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An introductory biography of the Cumbrian writer and novelist Margaret Forster, published in the popular Modern Cumbrian Classics series.
Kathleen Jones skilfully traces Forster's non-conforming career: her Carlisle upbringing and its working class expectations, the competing demands of work and family, and the business of writing fact and fiction - with all the overlaps between the two.
Margaret Forster has published twenty-eight books since 1964. Her novels and biographies have made her one of the best regarded of contemporary writers. Her work has drawn deeply on her own life. Recent books have been concerned with an introspective examination of her own relationships as daughter and wife.
Kathleen Jones, in this short but welcome survey of Margaret Forster's work, sees the role of a woman as central. Margaret was brought up in Carlisle in a traditional working class family living on the Raffles estate. Her mother was a 'nervous, repressed woman who found daily life difficult to cope with and took refuge in religion.' Her father was a stubborn man of few words who worked as a fitter for Metal Box. She was the middle child of three and described herself as 'noisy and demanding and given to tantrums . . . fiery, selfish and ambitious.' She was clever and determined. She saw her mother's life as a 'sacrifice of self that left her exhausted and depressed' and was determined that her life would be different. 'I would not marry and therefore would not have children. I would keep out of the trap and be safe.'
She refused to become the nice little girl her mother wanted. Instead she was rebellious and ambitious and earned a place at Oxford. But when she got there, as a working class girl from the North, she knew she didn't belong. 'It was oppressive. I hated it and I wasn't going to fit in.'
After Oxford, despite her resolutions to the contrary, she married Hunter Davies and set up house in Hampstead, but her time was given to asserting her independence by writing novels. Her first real success came with Georgy Girl which captured the mood of the sixties and was made into a successful film.
Writing offered the ideal career to combine with a family. It enabled her to be herself in all her roles as writer, mother and wife. Other novels followed rapidly including The Travels of Maudie Tipstaff. Maudie, a Glaswegian grandmother, visits her scattered family after many years, and learns the truth about their relationships that 'everyone was on their own.'
Margaret also turned to biography writing the lives of such varied people as Bonnie Prince Charlie, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Daphne Du Maurier.
In the last fifteen years her scrutiny of her family and her early life in Carlisle, has intensified. Factual works such as Hidden Lives and Precious Lives seem to have provided springboards to new fiction such as Shadow Baby and The Memory Box.
In her recent book, Good Wives?, she feels that if it had been necessary, she would have done as her mother would have done before her, and put her family before her career.
Kathleen Jones reviews most of the major works and shows how the determination to be herself has been central to Margaret's writing. The rebellious little girl has proved that she can be her own person. That she does not have to sacrifice herself for husband and children but that she can succeed where her mother failed.
Few writers have written so closely and honestly about personal relationships. Margaret Forster has not followed literary fashions but has written books that are notable for their seriousness and their readability.
Kathleen Jones comes from Cumbria and seems to share many of Margaret's concerns. Her booklet on Margaret's life and works is a useful review of the work of a writer who has something important to say and who is deservedly popular. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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