… a witty and – someone else used the word mordant today and I can’t improve on that – mordant novelist has died.

Melvyn Bragg, in the Telegraph, says a very beautiful thing about her: “Her private complexity alchemised into the clarity of her books.”

It’s a beautiful sentence in itself, with the lovely, unexpected, and exactly right word alchemised, and with its poetic repetition of K sounds: complexity alchemised clarity books.

But it’s a beautiful idea as well, applying, I think, to any successful writer — I mean, that ability to use your self, your past, your pain, the messy inchoate stuff of each person’s experiences… To transmute it somehow into the coherence and elegance of an achieved artform and thereby to a significant extent understand what it is, what you are, what happened, what it meant, what your patterns are, etc.

More than that, this process tends to be therapeutic, cathartic, and indeed Bainbridge always said as much. She always said that putting her horrible childhood into her early novels made most of the anger and bitterness go away.

It’s enviable, this ability to free yourself, somewhat, through aesthetic detachment and formal organization, from the otherwise unliftable weight of one’s particular story…

Of course, you don’t have to be a novelist to enter into this alchemic procedure by which you gain precious leverage over a threatening and depressing sense of contingency, over a complexity which seems hopelessly private and unassimilable. A serious literary, philosophical, historical education… a liberal arts education, let’s call it, can produce something similar in you.


Anyway, I’ve scanned the obits. Here are the good parts.

A writer for the Guardian visited Bainbridge in 2001.

I noticed a misprint in her new novel, egg yoke for egg yolk, and when I pointed it out, she said, ‘Which word’s wrong? Egg?’

… Her apparently daffy manner, her apparently chaotic house, are all part of her continuing appeasement of the world. She believes that looking harmless is the best defence. Better to be dismissed as eccentric, silly, childlike, than to be attacked. She cannot bear any sort of argument or confrontation.

… [The father of her third child] showed up for Rudi’s birth, but then went downstairs saying he was going to get a book out of the car and never came back.

From an appreciation in the Telegraph:

… She fell in love with Austin Davies, a scene painter at the Playhouse. He didn’t believe in God, and was forever trying to rid himself of the enamoured actress. “I became a Catholic,” recalled Beryl Bainbridge, “to get away from Aussie. Then I could never marry anyone, I could live a life of purity and pray the whole time. I remember being terribly happy: that Lightness, the sin removed. I was a Catholic for about ten minutes.”

… [Her] garden … [is] full of plastic roses and daffodils. “There’s more to gardening than growing flowers,” Bainbridge would remark, to mystified green-fingered friends.

… At first she had to supplement her retainer and her royalties with various jobs, including a stint in a bottle factory. This inspired The Bottle Factory Outing (1974), in which two Englishwomen become embroiled in the lives of the Italian immigrants at the bottle factory where they both work. The outing of the title goes hideously wrong and ends with one of the women dead, her body popped into a wine barrel and dispatched across the sea.

Brenda, the surviving Englishwoman, is soulfully sanguine about her friend’s fate, concluding: “It was the sort of thing that could happen to anyone, if they were tall and they were grabbed in the bushes by a small man.”

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