At the age of forty-two, Margaret Drabble has already produced nine novels and established herself as one of Britain's major living novelists. Her recent appointment to the editorship of the revised Oxford Companion to English literature indicates her growing importance in English letters. And yet this talented writer, who has been hailed as a twentieth-century George Eliot1 and compared favorably with Dickens,2 had planned on an acting, not a literary, career. Although an excellent student of literature -- she read English at Cambridge, graduating with a double-first in 1960 -- she spent her undergraduate years acting in university productions, and upon graduation joined the Royal Shakespeare Company with her husband, Clive Swift, whom she had married just after leaving Cambridge. But fate, in the form of an early pregnancy, changed the course of Drabble's career: her condition radically curtailed the range of roles available to her, and consequently, sitting backstage as an understudy, she turned her energies to writing a novel. This book -- A Summer Bird-Cage, published in 1962 -- was so well received by the critics, and Drabble found writing to be so much more compatible with motherhood, that she dropped her plans for acting and stuck with her new-found career.
It is not surprising, however, that Drabble took up writing so easily, for she comes from a literary, intellectual background. Born in Sheffield in 1939, she was the second of four children (three girls and a boy) of a schoolteacher mother and a judge father, who encouraged the children to develop their literary interests. Drabble's sister, who goes by the name A. S. Byatt, became a writer and scholar,3 and since his retirement her father has devoted his time to writing novels. Drabble's own literary talents have found expression in a large outpouring of nonfictional works as well as her better