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Sharp, Margery (1905–1991)

Sharp, Margery (1905–1991)

British author who wrote the "Miss Bianca" children's books. Born on January 25, 1905, in Malta; died on March 14, 1991, in London, England; third daughter of J.H. Sharp; Bedford College of London University, B.A., 1929; married Major Geoffrey L. Castle, in 1938 (died 1990).

Selected works:

(plays) Meeting at Night (1938), Lady in Waiting (1941), The Foolish Gentlewoman (1949); (adult novels) Rhododendron Pie (1930), Fanfare for Tin Trumpets (1932), The Nymph and the Nobleman (1932), Flowering Thorn (1934), Sophie Cassmajor (1934), Four Gardens (1935), Nutmeg Tree (1937), Harlequin House (1939), Stone of Chastity (1940), Cluny Brown (1944), Britannia Mews (1946), Lise Lillywhite (1951), The Gipsy in the Parlour (1954), The Tigress in the Hearth (1955), Eye of Love (1957), Martha in Paris (1962), Martha, Eric, and George (1964), The Sun in Scorpio (1965), In Pious Memory (1967), Rosa (1970), The Innocents (1971), The Last Chapel Picnic, and Other Stories (1973), The Faithful Servants (1975), Summer Visits (1977); (children's books) The Rescuers (1959), Melisande (1960), Something Light (1960), Miss Bianca (1962), The Turret (1963), Lost at the Fair (1965), Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (1966), Miss Bianca in the Orient (1970), Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1970), Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid (1972), The Magical Cockatoo (1974), The Children Next Door (1974), Bernard the Brave (1976), Bernard into Battle (1978).

Margery Sharp, who was born in 1905 to British parents living on the island of Malta, was sent to England to attend Streatham Hill High School; she went on to receive a degree in French from Bedford College, University of London, in 1929. Sharp began her career as a writer early in life, publishing several poetic works during her high school years. She also traveled extensively while still young, and in 1929 was selected as a member of the first British University women's debating team to visit the United States.

After returning from America and completing her undergraduate studies, Sharp devoted

her time to writing. Her first novel, Rhododendron Pie, was published in 1930. She also tried her hand as a playwright, and several of her works were produced in London during the 1930s and 1940s. Her 1937 novel The Nutmeg Tree was a bestseller, and in 1948 the book was made into a movie, Julia Misbehaves, starring Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. Sharp married Geoffrey L. Castle, a major in the British army, in 1938, and during World War II served as a teacher for the Armed Forces Education Program. This briefly preempted her career, but she resumed writing before the war's end and in 1944 published Cluny Brown. Ernst Lubitsch subsequently directed a successful film version of this comic novel, starring Charles Boyer and Jennifer Jones as the orphan Cluny. Sharp's Victorian-era melodrama Britannia Mews (1946), with a screenplay by Ring Lardner, Jr., was filmed as Forbidden Street in 1949 and starred Maureen O'Hara, Sybil Thorndike , and Dana Andrews. Later, her short story "The Tenant" would be adapted for the screen as The Notorious Landlady (1962), starring Kim Novak and Jack Lemmon. From the 1930s on, Sharp published numerous novels for adult readers, many of which were serialized in leading British and American literary magazines, including Harper's Bazaar, Punch, and the Saturday Evening Post, during the 1940s and 1950s.

Although she had met with success as a writer of fiction for adults, Sharp would find her true vocation as a writer of children's books, beginning with The Rescuers (1959), which introduced the elegant and refined white mouse named Miss Bianca. Well educated and a writer of dramatic poetry, Miss Bianca is the pet of an ambassador's son; in this first book, she is described thus:

There were the most fantastic rumors about her: for instance, that she lived in a Porcelain Pagoda; that she fed exclusively on cream cheese from a silver bonbon dish; that she wore a silver chain around her neck, and on Sundays a gold one. She was also said to be extremely beautiful, but affected to the last degree.

In The Rescuers, Miss Bianca descends from her rarefied heights to join the Mouse Prisoners' Aid Society, which works to comfort prisoners and free wrongly imprisoned humans. Illustrated by Garth Williams, the book was published as an adult novel but quickly proved a major success as a children's book. After its publication, Sharp concentrated on creating further fictional works for children, including seven more books featuring Miss Bianca and her faithful friend Bernard the pantry mouse. Considered among the best were Miss Bianca: A Fantasy (1962), Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (1966), and Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1970). New installments of the Miss Bianca tale met with less-than-ecstatic responses during the 1970s. Nevertheless, Miss Bianca's popularity among the reading public was mostly unaffected, and the series was translated into numerous languages, including Norwegian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. Sharp published two non-series children's books, The Children Next Door and The Magical Cockatoo, in 1974, but these were met with such a lack of enthusiasm that she returned to the mice rescuers for her final works, Bernard the Brave (1976) and Bernard into Battle (1978), which focused on Miss Bianca's long-suffering admirer.

The "Miss Bianca" series received a tremendous boost when Walt Disney Productions released its popular animated adaptation of The Rescuers, featuring the voices of Bob Newhart, Geraldine Page , and Eva Gabor as Miss Bianca, in 1977. Nonetheless, Sharp did not publish again after 1978. She suffered a mild stroke in 1986, and her husband died in 1990. That same year Disney produced The Rescuers Down Under, an animated sequel to the earlier film, sparking public interest that led to the reprinting of the "Miss Bianca" series in paperback. Margery Sharp died in March 1991.

sources:

Children's Literature Review. Vol. 27. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1992.

Commire, Anne, ed. Something About the Author. Vol. 29. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1982.

Kunitz, Stanley J., and Howard Haycraft, eds. Twentieth Century Authors. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1942.

Overmyer, Elizabeth C. "Margery Sharp," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 161: British Children's Writers Since 1960. Edited by Caroline C. Hunt. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1996.

Grant Eldridge , freelance writer, Pontiac, Michigan

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