Brigid Brophy Essays About Life

  • The Life of Jane Austen by John Halperin
    Harvester, 400 pp, December 1984, ISBN 0 7108 0518 7

Two voices are there of Centennial Professor of English at Vanderbilt University John Halperin, whose rank and area of operation are, by what strikes me as a publishing solecism in a book that solicits a general readership, placed in apposition to his name on the title-page. The first voice is scarcely of the deep, but it utters some common sense. The other, which predominates, is the voice of Mr Collins. Long driven to that conclusion, I came upon Professor Halperin himself, some three hundred pages into his book, pronouncing that the Rev. James Stanier Clarke, the librarian to the Prince Regent who transmitted to Jane Austen his employer’s permission (in the sense of command) for her to dedicate her next novel to the Prince, ‘must have convinced Jane that Mr Collins had come to life.’ Well, that one deutero-Collins should recognise another when he sees him seems only fair; and in the notion that one of Jane Austen’s inventions turned into real life he pays a tiny fragment of recompense for the gross injustice he does her in his indeed gross book.

His foreword declares Jane Austen ‘possibly the greatest of the English novelists’. Muffled by the ‘possibly’ and the ‘English’, it is not a very ringing declaration. When he comes down to supposed certainties, he will go no further than ‘certainly the first great woman writer in English’, an assertion in which he has pusillanimously so broadened the ground that he does injustice to Aphra Behn. He repeats the assertion with its concomitant injustice in his Chapter Four. Yet when I had finished his book I wondered what he was praising Jane Austen, albeit in squeaks, for, since the book pivots on the assumption that she was incapable of inventing a house, let alone a human.

Apart from citing without disapprobation two of my observations about Jane Austen, the professor’s common-sensible voice displays, chiefly, negative virtues. He is not under the illusion that Jane Austen’s oeuvre constitutes the Country Diary of a Regency Lady. Indeed, although she did not publish her first book until two years after the Regency was established, he repeatedly describes her as a Georgian. That may be justified if the implication is that her intellect was formed early in her life, but to establish the point would take a deal more exploration of the discernible intellectual influences than the professor provides. It would take more than exploration to explain the professor’s remark that by 1801 the ‘London smart set had followed the Prince Regent’s example’ of holidaying in Brighton, since at that date he was still the Prince of Wales.

Though her intellect was formed early, Jane Austen’s mind was not quick to put up the shutters. The professor’s highest virtue is to point to the many instances that show her pains to keep informed and up-to-date about current events. Laudably, he is no Janeite. He never speaks of his subject as ‘Miss Austen’, that facetious, would-be ‘period’ locution which, although it was the only recourse for near-contemporaries ignorant of her family situation, is, on the pens of latterday admirers who know her to have been the second unmarried daughter, a period solecism and one which, as her letters demonstrate, she took care to avoid and avert.

True, the professor often calls her ‘Jane’. This he interchanges, however, with ‘Jane Austen’ and ‘the novelist’, once using all three within ten lines. No principle that I can detect determines his choice except the one attributed to mid-19th-century sports reporters, of eschewing whichever two you have used the most recently. Syntactically, he is sometimes suspect. ‘She was perhaps less “affectionate” than open-minded; having high standards, her affections were not easily bestowed.’ I’m not sure that affections can have standards, though clearly she could. When he writes ‘this far’, I am dead sure that ‘this’ is not an adverb. Self-contradictorily, however, he seems to believe that a word cannot be an adverb unless it ends in -ly. There seems no other reason for him to write ‘overly’, a North American usage I always find overly ripe.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.


Vol. 7 No. 6 · 4 April 1985

SIR: I do not reply to reviews as a rule, but Brigid Brophy’s silly, carping account of my Life of Jane Austen (LRB, 7 February) deserves some response. Miss Brophy devotes much of her essay to picking apart the jacket, the title pages, the preface and the notes. She cannot forgive me for writing American instead of British English. There is no evidence to suggest that she has looked at anything between the preface and the notes, for, despite her general nastiness, she seems hard put to disagree with anything I say in the book. In fact she doesn’t discuss book at all. I think your readers deserve reviews which tell them something about new books; and those of us who write deserve reviewers less arrogant and trivial than Miss Brophy.

John Halperin
Nashville, Tennessee

Brigid Brophy writes: How odd of Professor Halperin to suppose that the difference between the title he repeatedly attributes to Mary Wollstonecraft’s book and its true title is merely the difference between North American and British English.

Brigid Brophy
BornBrigid Antonia Brophy
(1929-06-12)June 12, 1929
DiedAugust 7, 1995(1995-08-07) (aged 66)
SpouseMichael Levey

Brigid Antonia Brophy, Lady Levey (12 June 1929 – 7 August 1995) was a British novelist, critic and campaigner for social reforms, including the rights of authors and animal rights. Among her novels was Hackenfeller's Ape (1953); among her critical studies were Mozart the Dramatist (1964, revised 1990) and Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction ... In Praise Of Ronald Firbank (1973). In the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Novelists since 1960, S. J. Newman described her as "one of the oddest, most brilliant, and most enduring of [the] 1960s symptoms."

