Gardam, Jane 1928- (Jane Mary Gardam, Jean Mary Pearson)
Gardam, Jane 1928- (Jane Mary Gardam, Jean Mary Pearson)
Born July 11, 1928, in Coatham, Yorkshire, England; daughter of William (a schoolmaster) and Kathleen Mary Pearson; married David Hill Gardam (an attorney), April 20, 1952; children: Timothy, Mary, Thomas. Education: Bedford College, London, B.A. (with honors), 1949, graduate study, 1949-52. Politics: "Ecology." Religion: Anglo-Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Growing roses.
Agent—David Higham Associates Ltd., 5-8 Lower John St., Golden Sq., London W1F 9HA, England.
Writer and editor. Weldons Ladies' Journal, London, England, subeditor, 1952-53; Time and Tide, London, assistant literary editor, 1953-55. Also Red Cross, organizer of hospital libraries, 1950.
International PEN, Royal Society of Literature (fellow), Arts Club, University Women's Club.
Award from Spring Book Festival, Book World, 1972, for A Long Way from Verona; honor book citation, Boston Globe-Horn Book, 1974, for The Summer After the Funeral; David Higham Prize for fiction and Winifred Holtby Award, both 1975, both for Black Faces, White Faces; runner-up citation, Booker Prize, Book Trust of England, 1978, for God on the Rocks; Whitbread Prize, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 1983, for The Hollow Land, and 1991, for The Queen of the Tambourine; Carnegie Medal, high recommendation citation, 1983, for The Hollow Land, and commendation, 1983, for Bridget and William; Katherine Mansfield Award, 1984, for The Pangs of Love; Prix Baudelaire (France), 1989, for God on the Rocks; Phoenix Award, 1991, for A Long Way from Verona; PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, 1995, for Going Into A Dark House; Heywood Hill Prize, 1999, for lifetime achievement in literature; Orange Prize for Fiction nomination, 2005, for Old Filth.
A Few Fair Days (short stories), illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
A Long Way from Verona (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971.
The Summer after the Funeral (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1973.
Bilgewater (novel), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1976.
God on the Rocks (novel), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1978.
Bridget and William, illustrated by Janet Rawlings, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1981.
The Hollow Land (short stories), illustrated by Janet Rawlings, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1981.
Horse, illustrated by Janet Rawlings, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1982.
Kit, illustrated by William Geldart, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1984.
Kit in Boots, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1986.
Swan, Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1986.
Through the Dolls' House Door (novel), Julia MacRae (New York, NY), 1987.
Going into a Dark House (short stories), Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1994.
(With Mary Fedden) The Green Man, Windrush Press (Witney, Oxfordshire, England), 2000.
FICTION FOR ADULTS
Black Faces, White Faces (short stories), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1975, published as The Pineapple Bay Hotel, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1976.
The Sidmouth Letters (short stories), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1980.
The Pangs of Love (short stories; also see below), Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1983.
Crusoe's Daughter (novel), Atheneum (New York, NY), 1986.
Showing the Flag (short stories), Penguin (New York, NY), 1989.
The Queen of the Tambourine (novel), Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1991, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.
Faith Fox: A Nativity (novel), Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1996, published as Faith Fox, Carroll & Graf Publishers (New York, NY), 2003.
Missing the Midnight: Hauntings and Grotesques, Sinclair-Stevenson (London, England), 1997.
The Flight of the Maidens, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2000.
Old Filth (novel), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2004.
The People on Privilege Hill, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 2007.
Also author of scripts for television films, including The Easter Lilies, based on the author's book The Pangs of Love; The Sidmouth Letters, 1982; an episode of Tales of the Unexpected, titled The Tribute, 1983; and God on the Rocks, Independent Television (England), 1990. Contributor of short stories to magazines.
The Flight of the Maidens has been adapted for audio, Chivers North America, c. 2000.
