The Anxious Lives of Clever Girls: The University Novels of Margaret Drabble, A. S. Byatt, and Hilary Mantel

Mary Eagleton
Vol. 33, No. 2 (Fall 2014), 103-121

The subject of this essay is the literary representation of the female student in United Kingdom universities from the mid-1950s to 1970. Its focus is selected novels by Margaret Drabble, A. S. Byatt, and Hilary Mantel. Seemingly offered opportunities, the female students in these works often appear weighed down with anxieties. The essay considers this troubled historical period in three ways: firstly, by situating the novels in the social history of the period; secondly, by exploring the women’s relation to their pasts, both the fraught relationship with the mother and the process of social change; and thirdly, by examining their strategies for negotiating the future. These women are trying to construct a new gender identity in which the mind features as much as the body and, sometimes, trying to construct a new class identity. However, they find themselves caught between a past they want to lose and a future they do not know how to inhabit.

Mary Wollstonecraft Sojourner Truth Margaret Atwood Abigail Adams Amy Tan H.D. Simone de Beauvoir Zora Neale Hurston Frances Burney Virginia Woolf

"The white saxifrage with the indented leafe is moste commended for the breakinge of the Stone."

— Turner, Herbal, III, 68 [1568]