Imagination: The Role of Literature
Literature as well as vision holds an important position in Drabble's theory of the imagination. One of the most prominent features of her fiction is her heavy use of traditional literary references and echoes, as the following survey will indicate.1
The titles of many of the novels allude to older literature: A Summer Bird-Cage to John Webster's lines, "'Tisjust like a summer bird cage in a garden, the birds that are without despair to get in, and the birds that are within despair and are in a consumption for fear they shall never get out"; The Millstone and The Needle's Eye to Biblical passages; Jerusalem the Golden to the hymn of that title by J. M. Neale; and The Realms of Gold to a line in Keats' sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer."2 Even the names of the protagonists -- especially Emma, Rosamund, and Jane -- remind us of the heroines of nineteenth-century British novels. And many of the scenes and episodes have analogues in older literature. For example, Drabble has claimed that Middlemarch provided her with the idea for the relationship between the two sisters in A Summer Bird-Cage.3 Indeed, the passage in Drabble's novel in which the older sister visits a cathedral in Italy while on her honeymoon is strikingly similar to that in Eliot's describing Dorothea Brooke's parallel experience. Both women are observed unawares by acquaintances who are struck by their stony, resigned appearances, indicative of their attitudes toward their marriages.
Drabble has also mentioned that scenes from Arnold Bennett's Hilda Lessways and Maupassant's Une Vie were the models for the episode in Jerusalem the Golden in which Clara reads through her dying mother's girlhood diaries.4 The basic situation of The Waterfall -- the protagonist's stealing her cousin's man -- is reminiscent of The Mill on the Floss; both cousins are even named Lucy. In