Recognized in England as a writer of talent and originality, Jane Gardam has enjoyed success with children's fiction as well as with short stories and novels written expressly for adults. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor postulated that categorizing Gardam's fiction strictly as "juvenile" or "adult" does the writer's work a disservice. The appeal of Gardam's fiction, wrote the contributor, "should not be restricted by any factor of age in the reader." The contributor went on to note: "All of Gardam's work is marked by certain admirable characteristics: economy of style, exuberance and humor, a special relish for the startling and the unexpected."
Proof of Gardam's ability to touch readers of various ages can be found in the awards she has won: the David Higham Prize for Black Faces, White Faces, a collection of short stories for adults; the prestigious Whitbread Award for The Hollow Land, a work ostensibly for juveniles; and for The Queen of the Tambourine, a novel for adults.
Young teens on the brink of adulthood are often the central characters in Gardam's juvenile fiction. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor believed that Gardam's works "recreate directly the sensations and impressions of childhood." The contributor also noted a slightly autobiographical cast in a number of the juvenile novels: "Although to an extent transformed in the course of writing, certain elements of Gardam's early life seem to have made a fairly consistent pattern in her books: the girl with a much younger brother; the schoolmaster or clergyman father; the Yorkshire or Cumbria locations. Each book, however, has a distinctive feeling, a mood and atmosphere all its own. Gardam repeats her motifs but not her effects." The contributor also wrote: "The narrative is charged as well with a kind of muted fairy-tale glamour." A contributor to the St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers found that "Gardam's work as a whole is distinguished by a clearly delineated, often satiric representation of historical and cultural moments of English life and British educational, religious, and class institutions…. She offers us a perspective on changes in English culture, moments in time now lost. A sense of history, and of history within the lives of particular persons and groups, structures the progression of the narrative in works such as The Hollow Land, Through the Dolls' House Door, and Crusoe's Daughter."
Gardam received critical acclaim for her first three children's books, but she was still virtually unknown as an author when she published Black Faces, White Faces, released in the United States as The Pineapple Bay Hotel. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor noted that the stories in Gardam's story collections are interrelated within each volume, but "what is important is not the classification [as novel or collection] but the degree of acuity brought to bear on a theme." Indeed, publication of Black Faces, White Faces expanded Gardam's critical audience considerably and accorded her highly favorable reviews.
Among her critically acclaimed works is the novel The Queen of the Tambourine, which tells the story of Eliza Peabody, a middle-aged woman whose marriage is dull and unsatisfying. The novel consists of Eliza's letters to her friend Joan, who has left her husband to live in the Far East. As Jonathan Yardley stated in the Washington Post, the letters "describe a woman slipping slowly into lunacy." These letters, Michael Harris reported in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "are full of delusions, often not sent and never answered." Commenting on the novel's structure, Frances Spalding wrote in the Times Educational Supplement that the narrative strays from the "demands of a traditional plot" and "has an improvisatory air." Eliza's experiences, Spalding continued, "form a series of vignettes which ornament the thread of her mental journeying." Several critics also remarked on Gardam's ability to create a character who, although unreliable as a narrator because of her delusions, is nonetheless likeable. Calling The Queen of the Tambourine "funny and moving," Nina Sonenberg of the New York Times Book Review praised Gardam's "devilish wit" and described Eliza as another heroine driven insane by "splendid suburban isolation."
In the story collection Missing the Midnight: Hauntings and Grotesques, Gardam gathers several of her Christmas and ghost stories. A Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor found that the stories are "sometimes based on the everyday, sometimes fantastical, and often involve allegorical structures." Speaking of Gardam's approach to writing stories, the contributor noted: "She treads the line cleverly between reality and fantasy, eccentricity and ordinariness, without being overwhelmed, or overwhelming the reader, with the complexities of this movement."
Several critics have discussed Gardam's ability to write with wit and sharpness about the English upper class without resorting to polemics. In a review of Gardam's work in Room of One's Own, Carroll Klein explained that Gardam's approach in her stories is subtle, and that "the subtlety of her writing salvages and often enhances her reticence in making direct statements. She sets up a situation, creates brilliantly realistic dialogue, and lets the reader conclude what she will." In a London Times review of The Pangs of Love, Elaine Feinstein suggested that Gardam "is a spare and elegant master of her art, which is neither genteel nor gentle, and she spares the well-bred less than the vulgar, and the predictably English abroad least of all."
