Margaret Drabble: Existing within Structures

By Mary Hurley Moran | Go to book overview
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Drabble's Dark Universe

Margaret Drabble's novels portray a bleak, often menacing universe, governed by a harsh supernatural force that allows human beings very little free will. This curiously old-fashioned view apears in a fictional world which is otherwise contemporary. Most of her protagonists reflect this paradox: they are intellectual, often cynical people living in a society of existential choices and situational ethics, and yet they use concepts such as providence, sin, and grace in contemplating their lives. In this respect the characters resemble their author. She too lives a sophisticated, contemporary outer life while guided by an inner life replete with Bunyanesque notions, symbols, and fears.1 While unsure of her exact theological stance and beliefs, she continues to be influenced by the religious teachings in her background.2 She grew up in the Yorkshire area, where Methodism, with its emphasis on "bleeding wounds and fountains of blood and loads of sin," had prevailed since the eighteenth century.3 Although her mother eventually rejected religion and became an atheist, Drabble as a child was heavily exposed to her maternal grandparents' hellfire-and-brimstone beliefs.4 She was also, as Valerie Myer demonstrates, influenced by the pervasive puritan climate that has lingered on in the more provincial regions of England. She was infected not only by puritanism's secular attitudes -- hard work, frugality, a strong sense of personal responsibility -- but also by its belief in fate and predestination.

The general influences of puritanism and Methodism are revealed in a number of ways in Drabble's fiction, ranging from the fatalistic universe she portrays to her characters' habits of spiritual introspection and ruminating on Biblical stories.5 Of course, the question of exact causes is always a difficult one to answer, and Drabble's metaphysic is probably not entirely the result of these

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