Margaret Drabble and A. S. (Antonia Susan) Byatt are sisters and literary grande dames. They are not however on speaking terms and their feud has lasted for years and years, even originating in childhood. Their mother had ambitions for them as small children to go to Cambridge “Of course, you will go to Cambridge,” she said and they both did. Drabble excelled, exceeding her older sister’s first-class honours with a starred first. She was also the first one to publish by three years, but reckoned it was from being bored whilst pregnant -she had originally wanted to be an actress. Byatt always wanted to be a writer.
The feud has spilled out into their literary output,with references and digs. Now in their 70’s they are both novelists, short-story authors, critics, scholars and biographers who have won prizes and awards galore – 18 between them. Drabble has also edited Oxford Companion to English Literature In fact they’ve published 57 books and countless essays and articles between them, earned a dozen honorary doctorates and received four royal titles!!
But who is regarded as the creme de la creme?? Margaret Drabble, the younger of the two was possibly regarded as the more successful from the ’60s to 1990, thanks to her two blockbuster novels, The Millstone and Jerusalem the Golden. The Millstone won the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize in 1966; Jerusalem the Golden won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1967.) After 1990, Byatt seemed to be in the driving seat when she won the Man Booker Prize for her fifth novel, the brilliant Possession. Their writing is rooted in realism but Byatt has ventured into historical writing, and her stories are a bit less mundane? She has indicated that wintry Nordic myths are an influence. Drabble’s prose is very clear and of the here and now. The only way to judge is to read them. Enjoy!