Gardam's penchant for writing about the English middle class is clearly evident in her story collection, Going into a Dark House. Writing in the Spectator, Anita Brookner described the world Gardam creates as "cautious, middle-class, respectable, and capable of extreme wildness." The majority of the characters are middle-aged or elderly, and themes of death and chance are prominent in many of the stories. "Death is everywhere," stated Alex Clark of the Times Literary Supplement, "and it provides the dominant motif through which character, motivation and story are revealed." Brookner considered the collection a tribute to Gardam's talent as a writer and stated that though "robustly English and eschewing post-modern tricks, [Gardam's writing] conquers by stealth, as all good fiction should, and surprises one with a convincing account of eccentricities triumphing over the most mundane of circumstances."
Faith Fox: A Nativity was released in England in 1996 but did not find its way to American bookshelves until 2003. This may be, as some reviewers obliquely implied, because Gardam's particular brand of satire is more detectable to British readers than to Americans or because some American readers found it hard to empathize with the seemingly remote characters of Faith and her extended family. At least one American critic, Atlantic contributor Christina Schwarz, confessed that she nearly put the book aside in the middle of the reading but, "luckily," as she put it, she did not. This is the story of Faith, now aged eleven, who had lost her mother at birth. Her father then placed the baby in the custody of his brother's family. The girl grows up in the bleak north of England, surrounded by a virtual crowd of mainly odd characters, most of whom are more preoccupied with their own concerns than hers. Faith's life is emotionally solitary, perhaps, but not without color, and what seems at first to be a hopeless situation turns out to be something quite different. Schwarz marveled at the gradual way in which Gardam draws life to the surface of her characters. She also commended the author for a volume of "observations wonderfully true and remarkably expressed."
Old Filth offers another look at survival in the face of loneliness and emotional isolation. Like Faith Fox, the titular character, Sir Edward Feathers, lost his mother at birth and was shipped off by his father from Malaya, where Edward was born, to Great Britain, where he was raised by cruel strangers. He grew up to become a barrister, queen's counsel, and eventually a judge, all without any particular distinction. Old Filth is the story of Edward's quest, aging and bereft of the capacity for emotion, to discover the source of his loneliness before he dies. He finds peace, perhaps, in the land of his birth. In this "Rembrandt portrait of a novel," wrote a New Statesman contributor, lie "compassionate wisdom" and "absolute mastery of authorial tone." Spectator contributor Jack Cade called Old Filth the "beautifully written and strangely moving" story of an odd little man "we've grown to like."
Throughout Gardam's fiction, juvenile and adult alike, the author explores eccentric behavior. Klein noted that "Gardam peoples her stories with ineffectual, occasionally absurd, characters, with the walking wounded, the intellectually incompetent, and with those hovering on the edge of social approbation." In the view of a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gardam "is interested in the discrepancy between the face one presents to the world and one's actual feelings, and the comedy which results from lack of face." According to the contributor, however, "the fanciful and highly colored in Gardam's work are always disciplined by a northern toughness and plainness of expression."
"Gardam," wrote another contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "writes both for adults and for children, moving between these two readerships, and seems to find her own fascination with the theme of childhood a useful bridge between the two…. Her writing is quiet, wry, sometimes pleasantly archaic, and unsentimental but emotive; writing in which things are often slightly askew or hidden beneath the surface of otherwise unassuming narrative."
For example, in her 1986 novel Crusoe's Daughter, young Polly Flint is left motherless and cared for by several other people as her father goes off to sea only to die when his ship sinks. As Polly grows up, her favorite book is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and, like Crusoe, Polly is stranded on her own island of isolation as the people she meets and loves die off. "This is very much a literary novel that includes a history of the novel form itself," wrote Campbell Geeslin in People. Bob Coleman, writing in the New York Times Book Review, commented: "The book has many virtues: a Dickensian sense of character, some fine comic touches, an abundance of beautiful description. More impressive, however, is Mrs. Gardam's adaptation of venerable novelistic techniques to address present-day political and social concerns."
