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Figes, Eva

FIGES, Eva

Nationality: British. Born: Eva Unger in Berlin, Germany, 15 April 1932; came to England in 1939. Education: Kingsbury Grammar School, 1943-50; Queen Mary College, University of London, 1950-53, B.A. (honours) in English 1953. Family: Married John George Figes in 1954 (divorced 1963); one daughter and one son. Career: Editor, Longman, 1955-57, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1962-63, and Blackie, 1964-67, publishers, London. Since 1987 coeditor, Macmillan Women Writers series. Awards: Guardian Fiction prize, 1967; C. Day Lewis fellowship, 1973; Arts Council fellowship, 1977-79; Society of Authors traveling scholarship, 1988. Fellow, Queen Mary and Westfield College, 1990. Agent: Rogers Coleridge and White Ltd., 20 Powis Mews, London W11 1JN. Address: 24 Fitzjohn's Avenue, London N.W.3, England.

Publications

Novels

Equinox. London, Secker and Warburg, 1966.

Winter Journey. London, Faber, 1967; New York, Hill and Wang, 1968.

Konek Landing. London, Faber, 1969.

B. London, Faber, 1972.

Days. London, Faber, 1974.

Nelly's Version. London, Secker and Warburg, 1977; New York, Pantheon, 1988.

Waking. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1981; New York, Pantheon, 1982.

Light. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Pantheon, 1983.

The Seven Ages. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1986; New York, Pantheon, 1987.

Ghosts. London, Hamish Hamilton, and New York, Pantheon, 1988.

The Tree of Knowledge. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1990; NewYork, Pantheon, 1991.

The Tenancy. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1993.

The Knot. London, Sinclair Stevenson, 1996.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Obbligato, Bedsitter," in Signature Anthology. London, Calder andBoyars, 1975.

"On the Edge," in London Tales, edited by Julian Evans. London, Hamish Hamilton, 1983.

Plays

Radio Plays:

Time Regained, 1980; Dialogue Between Friends, 1982;Punch-Flame and Pigeon-Breast, 1983; The True Tale of Margery Kempe, 1985.

Television Plays:

Days, from her own novel, 1981.

Other

The Banger (for children). London, Deutsch, and New York, LionPress, 1968.

Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society. London, Faber, and NewYork, Stein and Day, 1970.

Scribble Sam (for children). London, Deutsch, and New York, McKay, 1971.

Tragedy and Social Evolution. London, Calder, 1976; New York, Persea, 1990.

Little Eden: A Child at War (autobiography). London, Faber, 1978;New York, Persea, 1987.

Sex and Subterfuge: Women Novelists to 1850. London, Macmillan, 1982; New York, Persea, 1988.

Editor, Classic Choice 1. London, Blackie, 1965.

Editor, Modern Choice 1 and 2. London, Blackie, 2 vols., 1965-66.

Editor, with Abigail Mozley and Dinah Livingstone, Women Their World. Gisburn, Lancashire, Platform Poets, 1980.

Editor, Women's Letters in Wartime: 1450-1945. London and SanFrancisco, Pandora, 1994.

Translator, The Gadarene Club, by Martin Walser. London, Longman, 1960.

Translator, The Musicians of Bremen: Retold (for children). London, Blackie, 1967.

Translator, The Old Car, by Elisabeth Borchers. London, Blackie, 1967.

Translator, He and I and the Elephants, by Bernhard Grzimek. London, Deutsch-Thames and Hudson, and New York, Hill and Wang, 1967.

Translator, Little Fadette, by George Sand. London, Blackie, 1967.

Translator, A Family Failure, by Renate Rasp. London, Calder andBoyars, 1970.

Translator, The Deathbringer, by Manfred von Conta. London, Calder and Boyars, 1971.

* * *

"I am using a different grid which I have first to construct by a painful process of trial and error," writes Eva Figes. In outright reaction against what she sees as the continuing conservative realist tradition of British fiction Figes resumes the modernist task of reshaping the novel and questioning the assumptions on which it is built. In her novels, as in those of Virginia Woolf (surely the greatest influence on her work), Figes seeks to bring together the properties of formal art and the intensities of the inner self. Here, life takes place between the acts, and we catch it unawares in the lives of ordinary people: Janus, the old man dying alone in his council house in Winter Journey, or Lily, the spinster sister and aunt who measures the subtly shifting relationships in Light. As Figes explores the self concealed behind the artifice of manners, the most elusive moments of existence are redefined in her novels as the prerequisite for creative vitality, and continuity is found in the lyric hoard of memories through which her characters resist the flux of time. In Winter Journey the presentation of a series of psychological states in place of a continuous narrative or plot results in an intense poetic lyricism. The same kind of unbroken texture, or openness and continuity, is found in Light (Figes's finest work to date), where Claude, artist and philosopher, explains: "Everything is always in flux it was both his overriding difficulty and essential to him."

But there are darker realities here too. A sense of menace underlies the lyrical affirmation of the novels, and there is a corresponding sense that only a continuous style can soothe a narrative which is subject to unexpected disruptions and dislocations. "My starting-point is inevitably Kafka," Figes claims, and there are echoes of Beckett too in her novels' unresolved ambivalence about their own representational activity. The negative energies of solipsism and angst are inseparable from the moments of heightened consciousness in the fragmented autobiography of Janus' winter journey. And in Light, Claude's fragile images of perfection are troubled by the motifs of transience and death. In the final analysis, perhaps the most fascinating and complex aspect of Figes's novels is that they do follow the Modernist tradition of showing art and memory as creative of a new order of reality. But they also remain firmly located in the destructive elements of historical time that many classic modernists would seek to bypass. The power and potency of the recurrent images of holocaust in her novels seem to reveal the author's deepest motivations for writing: "I am a European wrestling with a different reality," she says. "A piece of shrapnel lodges in my flesh, and when it moves, I write."

Much of Figes's work, both in fiction and nonfiction, concerns the history, both internal and external, of women. One of many examples of the nonfiction treatment is Women's Letters in Wartime; more challenging, of course, is the fictional treatment, as when she portrays the seven "ages" of a woman's life in Waking. In The Tree of Knowledge, she turns a feminist light on the world of John Miltona blind man who nonetheless ruled the women around him.

Sandra Kemp

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