Authors: Anita Brookner

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and art historian

Author Works

Long Fiction:

A Start in Life, 1981 (pb. in U.S. as The Debut, 1981)

Providence, 1982

Look at Me, 1983

Hotel du Lac, 1984

Family and Friends, 1985

The Misalliance, 1986 (pb. in England as A Misalliance, 1986)

A Friend from England, 1987

Latecomers, 1988

Lewis Percy, 1989

Brief Lives, 1990

A Closed Eye, 1991

Fraud, 1992

A Family Romance, 1993 (pb. in U.S. as Dolly, 1993)

A Private View, 1994

Incidents in the Rue Laugier, 1995

Altered States, 1996

Visitors, 1997

Falling Slowly, 1998

Undue Influence, 1999

The Bay of Angels, 2001

The Next Big Thing, 2002 (pb. in U.S. as Making Things Better, 2003)

Nonfiction:

Watteau, 1968

The Genius of the Future, Studies in French Art Criticism: Diderot, Stendhal, Baudelaire, Zola, the Brothers Goncourt, Huysmans, 1971

Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth-Century Phenomenon, 1972

Jacques-Louis David, 1980

Soundings, 1997

Romanticism and Its Discontents, 2000

Translations:

Utrillo, 1960 (of Waldemar George’s biography)

The Fauves, 1962 (of Jean Paul Crespelle’s book)

Gaugin, 1962 (of Maximilien Gauthier’s book)

Biography

Anita Brookner, the only child of Newsom and Maude Schiska Brookner, attended James Allen’s Girls’ School, received a B.A. from King’s College, University of London, and completed a Ph.D. in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She began her teaching career as a visiting lecturer at the University of Reading, where she taught from 1959 to 1964. In 1964 she became a lecturer at the Courtauld Institute, where from 1977 to 1987 she was a reader in art history with the rank of professor. She was Slade Professor at the University of Cambridge from 1967 to 1968, the first woman ever to hold the position. In 1984 Brookner won the Booker Prize for her novel Hotel du Lac, and four years later she gave up teaching to concentrate on her writing career. She was named a Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1990.{$I[AN]9810001343}{$I[A]Brookner, Anita}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Brookner, Anita}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Brookner, Anita}{$I[tim]1928;Brookner, Anita}

Brookner’s writing initially grew out of her academic field of expertise, late eighteenth and early nineteenth century French painting. Her first book was Watteau, a brief introductory study of the French painter. She followed this book with a volume of six essays of comparative criticism, The Genius of the Future, Studies in French Art Criticism, in which she examined the personalities and accomplishments of Denis Diderot, Stendhal, Charles Baudelaire, Émile Zola, the Brothers Goncourt, and Joris-Karl Huysmans; this volume was a product of Brookner’s Slade lectures at Cambridge. She followed this work with Greuze: The Rise and Fall of an Eighteenth Century Phenomenon, in which she presented Jean-Baptiste Greuze as a painter who attempted to reestablish nostalgia as a part of the abstract intellectual milieu of the mid-eighteenth century art world. In Jacques-Louis David Brookner portrayed David as an artist whose life and work embodied and reflected much of the fundamental thought, belief, and behavior of the eighteenth century.

During a long summer vacation Brookner wrote her first novel, The Debut, which reflects her awareness of the impact of art on life and her involvement in the academic world. The main character, Ruth Weiss, is a professor of literature at a London university who, like Brookner, grew up reading English novels, especially those of Charles Dickens, in which patience and virtue were ultimately rewarded; because of the stifling life she lives under the eye of her strong-willed mother she is led to study Honoré de Balzac. Through a scholarship she escapes to Paris to read Balzac and to live her own life, but her adventure is cut short when she is called back to London to tend to her aging parents.

Brookner continued her examination of the thinking single woman in Providence, Look at Me, and Hotel du Lac. In the last, her fourth novel, Edith Hope is a successful writer of romantic fiction, and the book turns on the contrast between the lives of the characters in her fiction and her own life. Hotel du Lac is about loneliness, but there is wit and humor in the work. Edith is disappointed in love and seems unable to fit the conventional mold; yet unlike Brookner’s earlier heroines, Edith comes to accept this situation and find value in what she does possess.

In Family and Friends Brookner expands her cast of characters to include all the members of the London-based Dorn family: Sofka, a Jewish-European matriarch, and her three children. In a departure from the 1980’s settings of previous novels, Family and Friends begins in the 1930’s. In this novel Brookner also expands her examination of love, exploring not only romantic relationships but also the love between parents and children, sisters and brothers. Her examination of the Dorn family reveals the breakdown of traditional social codes that had allowed family life to operate smoothly.

The Misalliance, Brookner’s sixth novel, returns to the 1980’s and the exploration of one woman’s attempts to come to terms with loneliness. Middle-aged Blanche Vernon is separated from her husband of twenty years, who has left her for a younger woman. Blanche is attractive, intelligent, and financially well-off, but the departure of her husband has left her without a defined social position. With no activity to occupy her, Blanche involves herself in the lives of others, particularly those of an irresponsible young woman and her small daughter, in whom Blanche senses a loneliness similar to her own. A surprising turn at the end of The Misalliance leaves the reader wondering what life holds for Blanche Vernon.