Gardam's 2000 novel The Flight of the Maidens follows the lives of Hetty, Una, and Lieselotte, three seventeen-year-old friends living in a Yorkshire town by the sea at the end of World War II. As the author explores the girls' lives, the reader learns how both World War I and World War II have impacted them and their families. For example, the fathers of Hetty and Una are psychologically damaged from World War I. Meanwhile, Lieselotte is a German Jew who escaped from Germany while the rest of her family died in the Jewish concentration camp of Auschwitz during World War II. In a review in the New Statesman, Patricia Duncker noted that the coming-of-age novel is essentially without a plot but rather revolves around the ponderings about what will happen to the girl's in the future. Duncker went on to note: "The chapters, divided up between the three girls, each end on a gentle cliffhanger, as we shift from one point of view to another."
Critics almost universally praised The Flight of the Maidens. Writing in the Atlantic, Juliet Barker noted: "Gardam's lean, fast-paced prose is at turns hugely funny and deeply moving. We care about her characters and want to know what happens to them." Maureen K. Griffin wrote in Kliatt: "The story … is both humorous and touching." Also praising the novel in a review in Booklist, Donna Seaman wrote: "Ebullient, humorous, and wise, this is a novel to savor." Although the novel focuses primarily on the three friends, critics also noted that the author explores the characters and emotions of the family members as well as the people that the girls meet. In her review in the New York Times Book Review, Jacqueline Carey commented: "Although she takes the girls' points of view, she can see deep into the hearts of both parents and children as the balance of power tips—a circumstance that may be inevitable but that neither side can forgive." Carey also noted: "Gardam … has thrown out the usual too-sensitive-for-you boilerplate of the coming-of-age novel, for which we can be thankful. Luckily, the generational conflict that remains is usually all the better for her wry indirection."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 12, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 43, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, 1982, Volume 161: British Children's Writers since 1960, 1996, Volume 231: British Novelists since 1960, Fourth Series, 2000.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Something about the Author Autobiography Series, Volume 9, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
Atlantic, July-August, 2001, Juliet Barker, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 163; May, 2004, Christina Schwarz, review of Faith Fox: A Nativity, p. 137.
Booklist, July, 2001, Donna Seaman, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 1979.
Kliatt, September, 2002, Maureen K. Griffin, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 18.
Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Susan Clifford Braun, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 160; December, 2003, Christine Perkins, review of Faith Fox, p. 165.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 22, 1995, Michael Harris, review of The Queen of the Tambourine.
New Statesman, September 25, 2000, Patricia Duncker, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 77; February 7, 2005, review of Old Filth, p. 54.
New York Times Book Review, April 27, 1986, Bob Coleman, review of Crusoe's Daughter, p. 39; August 27, 1995, Nina Sonenberg, review of The Queen of the Tambourine, p. 18; July 22, 2001, Jacqueline Carey, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 19; August 5, 2001, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 22; July 14, 2002, Scott Veale, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 24.
People, April 21, 1986, Campbell Geeslin, review of Crusoe's Daughter, p. 18.
Publishers Weekly, July 9, 2001, review of The Flight of the Maidens, p. 46.
Room of One's Own, Volume 8, number 3, 1983, Carroll Klein, review of author's works.
Times (London, England), February 10, 1983, Elaine Feinstein, review of The Pangs of Love.
Times Educational Supplement, May 3, 1991, Frances Spalding, review of The Queen of the Tambourine, p. 23.
Times Literary Supplement, April 12, 1991, Barbara Hardy, review of The Queen of the Tambourine, p. 18; August 26, 1994, Alex Clark, review of Going into a Dark House, p. 20; September 29, 2000, David Nokes, "A Sepia Society," p. 24.
Washington Post, August 23, 1995, Jonathan Yardley, review of The Queen of the Tambourine, p. C3.
BookReporter.com,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (April 3, 2007), Melissa Morgan, review of The Flight of the Maidens.
Contemporary Writers,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (April 3, 2007), profile of author.
Internet Movie Database,http://www.imdb.com/ (April 3, 2007), information on author's film and television work.