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The Millstone

By motherhood'Rosamund is marvellous a true Drabble heroine what spirit is here' Sunday Times'One of our foremost women writers' Guardian'The novelist who will have done for late twentieth century London what Dickens did for Victorian London' The New York Time. My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice almost one might say made by it Rosamund Stacey is an unmarried academically brilliant young woman living rent free in her parent s spacious London apartment while they are away in Africa She has come of age on the cusp of the sexual revolution when the capital is about to morph into Swinging London and sex is almost de rigueur for a modern city girl of her class and generation Nevertheless in that typically hypocritical British way illegitimacy continues to be tabooShe feels in many ways out of step with her fashionable and literary friends because she is secretly still a virgin While she thoroughly enjoys socialising drinking and going out with young men she is in some ways determinedly asexual content to allow each of her two boyfriends to think she s sleeping with the other One must of course remember it is 1965 and the contraceptive pill is available only to married women a situation that continues until 1967 the same year in which abortion is legalized so accidental pregnancies are an ever present risk Rosamund s refusal to yield to sex is then understandable and probably not as unusual as she thinksAfter a single sexual encounter with George a shy gentle possibly gay announcer for BBC Radio Rosamund falls pregnant They are however both diffident and deeply unsure characters indeed people in general aren t as emotionally articulate as they are nowadays She has been raised never to inconvenience others and never to make a fuss She therefore does not inform George of his paternity but chooses to stay away from him throughout her pregnancy Where she differs most drastically from other middle class well brought up young Englishwomen of her era is in making a conscious decision to keep the baby She elects to combine single parenthood with having an academic careerDrabble has always maintained this book is about motherhood and isn t political but The Millstone has nevertheless come to be regarded as a seminal 1960s feminist novel During the writing of the narrative she was expecting her third child and large chunks of the story are based on her own experience of learning to navigate the system GPs surgeries clinics NHS maternity wards etc I was particularly fascinated by the chapters relating to pregnancy and birth in Britain during this period having often heard my own mother discuss the subject from a personal perspective I too was born in 1965Unlike so many of the unmarried mothers she meets Rosamund has financial padding she s not rich but she certainly isn t impoverished She sees poorer women having a far worse time than herself and she comes to understand that she has been born into a privileged world She does though feel rather shocked when the letter U for Unmarried is placed at the foot of her hospital bedShe names her daughter Octavia and finds in her an unconditional love the like of which she has never known So when her baby reuires life saving heart surgery and Rosamund is barred from the hospital by an officious matron who informs her it will be a fortnight before she will be permitted to visit her child she turns from a dumbly obedient young lady into a screaming howling madwoman Here I will leave the plot in order not to spoil the story for those planning to read the bookWritten in the first person this poignant minimalistic tale is about class positioning accepted codes of behaviour and being a single woman bringing up a child in a still highly priggish England Unlike the Kitchen Sink Dramas of this period often written by and about angry young men Drabble s novel is social realism from a woman s viewpoint Though it could be described as a bleak tale of missed opportunities it is also a funny astute extraordinarily beautiful if understated paean to motherhood The Millstone is a peculiarly British novel of its time that continues to captivate readers of all generations and I was unsurprised to learn that it has never been out of print since it was first published 54 years agoYou can read of my reviews and other literary features at Book Jotter

Review The Millstone

Ls her ignorance beneath a show of independence and becomes pregnant as a result of a one night stand Although single parenthood is still not socially acceptable she chooses to have the baby rather than to seek an illegal abortion and finds her life transformed. For a book written as long ago as 1965 this story of an intelligent single woman who finds herself pregnant is surprisingly modern and sympathetic with a refreshing lack of traditional moralising Its heroine Rosamund has an academic background similar to Drabble s and is cushioned by being able to live rent free in her travelling parents London flatIn the first half of the book she drifts into a decision to keep the baby and there is plenty of humour in the caricatured reactions of everyone she meets She conveniently acuires a flatmate in Lydia an aspiring novelist who is discovered to be writing about her which allows a slightly metafictional layer to be developedIn the second half of the book the baby Octavia is born and Rosamund finds redemption in unexpected ways none of which involve the various men she is involved withI found this book interesting and very enjoyable particularly so soon after reading her latest one The Dark Flood Rises last month

