry turned overnight into a bad nightmare:
The Notts (Nottinghamshire) miners were so aggrieved by
Scargills headlong action that not only did many of them
continue working, but they set up a new union of their own,
the Union of Democratic Mineworkers. Thus the miners were
split, and great bitterness resulted, not only between
families but even between working and striking members of
the same family. (Hopkins 1991: 226)
Drabbles attempt is to remind her readers of the devastating
consequences of the fatal struggle for better wages and conditions
in the North of England. Communities had been devastated ant left
104

to rot, receiving not an ounce of help from the government that had
wielded the sword that had cut the very lifeline that the communities
had depended on, the coal pits (URL 41). The debris of once powerful
coal-mining and also steel industries is visible on many spots
throughout the northern countryside. Drabble provides this impressive
description in the Radiant Way:
The old manufacturing neighbourhood had begun to take on
a new kind of grimness: it had never been pretty, but it had
possessed a certain dignity, to some a homely dignity, and
the extraordinary jumble of architecture styles nineteenthcentury factories, tall chimneys, huge buttressed walls, small
squeezed lingering eighteenth-century domestic dwellings
and public houses, cheap post-war ad hoc factories and
offices, railway bridges, gas cylinders, weed-blooming canal
banks, the odd cosmetic 1970s face-lift offered a variety, a
visual and human richness, a weathered and seasoned
history of the citys prosperous past and present. But now
there was an ominous slowing of the pulse: the age of the
buildings and the neighbourhood was beginning to tell, a
forlorn guest blew coldly down the empty streets, rust ate
quietly at machinery, brick dust sifted from crumbling
ledges, dirty glass panes slowly splintered as window frames
rotted. The poetry of neglect. (Drabble 1988: 150-151)
Events leading up to the crushing defeat of the exploitive power
of the trade unions started shortly after the troublesome steel strike
of 1980 and the Falklands successful recovery of 1983. On the basis of
the previous experience Margaret Thatcher became the nemesis of
the trade union movement. She was not afraid of the lengthy battle
which followed. According to the recommendations drawn up in the
Ridley Plan of 1974, she got ready well in advance with huge stocks
of coal [which] had been built up at power stations around the
country (URL 42). In addition, most British households and official
buildings had been long before equipped with oil or gas central
heating to avoid the probable problems with the coal shortage. Alix
Bowen comments on the stopgap measures and economic cuts in the
country when she points out that the tablecloth of Garfield vanished,
as she had known they would, while the central heating continued
105

inexorably to overheat its inmates despite frequent requests for a


lowering of the temperature (Drabble 1988: 243).
One of the present demonstrators said: Everyone could see
that this fight was going to be their fight, because [Thatcher] was
determined to smash all the unions (URL 43). Maggie would do
anything to win the one-year-long struggle in seeking revenge for
Edward Heaths loss ten years earlier. On 19th July 1984, during one
of her numerous speeches on behalf of her strict reactions towards
the miners riots, she was heard to proclaim: We had to fight the
enemy without in the Falklands. We always have to be aware of the
enemy within, which is much more difficult to fight and more
dangerous to liberty (URL 44).
To react against the militant miners, she willingly appointed Ian
MacGregor, who had already once before proved his ability of an
intransigent butcher in the steel workers revolt. According to one of
Thatchers biographers, Ian MacGregor was the right man in this place
because he had turned the BSC from one of the least efficient steelmakers in Europe to one of the most efficient, nearly bringing the
company into profit (URL 45). Because of his merciless tactics, Ian
MacGregor, a tough and resolute Scottish American manager (URL
46), was not very popular among the British Labour. Drabble points
this out when she writes:
Brian says everyone is very nice. Another pause, as Alix
relays this comment to Brian. Alix says: Brian says to say
that he doesnt think Dr. Streeter is very nice. Or Mrs
Thatcher. Or Mr McGregor.
Of those, I only count Dr Streeter, says Esther. Brian
doesnt know Mrs Thatcher and Mr McGregor. He might quite
well decide he liked them if he did.
(Drabble 1988: 216)
In this extract Drabble also stresses McGregors origin. Sir Ian
Kirlich MacGregor (1912 1998) was called for his tough and
uncompromising business methods of 1984-5 as The American
butcher of British industry (URL 28). In 1983 Thatcher was strongly
106

