The Millstone

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At a time when sex is de rigueur -- this is the 60s, after all, in newly energized London -- and illegitimacy taboo, Rosamund Stacey finds herself pregnant after her only sexual encounter. Despite her fierce independence and academic brilliance, Rosamund is naive and unworldly and the choices before her are terrifying. But in the perfection and helplessness of her baby she finds an unconditional love she has never known before, and the realization that motherhood and ...
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The Millstone

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Overview

At a time when sex is de rigueur -- this is the 60s, after all, in newly energized London -- and illegitimacy taboo, Rosamund Stacey finds herself pregnant after her only sexual encounter. Despite her fierce independence and academic brilliance, Rosamund is naive and unworldly and the choices before her are terrifying. But in the perfection and helplessness of her baby she finds an unconditional love she has never known before, and the realization that motherhood and independence are not mutually exclusive.
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Editorial Reviews

Chicago Tribune
Drabble's fiction has achieved a panoramic vision of contemporary life.
Washington Post
Reading Margaret Drabble's novels has become something of a rite of passage...Sharply observed exquisitely companionable tales of women of a certain age and class, educated, egocentric, strong, unlucky in love.
LA Times
As meticulous as Jane Austen, and as deadly as Evelyn Waugh.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452261266
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/1/1984
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Margaret Drabble

MARGARET DRABBLE is the author of The Sea Lady, The Seven Sisters, The Peppered Moth , and The Needle's Eye , among other novels. For her contributions to contemporary English literature, she was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2008.

Biography

With her shrewd, mannered descriptions and dialogue, Drabble can say a lot. Take this line from The Witch of Exmoor: "He bites his nails between grapes, and avoids eye contact. A mother -- but perhaps not his -- would note that he is too thin." The British author, who has been writing surprising and clever novels for some 40 years, tends to remain focused on female protagonists; but she is inventive when it comes to narration, sometimes where you least expect it. The Witch of Exmoor, for example, has a wry, omniscient narrator who begins with a godlike, "Begin on a midsummer evening. Let them have everything that is pleasant." In 2002's The Seven Sisters, the first section of the book is the main character's (often self-critical) computer diary, and unexpected shifts in perspective follow.

Her variations in narrative structure and her injection of political and social commentary into her works makes Drabble a particularly challenging and interesting writer. Her return to fiction after a seven-year gap, 1987's The Radiant Way, became a trilogy (completed by A Natural Curiosity and Gates of Ivory) that veered slightly into international adventure territory. Ivory, for example, flips between psychiatrist Liz Headleand (one of the three women first featured in The Radiant Way) and the writer friend for whom she is searching, a man who has gone to Cambodia for research. Unfortunately, several of Drabble's early and highly praised novels (including the first two books of the aforementioned trilogy) are out of print in the U.S. It's a shame, because those books are the ones that established Drabble as an important writer, and are the templates for Drabble's independent, intelligent heroines on the road to self-discovery.

A few critics who have been admirers of Drabble's since she began writing in the 1960s have gone sour on the author in her later years. On the release of The Witches of Exmoor, a Toronto Sun critic wrote, "I am so sad and sorry to report that Margaret Drabble, once one of the best novelists on earth, is past her best," calling the novel a "rehash." Of 2002's The Seven Sisters, the story of middle-aged divorcee Candida Wilton's experiences as a newly single woman, a critic for Britain's Observer lamented the book's unconventional and somewhat cagey approach toward the end. "Altogether, Candida is alive enough that the novel's truncations ache like phantom limbs," the critic wrote. "The realised heroines of Drabble's magnificent books from the 1960s or 1970s would say to Candida, Tell me what it is like to be you."

Ultimately, part of the push and shove over Drabble's work comes down to a tension between literary invention and reader satisfaction; she has often been criticized for not caring enough about her characters to make them engaging. The New York Times wrote of The Gates of Ivory, "It's about politics and literature, terrorism and atrocities, love and life and death.... But ideas do not make a novel. Characters do. And we need to care about them, deeply." However, consider The Nation's take: "What I love about this novel is what I love about the best of Drabble's works -- it's rich and complex and allusive and textured and intertextual and takes on the big questions: life and art, representation and responsibility, the possibility of political action, the question of human nature. It's a novel of ideas at a time when most fiction seems deliberately lobotomized."

Good To Know

Possession author A. S. Byatt is Drabble's older sister. There was too much competition," Byatt says about her childhood relationship with her sister. "We didn't get on."

Drabble was an actress with the Royal Shakespeare Company after she graduated from college, and was an understudy for Vanessa Redgrave; she married fellow RSC actor Clive Swift in 1960. The two divorced in 1975, and Drabble later married biographer Michael Holroyd.

Also a scholarly writer of biography and nonfiction, Drabble has written several forewords to editions of Jane Austen's work as well as lives of novelists Arnold Bennett and Angus Wilson. The nonfiction includes a 1990 analysis and critique of property law, Safe as Houses.

Drabble has also written several plays including Laura, Isadora, and Bird of Paradise. She adapted her novel The Millstone as the 1969 film A Touch of Love.

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    1. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 5, 1939
    2. Place of Birth:
      Sheffield, England
    1. Education:
      Cambridge University

Reading Group Guide

1. It's the 1960s and a sexual revolution is underway, but why can't Rosamund join in? After she loses her virginity to George, why is it impossible for Rosamund to tell him that she loves him? Do you think George loves her? Are they too much alike?

2. Why doesn't Rosamund tell George she's pregnant? Is it believable that she wouldn't tell him? Why does she decide not to have an abortion? What does Lydia's experience with abortion tell us about this society?

3. Rosamund admits to a belief in a malicious deity, though as her pregnancy advances, why does she change her mind? When she holds a stranger's sleeping child on her lap in the clinic, what important realization does she have?

4. When she leads Lydia's thinly disguised manuscript and the unflattering portrait of herself, why doesn't Rosamund ask her to leave? Is this portrait accurate?

5. Are Rosamund's parents to blame for her inability to connect with others? Rosamund discovers that her parents must know she has had a child, yet why don't they come back from Africa to help her? Is their staying away an act of love or indifference?

6. The most powerful moment of the novel happens when Rosamund causes a scene in the hospital. Is she out of control or is the opposite true? What gives her the courage to hold her ground against the cruelty of the Sister in charge? Why does the Sister want to keep her away?

7. When Rosamund finally sees Octavia, what does she realize about her daughter's love for her? What does she learn about grief and suffering from the other mother she meets in the hospital?

8. When they meet again, do you think George suspects that Octavia is his child? Why doesRosamund lie about when she was born? Has Rosamund stopped loving him or is it more complicated than that? Could knowing that Octavia was his child perhaps transform George, too?

9. Do you think the author is saying that a mother's love for a child is so satisfying that she doesn't need any other kind? Is it possible for women to experience unconditional love only through childbirth?

Copyright © 1998. Published by Harcourt, Inc.

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