Margaret Drabble

Leading author Dame Margaret Drabble has deposited her literary archive in Cambridge University Library.

The archive throws light on the wider experience of a generation of women who came of age in the 1960s and helped to shape the cultural life of the time.

Anne Jarvis

Dame Margaret, who is widely regarded as among the most important British novelists of her generation, studied English at Cambridge in the 1950s.

The archive, which fills ninety boxes, includes original drafts, typescripts and working papers of novels such as A Summer Bird-Cage (1963), The Millstone (1965), The Needle’s Eye (1972), The Radiant Way (1987), The Gates of Ivory (1991), The Witch of Exmoor (1996) and The Peppered Moth (2001).

As well as novels, the papers contain files of correspondence with arts and cultural institutions around the world, and letters from fellow writers as varied as Harold Pinter, Nicholas Monsarrat, Christopher Logue, Ted Hughes and R. S. Thomas.

Drabble’s early years as an actor at the Amateur Dramatic Club in Cambridge and with the Royal Shakespeare Company are covered, and material relating to her short fiction, and to non-fiction writings such as her biography of Arnold Bennett (1974) and a memoir, The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws (2009), also features in the collection.

Dame Margaret said: “I am delighted to have found a safe home for my papers, hoarded, though not very systematically, over more than half a century. My time at Cambridge has been immensely important to me over the years, and I have many happy memories of working as an undergraduate in the Cambridge University Library, a building for which I have a great affection. I feel my archive could not be in a better place.”

University Librarian Anne Jarvis said: “We are thrilled that Margaret Drabble has chosen Cambridge University Library as a home for this remarkable collection. Dame Margaret’s far-sighted decision will enable scholars to explore the creative processes behind her writing in greater detail than ever before.

“We are especially excited by the way in which the collection, as well as being the chief resource for research into a major author, throws light on the wider experience of a generation of women who came of age in the 1960s and helped to shape the cultural life of the time.”

The papers are currently being repackaged, sorted and listed by the Library’s staff, and they will be made available for research as soon as practicable.

John Wells, Curator of Literary Manuscripts at the University Library, said: “As we’ve been going through the boxes, we’ve been exhilarated by our discoveries. The potential of this collection to support research into the British literary and intellectual world of the last fifty years is exceptional.

“Margaret Drabble’s archive represents a classic combination of primary literary papers and the contextualising professional and personal documents which allow scholars to build up a comprehensive picture of a writing life. Perhaps the most evocative document for me is the draft of her earliest novel, A Summer Bird-Cage, written out in longhand. It gives a powerful sense of an author at the start of her career, crafting a work that will stand as the first in a long line of achievements.”

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