determined to change the declining situation of British coal-pits, and


thus appointed MacGregor the head of the National Coal Board (NCB),
giving him extra privileges to close down the most uneconomic ones.
The period which followed was full of revolts, strikes and the
increasing number of the unemployed. What should be highlighted is
the American spelling of his surname. Despite his Scottish origin,
MacGregor spent most of his life in the USA.
Moreover, Eric Hopkins adds that this strike resulted from
proposals made in March 1984 by Ian MacGregor, the new chairman
of the NCB, to cut output by 4 million tons, and to get rid of 20,000
jobs, but without dismissals the job losses would be achieved by
natural wastage, or by voluntary and compensated redundancies
(Hopkins 1991: 224). Such a decision caused a contradictory attitude
towards the desperate economic situation:
Throughout the strike miners were often very isolated from
popular opinion across the country, while many areas of
North of England and Wales were supportive of the strike,
the mass hysteria cooked up by the capitalist press (The Sun
and the Daily Mail in particular, who kept up a smear
campaign against the strike throughout) and the
scaremongering of the Thatcher government caused many
people in the South of England (excluding Kent) to view the
strike with suspicion, and at odds with their interests. (URL
41)
The first point which is difficult to agree with is the steel strike in
1984. It is true that the prominent year caused significant troubles,
but not on the side of steel workers who refused to take part because
of the fear for their own jobs. Miners were the ones who decided to
fight for better working conditions. Ian MacGregor, the new chairman
of the NCB, was supposed to get rid of 20,000 redundant workers on
behalf of more profitable coal industry. According to Margaret
Thatcher the worst moment came with the riot at the Orgreave coke
store near Sheffield in May 1984, when over 6,000 miners and 3,300
policemen were involved. The final results of this violent period are
then described in the latter part of the book as Alix Bowen, the
107

second main protagonist, and her husband Brian move to Northam in


despair of their nearest future.
Drabble depicts both public approaches towards the last
artificially prolonged struggles of old age (Drabble 1988: 343) in the
inner thoughts of her main protagonist, Alix Bowen. Her personality is
split between the role of a supportive wife and a person with a
realistically suspicious point of view. She agrees with her husband
that the cause of all this pain, this grinding, this deep misery, is the
economic system itself. The system under which she lives (Drabble
1988: 342). Nevertheless, deep in her soul she feels that Brians world
of long worshipped old wooden cotton reel [Labour party] slowly
fades away and the world of modern technology with computers and
microchips are nearing the future. She inclines to believe that the
change is necessary. Even if she is still in doubts, she approves of
Otto Werners [the Bowens long-term friend and a political member of
SDP] explanation that the country must go ahead and Drabble uses
these words:
Otto Werner had never worshipped and old wooden cotton
reel: he was not entranced by the past. He was a refugee. He
believed in the future. He believed that the British Labour
movement in general, the manufacturing North more
specifically, and Brian Bowen his old friend in person were all
in danger of worshipping an old wooden cotton reel. Some
called it class solidarity. (Drabble 1988: 234)
The reason why Drabble describes Werner with the tag refugee must
be because of his political identity. The party of Social Democrats
consisted partly of former Labour and Conservative representatives
who left their sides in 1981 on the basis of significant changes of
Britain domestic policy. Its members were mostly people who
emphasized

the

middle

way

between radical

interventions

of

Thatcherism and too left-wing opinions of the Labour party.


As the guests move around the room of Lizs luxurious house, it
might easily happen that two former friends, but now obstinate
enemies accidently bump into each other and thus cause a strong
108

argument. Giles and Paul Hargreaves are both representatives of the


same political party: the ghastly, trailing decaying albatross-corpse
of the Left (Drabble 1988: 33), but now divided by their strong
political believes on two sides, the old Labours and the new ones who
in 1981 formed a more radical left wing the Social Democratic Party.
Another reason, in this case, might be the fact that some of the
former party members were strongly against the idea of abolishing
Clause 4. This piece of legal writing was treated by indisputable
believers as a real certificate of socialism, something which is
seriously important to keep in mind. The Clause Four Bourbons were
called those who wanted to return to the basic socialist principles.
This Labour belief is commented through the words of one of the
attackers: There go the 1970s, commented Hargraves, there go
the drinking seventies (Drabble 1988: 34). Surely not connected
with the amount of alcohol they both have drunk. It is well-known that
bourbon with a little b is a kind of American whisky. This should be
taken as one of the funny moments in the novel. Drabble is persuaded
that most of her works are readable and amusing.