In Brookner’s next novel, A Friend from England, the emancipated heroine and narrator has protected herself from emotional pain by refusing to allow herself intimacy with others. Her friendship with the Livingstones, a thoroughly conventional and innocent family who cannot fully understand Rachel’s stripped-down, modern life, leads to her gaining understanding when, in an attempt to protect the Livingstones, she learns the depth of their innocence. Despite all of her worldliness, this encounter leaves Rachel feeling ignorant and incomplete.

In Latecomers Brookner tells the story of two men who came to England from Germany before World War II. A sense of displacement, seen before in Providence, pervades this book. In Lewis Percy Brookner again uses a male protagonist, continuing her exploration of loss and the “unlived life.” She returns to a woman’s world in Brief Lives; in A Closed Eye, which concerns that blindness of a mother’s love for a selfish daughter; and in Fraud, in which an overlooked middle-aged woman successfully changes her life. In A Family Romance the author investigates an older generation of traditional women while maintaining reservations about their liberated daughters. A Private View brings back a lonely male hero who is tempted by a charming young sociopath, and Incidents in the Rue Laugier points up the connection to France often seen in her other novels.

Altered States continues Brookner’s standard themes as a stuffy barrister becomes infatuated with a beautiful yet heartless woman yet marries her clinging, childlike friend, with tragic results. In Visitors, the arrival of American relatives for a family wedding jolts a solitary widow out of her drab, routine life. Falling Slowly contrasts the approaches to life of two bright but equally isolated aging sisters, one an overly romantic pianist and the other a more cynical translator. In Undue Influence, a seemingly nondescript woman with an extraordinary capacity for fantasy and speculation about the lives of others becomes entangled in the lives of a man and his ailing wife.

The Bay of Angels provides a somewhat happier ending than most of Brookner’s novels; Brookner’s typically passive heroine must deal with her mother’s nervous breakdown and realizes the limitations of her “independent” life, ending up in a long-distance relationship that allows her both connection and freedom. In The Next Big Thing, published in the United States as Making Things Better, Brookner returns to a male protagonist, exploring the efforts of a seventy-three-year-old Jewish man to find the meaning of his life, which has been spent caring for others.

BibliographyBaxter, Gisèle Marieks. “Cultural Experiences and Identity in the Early Novels of Anita Brookner.” English 42 (Summer, 1993): 125-139. Three central characters of early Brookner novels attempt (unsuccessfully) to find the formulas of literary romance in their lives. They aspire not to the traditional aristocracy or even to the world of the gentry, but to the financially secure ideal of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s era.Bjorkblom, Inger. The Plane of Uncreatedness: A Phenomenological Study of Anita Brookner’s Late Fiction. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2001. Presents a philosophical/psychological study of Brookner’s fiction, focusing on her later works, with special reference to the complexities of heroism, boredom, ennui, and helplessness in the novels. Works discussed include Lewis Percy, Visitors, and Falling Slowly.Fisher-Wirth, Ann. “Hunger Art: The Novels of Anita Brookner.” Twentieth Century Literature 41 (Spring, 1995): 1-15. At first glance, Brookner’s heroines seem to be women trapped in a patriarchal world who accept their humiliation. A closer reading reveals that Brookner treats the universal human situation.Haffenden, John. Novelists in Interview. London: Methuen, 1985. Includes a lively, substantial interview with Brookner that provides useful background for readers of her works. She discusses her novels, the ideas behind her writing, and the existential dilemmas of her characters.Hosmer, Robert E., Jr. “Paradigm and Passage: The Fiction of Anita Brookner.” In Contemporary British Women Writers: Narrative Strategies. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993. Brookner’s central characters, like Brookner herself, are in the tradition of exile figures, from the Bible to contemporary times.Malcolm, Cheryl Alexander. Understanding Anita Brookner. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. Offers a short biographical overview of Brookner’s life and examines how her novels exemplify the traditional British cultural values of understatement, deference to authority, and acceptance of a class system.Sadler, Lynn Veach. Anita Brookner. Boston: Twayne, 1990. First full-length study of Brookner’s work discusses her first seven novels. Compares Brookner to Barbara Pym and Margaret Drabble but also shows why Brookner has her own voice in feminist fiction. Analyzes Brookner’s heroines and gives insight into the author’s use of irony.Skinner, John. The Fictions of Anita Brookner: Illusions of Romance. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Discusses Brookner’s novels in the light of contemporary narrative theory and speculates on the close relationship between the novels and the author’s life.Soule, George. Four British Women Novelists: Anita Brookner, Margaret Drabble, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998. Annotated critical bibliography covers all of Brookner’s novels through Visitors.Usandizaga, Aránzazu. “Motifs of Exile, Hopelessness, and Loss: Disentangling the Matrix of Anita Brookner’s Novels.” In“In the Open”: Jewish Women Writers and British Culture, edited by Claire M. Tylee. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006. Examines Providence, The Latecomers, A Family Romance, Family and Friends, and The Next Big Thing with reference to Brookner’s Jewish heritage, with special concentration on the mother-daughter relationship.Williams-Wanquet, Eileen. Art and Life in the Novels of Anita Brookner: Reading for Life, Subversive Re-writing to Live. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. Considers all of Brookner’s novels as one monolithic fiction. Discusses her fiction in terms of biography, narrative theory, and recent feminist fiction to suggest that Brookner subversively rewrites the traditional romantic novel.
Categories: Authors