Authors: Jane Gardam

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

A Few Fair Days, 1971 (stories)

A Long Way from Verona, 1971

The Summer After the Funeral, 1973

Bilgewater, 1976

Bridget and William, 1981

The Hollow Land, 1981 (stories)

Horse, 1982

Kit, 1983

Kit in Boots, 1986

Swan, 1987

Through the Dolls’ House Door, 1987

Black Woolly Pony, White Chalk Horse, 1993

Going into a Dark House, 1994

Faith Fox: A Nativity, 1996

The Flight of the Maidens, 2000

Long Fiction:

God on the Rocks, 1978

Crusoe’s Daughter, 1985

The Queen of the Tambourine, 1991

The Iron Coast: Notes from a Cold Country, 1994

Short Fiction:

Black Faces, White Faces, 1975 (pb. in U.S. as The Pineapple Bay Hotel, 1976)

The Sidmouth Letters, 1980

The Pangs of Love, and Other Stories, 1983

Showing the Flag, 1989

Missing the Midnight: Hauntings and Grotesques, 1997


The Easter Lilies, 1985


Jane Mary Pearson Gardam was born in the small town of Coatham on the North Yorkshire coast, where her ancestors had lived since the eleventh century. The town is situated between a rural moorland with small fishing villages and Teesside, with its huge steel and chemical complexes. This mixed landscape forms the setting for a number of her earlier novels of adolescence, particularly A Long Way from Verona, her first full-length novel, where Jessica Vye, the thirteen-year-old heroine, is taken “exploring” from her sheltered resort town to the backstreets of a nearby industrial town. While there, she is nearly killed by a bomb dropped by an enemy aircraft. The incident points to the fact that during World War II, when Jane Pearson was a schoolgirl, this strategic area was the target of German air attacks.{$I[AN]9810001893}{$I[A]Gardam, Jane}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Gardam, Jane}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Gardam, Jane}{$I[tim]1928;Gardam, Jane}

Pearson’s father was a schoolteacher, and this too is reflected in much of her children’s fiction, where the heroines’ fathers are invariably teachers, clergymen, or teachers turned clergymen. Jessica Vye’s brilliant father falls into this last category, and some of the novel’s humor stems from the unconventional behavior and views of her left-wing, unconventional Church of England clergyman father. In The Summer After the Funeral, Athene and her sister “Beams” come to terms with the death of their elderly clergyman father; here, too, the setting is North Yorkshire, with an added literary identification on Athene’s part with Emily Brontë, who was also one of three daughters of an elderly Yorkshire vicar.

Some of Gardam’s stories have a boarding school setting, as in Bilgewater, where the boarding school setting is central; here the heroine, Marigold Green, the daughter of one of the resident teachers, seeks to come to terms with who she is and where she is to go in life. Marigold is a budding scholar with the prospects of an academic career.

Such a career was also a possibility for the author. She gained entry to Bedford College, London, one of the most prestigious colleges for women at the time. She was an undergraduate there, 1946-1949, and then stayed for graduate study until 1952. In that year, however, she married David Gardam, a lawyer, who later became a Queen’s Counsel. Jane Gardam decided at this point to move into journalism and worked for a time for Time and Tide, a cultural magazine to which such writers as C. S. Lewis were contributing. In 1955 she gave up her journalism to rear a family of two sons and a daughter.

It was not until her children were growing up that she turned to writing fiction. Her first book, A Few Fair Days, is a series of linked short stories, a form she developed later, covering the imaginative world of a small girl through her childhood. This work and the three subsequent novels established Gardam’s reputation within what is often referred to as the “Nesbit tradition” of British children’s fiction, which is characterized by social irony, domestic realism, and gifted and independent children of eccentric middle-class parents. The tone and style of these books, although nostalgic at times, are also sophisticated, and in this Gardam resembles most closely her contemporary Penelope Lively. To a lesser extent, in her exploration of class and cultural tensions, her style resembles that of John Rowe Townsend, whereas her use of autobiographical Yorkshire material is akin to William Mayne’s.

Many, however, regard her best children’s fiction to be her return to the interlinking short-story form in The Hollow Land, which won the 1981 Whitbread Award. The stories are set in the Westmorland Fells, part of the Pennine chain in northern England. They reflect her love for that area, with which she became acquainted on family holidays when young and where she eventually set up a second home. In these stories, social class tensions are subordinated to regional and cultural ones. Gardam also developed a series of stories for young children, among them Horse and Swan. Settings vary widely from the Yorkshire Dales to inner-city London, and in one, Through the Dolls’ House Door, she ventured into the realm of fantasy story.

Gardam maintains an adult perception and voice in her children’s books. It was no surprise, therefore, that she should also venture into the world of adult fiction. Her first effort, Black Faces, White Faces, set in Jamaica, won both the W. Holtby Award for 1977 and the David Higham prize for best first novel. In fact, the book was neither a first book nor a novel but yet again a collection of interlinked short stories. Further success followed with God on the Rocks, which was runner-up for the Booker Prize of 1978; and with The Pangs of Love, and Other Stories, a collection that won the Katherine Mansfield Award for 1984. Several further collections of short stories followed.

Probably the best-known adult novel is The Queen of the Tambourine, which won the Whitbread Award for 1991. Reflecting the author’s own circumstances before deciding to move away from London to live on the Kent coast, the book centers on the upper-middle-class life in suburbia of Eliza Peabody, a senior diplomat’s wife. The novel reveals Gardam’s acute ironic social observation and tone, economy of style, and zany humor. Gardam became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1985.

BibliographyBlishen, Edward, ed. The Thorny Paradise: Writers Writing for Children. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1975. Features Gardam.Harper, Graeme. “Jane Gardam.” In British Novelists Since 1960, Fourth Series, edited by Merritt Moseley. Vol. 231 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 2000. A solid general overview of Gardam’s life and writing.Pendergast, Tom, and Sara Pendergast, eds. St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers. 2d ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1999. Includes an entry on Gardam.Wilson, A. N. “Small Voice, Huge Talent.” The Spectator 282, no. 8915 (June 19, 1999): 46. An appreciative look at Gardam’s writing and importance as a modern English novelist.
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