Some readers

disagree with this idea claiming that they are confusing instead.
At that time the national media, television and newspapers,
were full of fresh news about everyday picketing. Having moved to
Northam, Alix could not even believe how violent the riots frequently
were, how many innocent lives were lost and how much the relatives,
wives and girlfriends of striking miners were forced to suffer:
It was the continued sight of violent struggles on their
television screens, together with the defiant speeches of
Arthur Scargill, usually couched in the most belligerent and
class-conscious terms, which did much to alienate middleclass opinion. The Labour Party expressed sympathy for the
miners, but could scarcely condone the violence or the
breaking of the law. (Hopkins 1991: 226)
After the miners defeat, the right-wing press was accused of
spreading out deliberate lies about the sequence of events and thus
leaving the strikers constantly under attack (URL 41). Meanwhile,
109

Anne Suddick, a secretary working for the NUM, confirms that the
strike had turned the lives of many women upside down. She claims
that it happened even if it was just that they didnt read the Sun or
didnt believe everything they saw on the TV news because their
husband had come back off the picket line and told them what had
really happened (URL 47). Madeline Butterfield is persuaded that
the strike was an opportunity for everyone to discover what their
talents and capabilities were and to put them into practice (URL 41).
And Alix Bowen sits in the comfort of her northerner house, hopelessly
stares at the TV screen and thinks her life over:
Alix watched images of the miners strike on television. She
watched the police in their riot gear. She watched charging
horses. She listened to miners wives speaking of solidarity.
She heard the leader of the miners union speak of certain
victory. She saw blazing cars, upturned vans. Alone, she sat
and watched and listened, hour after hour. What was it she
felt? A kind of terrible grinding disaffection. As though the
plates of her mind were rubbing and grating against one
another. Arthritically, incurably: an invisible, internal
inflammation. (Drabble 1988: 342)

The fight was unequal. The uncompromising hands of Margaret


Thatcher kept a strict check on the struggling mining communities
and the families in them were forced to live from hand to mouth. But
women did not give up and vehemently supported their beloved ones
with plenty of stamina and courage. Barbara Williams, a miners wife
and support group activist, once said: Women were never the main
thing in the strike but I think without them a lot of men would have
cracked (URL 43). They managed to organize huge collections of
various stuff not only in Britain, but also on the European continent,
the more developed countries such as Germany, France and Belgium
gladly provided food and toys. Drabble comments:
The miners went on holidays by the Black Sea.
110

The miners pawned their wedding rings and their silver


photo frames.
The miners ate well in soup kitchens, on food parcels from
rich Marxists in the Home Counties.
The babies of miners suffered acute malnutrition.
Miners threw bricks through the windows of miners.
Miners were peaceful, home-loving folk who loved their old
grannies.
Miners beat their wives.
The wives of miners stood bravely on picket lines.
(Drabble 1988: 343)
In this sequence Drabble satirically comments on the painful
circumstances of the final impact of the lost strike. It is true that
Soviet trade unionists provided some donated money, but they also
supplied Britain with Polish coal. The strikers were left unemployed, it
was impossible for them to bring home the wanted bacon, but they
were provided supplies of food by the European countries. Not all
miners participated in the riot because they were afraid of losing their
jobs. Miners believed in the old regime as Brian Bowen. And finally,
without their supportive wives they would not manage to get so far.

