Brigid Brophy

Brigid Brophy (Brigid Antonia Brophy, Lady Levey, 12 June 1929 – 7 August 1995) was a British writer.

The only daughter of the Anglo-Irish novelist John Brophy, Brigid began writing plays when she was six years old. She attended The Abbey School, in Reading, and later St Paul’s Girls’ School, in London. In 1947, Brophy was awarded a Jubilee Scholarship at St Hugh’s College, Oxford University, where she read Classics. Soon afterwards, in 1948, however, she was expelled due to drunken, raucous behavior. About this episode, she wrote: “I came down at the age of 19 without a degree and with a consequent sense of nudity which I have never quite overcome.” She left without a degree and went on to write 10 novels and 11 nonfiction works, and to become a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Brophy published her first book, The Crown Princess, a short-story collection, in 1953, which was followed by her fist novel, Hackenfeller’s Ape, in the same year. In 1954, she married the art historian Michael Levey, and they had a daughter in 1957. Levey was the director of the National Gallery from 1973 to 1986. Following her husband’s knighthood in 1981, Brigid was officially known as Lady Levey.

Brophy was an atheist, pacifist, vegetarian, feminist, and queer woman. She campaigned for various causes, ranging from animal rights to sexual freedom; from camp to teaching of Ancient Greek in schools (and banning of religious education); from women’s liberation to writers’ rights (she played a major role in Britain’s current Public Lending Right, by which authors are paid royalty payments from the British Government every time their books were checked out of a public library). In 1974, she joined the Writers Guild of Great Britain as a member of its executive council, as well as the Anti-Vivisection Society of Great Britain, serving as vice-president. Her manifesto “The Rights of Animals”, published in the Sunday Times in 1965, is credited with starting the animal rights movement.

She soon developed a reputation as a sharp, “difficult” woman who “liked a good fight.” In his review of her short story collection The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl, for the Times Literary Supplement in 1974, Ian Hamilton called her “one of our leading literary shrews”. Brigid spoke freely about her bisexuality; wrote a novel on gender fluidity (In Transit, 1969); kept an open relationship with her husband; and, in her early years, referred to marriage as “an immoral institution“. Brophy also had a brief love affair with Iris Murdoch, and the two remained lifelong friends.

In the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Novelists since 1960 (v. 14, part I, 1983), S. J. Newman described her as “one of the oddest, most brilliant, and most enduring of 1960s symptoms.” In the The Review of Contemporary Fiction (v.15, 1995), Steven Moore argues: “The neglect of this brilliant woman’s work and contributions to contemporary aesthetics is scandalous. Those human beings who study contemporary literature never should forget Brophy.

Brophy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1970’s, and wrote about the experience in her essay collection Baroque ‘n’ Roll (1987). She died on 7 August 1995, at a nursing home in Lincolnshire, England.

Books

Fiction

  • The Crown Princess and Other Stories (1953)
  • Hackenfeller’s Ape (1953)
  • The King of a Rainy Country (1956)
  • 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)
  • 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)

Nonfiction

  • 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)
  • Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (1967, with Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne)
  • 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 (1983, pictures by Gregoire Gagarin )
  • A Guide to Public Lending Right (1983)
  • Baroque ‘n’ Roll and Other Essays (1987)
  • Reads: A Collection of Essays (1989)

About her

  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction, v.15, issue 3, Fall 1995.
  • “An Interview with Brigid Brophy,”by Leslie Dock, in: Contemporary Literature, v. 17, Spring 1976.

 

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