She was a feminist and pacifist who expressed controversial opinions on marriage, the Vietnam War, religious education in schools, sex, and pornography.[1] She was a campaigner for animal rights and vegetarianism. A 1965 Sunday Times article by Brophy is credited by psychologist Richard D. Ryder with having triggered the formation of the animal rights movement in England.[2]

Brophy married art historian Michael Levey in 1954. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983.[1]


Brigid Antonia Brophy was born on 12 June 1929, in Ealing in west London. She was the only child of the novelist John Brophy and Charis Brophy (née Grundy), who was a teacher. Even as a child she began writing plays. During World War II she attended The Abbey School, Reading, between May 1941 and July 1943, and other schools. She then attended St Paul's Girls' School in London. In 1947 she went on a scholarship to Oxford University (St Hugh's College), but left in 1948 without a degree.[3]

In 1953, when she was 25, her book of short stories, The Crown Princess, was published; it was followed in the same year by her much better received novel, Hackenfeller's Ape.

In 1954 she married art historian Michael Levey (afterwards director of the British National Gallery, 1973–87, and knighted in 1981). The couple had one daughter. In the following years she brought out a series of novels, including Flesh (1962), The Finishing Touch (1963, described as a "lesbian fantasia"), The Snow Ball (1964) and Palace Without Chairs (1978, in which a child of royal descent survives political tumult).

Brophy also wrote several non-fiction books and essays, including Black Ship to Hell (1962; an appreciation of Shavian and Freudian ideas), Mozart the Dramatist (1964) and (with her husband and Charles Osborne) Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without (1967). Her detailed study of Ronald Firbank, Prancing Novelist A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank, appeared in 1973.

She was a campaigner for several reforms. With Maureen Duffy she fought between 1972 and 1982 for authors' Public Lending Right. She was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[4] She became president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In her book Baroque 'n' Roll (1987) she wrote about her struggle with multiple sclerosis (of which she knew the first symptoms in 1981), her bisexuality and the causes that she supported.

From 1987 her husband, Michael Levey, looked after her during her illness, resigning his position as director of the National Gallery to do so. She died on 7 August 1995, at Louth in Lincolnshire.



  • The Crown Princess and Other Stories (1953)
  • Hackenfeller's Ape (1953, reprinted 1991)
  • The King of a Rainy Country (1956, reprinted 1990, 2012)
  • Flesh (1962)
  • The Finishing Touch (1963, revised 1987)
  • The Snow Ball (1964)
  • The Burglar (play, first produced in London at Vaudeville Theatre, 22 February 1967, and published 1968)
  • In Transit: An Heroicycle Novel (1969, reprinted 2002)
  • The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl: A Novel and Some Fables (1973)
  • Pussy Owl: Superbeast (1976), for children, illustrated by Hilary Hayton
  • Palace without Chairs: A Baroque Novel (1978)


  • Black Ship to Hell (1962)
  • Mozart the Dramatist: A New View of Mozart, His Operas and His Age (1964) (revised 1990)
  • Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews (1966)
  • (With husband, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne) Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (1967)
  • Religious Education in State Schools (1967)
  • Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1968)
  • The Rights of Animals (1969. Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society)
  • The Longford Threat to Freedom (1972)
  • Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank (1973)
  • Beardsley and His World (1976)
  • The Prince and the Wild Geese, pictures by Gregoire Gagarin (1982)
  • A Guide to Public Lending Right (1983)
  • Baroque 'n' Roll and Other Essays (1987)
  • Reads: A Collection of Essays (1989)


  • Best Short Plays of the World Theatre, 1958–1967, 1968
  • Animals, Men and Morals, edited by Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris (1971)
  • The Genius of Shaw, edited by Michael Holroyd (1979)
  • Animal Rights: A Symposium, edited by D. Paterson and R. D. Ryder (1979)
  • Shakespeare Stories, edited by Giles Gordon (1982)

A collection of Brophy's manuscripts is housed in Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington.


Further reading[edit]

  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction; 15:3 (1995 Fall), issue devoted to Brigid Brophy, Robert Creeley, Osman Lines
  • Discovering Brigid Brophy[1]
  • The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy - published in 2012 by The Coelacanth Press[2]
  1. ^ abMartin Pope (29 December 2008). "Sir Michael Levey". The Telegraph. London.  
  2. ^Richard Ryder (2000). Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism. Berg. p. 5. ISBN 1-85973-330-1.  
  3. ^Sarah Lyall (9 August 1995). "Brigid Brophy Is Dead at 66; Novelist, Critic and Crusader". The New York Times. 
  4. ^"Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 


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