111

8. Conclusion
I need words and print... I need print like an addict. I could live without it, perhaps.
But I hope I never have to try.
Margaret Drabble
In summary, the main aim of this diploma thesis was to compare the reality
depicted in Margaret Drabbles novel of fiction, The Radiant Way, to the bibliographical
entries written down by the contemporary experts in the particular fields. The main task
was based on setting the similarities and differences between the authors evidence and
the historical, political and social records stated in the primary informal sources listed in
the bibliography.
It was a really interesting research to carry out, because not many contemporary
Czech readers have a good chance of flicking through the pages of Margaret Drabbles
outstanding novels. But if they are curious enough and manage to pick up one of the
many impressive titles, it might easily happen that the storyline will lead them to places
they know nothing about, probably because of their age or origin. The same happened to
Esther Breuer in The Radiant Way with the novel Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen.
When she finally finished the last chapter, she put the book down with words: Too
English for me (Drabble 1988: 84). The Radiant Way, Margaret Drabbles tenth novel,
an acute and passionate chronicle (URL 29) which records the powerful radical
political and economical changes of the 1980s, must obviously seem too English to all
young readers, unaware of their full impact on the British nation.
Being herself a young woman in the Thatcherite era and thus strongly influenced
by the emotional upheaval of traditional feminine roles, Drabble decided to put her
gained experiences into the literary output. Writing about women who were suddenly
encouraged on their way to the radiant future, profoundly affected by the unhappy
events in their childhoods, make it possible for Drabble to provide convincing evidence
difficult to distinguish from the real life. Nevertheless, while praised for their
demanding contents, The Radiant Way (1987) and A Natural Curiosity (1989), the
subsequent novel in the trilogy, met critical comments for their postmodern narrative
experiments and unwieldy incorporation of myriad social, political, and historical
issues (URL 83).
What is important to point out in the writers defence is the fact that all her
written works starting from her first attempts at a feminist novel, A Summer Birdcage
112

(1964), and finishing at an ironically titled chronicle of the first half of the 1980s, are
only bare words printed on blank sheets of paper. It depends on the author herself what
language means she decides to use to transmit the chosen message to her readers. Thus,
the feminist issues depicted in most of Drabbles novels might be considered fictitious
worries of the imaginary reality. However, when the novels achieve the target readers,
and they become immersed in their first pages, the authentic accounts of life mixed with
the autobiographical memories start to reveal. How very true that fantasy is used as a
possibility to capture the memorable moments of the fleeting reality.
In one of her books Drabble noted down this declaration: The whole concept of
storytelling, of intertextuality, is fascinating, but I suppose I cling, possibly vainly, to the
faith that behind the story, theres a sequence of events, and if I tell enough stories, I
will find the true story, the true story (URL 86). It proves Drabbles natural inclination
to participate at the end of a dying literary tradition that she respects rather than to join
ranks at the forefront of one she dislikes (URL 83). This seems to be the reason why
such well-known names as Jane Austen or Charles Dickens seep through the realistic
meaning of The Radiant Way.
It is important to summarize a few of the many conclusions that might be drawn
from the concept of the novel. Firstly, sexuality has become a freely discussed topic.
Such an example might be shown on Liz Headleands shameless feelings of lust firstly
experienced on her fathers knees. On this sequence may be also easily demonstrated
the autobiographical element of the authors own childhood, when in one of the many
interviews talking about her father, a country judge, she bluntly stated:
I did not know him when I was very little, as I was born in 1939, and when
war broke out, he went abroad with the RAF. I didnt recognize him when he
came back from Italy, and he had to win me over, which Im told he did by
sitting on his knee and helping me to learn from that well-known primer The
Radiant Way. (URL 81)
Secondly, although women tend to discuss their maternal responsibilities with
delight, women in the late 1960s were excited about the powerful effects of the pill
which at that time meant the only way out of the unwanted maternity. Unfortunately, the
progress came late for Shirley Harper and her daughter Celia in the storyline of The
Radiant Way.

113

Lizs first husband, Edgar Lintot might be taken as an example of a chauvinistic


man, who is not afraid to use force against his battered, young wife to protect his male
rights. While later on the same, but mature and more experienced Liz, is not afraid to
prove her resistance to patriarchy, at the expense of her broken marriage or the loss of
the sovereign position in the society based on the strong class etiquette.
Besides, contemporary middle-aged women do not longer perceive marriage as
the only chance of getting away from their humble family conditions. They do not
longer have to behave the way as Liz or Alix who had to overtake the marriage bond in
the 1960s to confirm their way out of Northam and Leeds, two former provincial cities.
Nowadays women rather opt for their career in work, their friends or stay in the
company of their pets. In Lizs case, it is a cat preferred to her ex-husband, Charles
Headleand.
Dr. Nora Foster Stovel, one of the major critics of the contemporary times, a
great admirer and specialist in Margaret Drabbles literary career, said about the first
volume of Drabbles planned trilogy that Drabbles moral vision makes her more than
a journalistic chronicler of modern life and that this vision is articulated poetically
(URL 85).
Finally, it is important to draw the conclusion that the similarities between the
reality and the fiction outweigh the differences. The slight discrepancies are masterly
hidden in the flow of the story.