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A celebration of the drama and intensity of the mother child relationship published as a Penguin Essential for the first timeIt is the Swinging Sixties and Rosamund Stacey is young and inexperienced at a time when sexual liberation is well on its way She concea. Seen as a crucial novel on feminism and motherhood during the British 60s The Millstone is told in the first person by Rosamund Stacey a well brought up Londoner and well educated daughter of middle class socialists She is working on a PhD at the start of the novel and her sentences reflect her brainbox intelligent fluent and meaningful but there s also a shy stiffness in them too She was once told that sex is a very terrible thing and after all her problems with the subject Rosamund does finally allow one man to make love to her just the once Once is seen as enoughRosamund s inhibition her virgin ness isn t because she doesn t like the sensations of sex it s rather an excess of self consciousness and self doubt part of the class penalty she pays for her flat in Marylebone and the principled parents and the good education And after an unsatisfactory one night fumble with the charming George an announcer at the BBC she becomes pregnant but never tells him that she s pregnant and decides she will have the baby on her own Rosamund is headstrong and believes it s her job to provide for her baby whatever it takes She is a world away from the bone idle teens of today who get knocked up to live the life of riley on benefits without a care in the world for their children To be an unmarried mother in the 60s was not just embarrassing it was also seen in wider society as dishonourable Rosamund s sister remonstrates she cannot inflict the slur of illegitimacy on a child It s totally unwise She must give up the baby for adoption But Rosamund digs her heels in Insulated by her class and her brilliance she will go ahead and have the child We follow Rosamund through pregnancy and the early days of being a mother with her baby girl Octavia She also got to sail through labour in next to no time so can count herself lucky I ve been told countless times by the mothers in my family that men are wimps compared with what women have to go through giving birthThe novel unfolds with elegant minimalism and clever out of seuence turns the little scenes and the fragments of background happenings are the stepping stones that carry the reader across the river of the story Essentially this is a novel about maternal love Rosamund has the means to earn a living and the respect of others But above all she has her daughter and no one can interfere with that Rosamund s adventure is pregnancy and motherhood and her freedom is the option new and still tentative in the 1960s to become a single parent without stigma The novel can also be seen as a fascinating record of those still early years of the NHS when women of all classes mingled about in dingy waiting rooms feeling like being part of a social experimentI found this a wonderfully written and warming book and was really touched by Rosamund s plight as she deals with the conseuences of becoming pregnant her agonies and pressures about whether to self abort and her progress through the screwball maze of the NHS A nice fitting ending as well

About the Author: Margaret Drabble

AS Byatt The pair seldom see each other and each does not read the books of the other

10 thoughts on “The Millstone

  1. says:

    A “millstone around your neck” It’s a common enough idiom meaning a heavy burden weighing you down; inescapable and probably se

  2. says:

    Seen as a crucial novel on feminism and motherhood during the British 60s The Millstone is told in the first person by Rosamund Stace

  3. says:

    This is the story of a young academic in the mid 1960s who finds herself accidentally pregnant and singleI first read this covertly in my early teens having been shocked to find it on my very conservative mother's shelves I remember being very moved by it though too naive and inexperienced to relate to much of it Nearly 30 years and one planned child later I found it an excellent piece of writing albeit for somewhat different reasonsTimes m

  4. says:

    I have wanted to read this for years but was alwasys hoping that one day I would find it in a library to save me buying it When I discovered that King's College's library had fiction this was one of the first books I found and how glad I wasThi

  5. says:

    For a book written as long ago as 1965 this story of an intelligent single woman who finds herself pregnant is surprisingly modern and sympathetic with a refreshing lack of traditional moralising Its heroine Rosamund has an academic background similar to Drabble's and is cushioned by being able to live rent free in her travelling

  6. says:

    This was just an ok read for me; I found it very dated although can imagine that it raised a few eyebrows in its day

  7. says:

    I think I'm among the few who read this and got upset with the ending While the novel is readable and at least for the four fifths of its length manages to be largely inoffensive for such a subject single motherhood in the 60s it ends with the kind of run of the mill writing one associates with Mills and Boon romances Rosamund Stacey the Ca

  8. says:

    “My career has always been marked by a strange mixture of confidence and cowardice almost one might say made by it” Rosamund Stacey is an

  9. says:

    For my full review main awareness of Margaret Drabble has always been that she is the sister of AS Byatt who wrote Possession one of my very favourite books and that the pair of them have had some sort of long running feud which may or may not

  10. says:

    London in the early 1960s is a place where casual sex is becoming acceptable but having a child out of wedlock i

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