114

9. Resum
Hlavnm clem tto diplomov prce je porovnat relnost Britnie v letech 1980
zachycenou v romnov beletrii Margaret Drabble, Zc cesta, s bibliografickmi
zznamy uvedenmi soudobmi odbornmi znalci v konkrtn vdeck oblasti. Hlavn
kol spov v uren shod a rozdl mezi dobovmi zznamy uvedenmi autorkou v
romnu a historickmi, politickmi, a socilnmi zznamy uvedenmi odbornmi zdroji
zapsanmi v bibliografick sti diplomov prce. Tento vdeck vzkum by rd zjistil,
do jak mry me bt tento romn pokldn za autentickou vpov eny ijc v tto
dob, a do jak mry je obsah romnu ovlivnn autorinmi autobiografickmi
vzpomnkami.
Byla to opravdu zajmav prce provst takovto vzkum, protoe ne mnoho
eskch soudobch ten m monost prolistovat se strnkami autorinch
vjimench romn.
Ke konci diplomov prce se dosplo k zvru, e shody mezi romnem a
odbornmi zznamy pevauj nad jejich nedostatky. Drobn rozdly se dokonale ztrc
v prbhu romnu.

Resume
The main aim of this diploma thesis is to compare the reality of the Britain of the
1980s depicted in Margaret Drabbles novel of fiction, The Radiant Way, to the
bibliographical entries written down by the contemporary experts in the particular
fields. The main task has been based on setting the similarities and differences between
the authors evidence in the novel and the historical, political and social records stated
in the primary informal sources listed in the bibliography of this diploma thesis. This
research would like to find out to what extent this novel might be considered the
authentic account of life of the woman living in that era, and to what extent it was
influenced by the authors autobiographical experiences.
It was really an interesting work to carry out this research, because not many
contemporary Czech readers have a good chance of flicking through the pages of
Margaret Drabbles outstanding novels.
In the end, the diploma thesis came to the conclusion that the similarities
between the reality and the fiction outweigh the differences. The slight discrepancies are
masterly hidden in the flow of the story.
115

10.BIBLIOGRAPHY
Primary Sources
DRABBLE, Margaret. The Radiant Way. 2nd ed. London: Penguin Books, 1988. 396 p.
ISBN 0-14-010168-3
DRABBLE, Margaret. A Natural Curiosity. 2nd ed. London: Penguin Books, 1990. 308
p. ISBN 0-14-012228-1

Secondary Sources
ARNOT, Madelaine (1986). State Education Policy and Girls Educational
Experiences. In Beechey V. & Whitelegg E. (Ed.) (1992). Women in Britain Today.
Buckingham: Open University Press. 216 p. ISBN 0-335-15137-X
LEONARD, Diana, SPEAKMAN, Mary Anne (1986). Women in the Family:
Companions or Caretakers? In Beechey V. & Whitelegg E. (Ed.) (1992). Women in
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11. Appendix
1. Appendix n. 1: Margaret Drabble (photograph)
INTERVIEW. Margaret Drabble. 25 March 2011. Bookgroup.info
20 April 2011
http://www.bookgroup.info/041205/interview.php?id=37
2. Appendix n. 2: The Radiant Way cover (photograph)
The Radiant Way cover. 19 April 2011. Google images 20 April 2011
http://www.google.cz/images?
hl=cs&source=hp&biw=1406&bih=771&q=The+Radiant+Way+cover&btnG=H
ledat+obr%C3%A1zky&gbv=2&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=

128

Appendix n. 1: Margaret Drabble (photograph)

129

Appendix n. 2: The Radiant Way cover (photograph)

130