‘Sweet William’ by Beryl Bainbridge – A Quintessential 1970s Novel


‘Sweet William’ by Beryl Bainbridge  (1975) – 204 pages


‘Sweet William’ captures the ambiance – the permissive atmosphere and the sexual politics – of the early 1970s. Ann is a young woman who has had relationships with a few men, even a short go with a married man. Now she is engaged to Gerald. However nothing has prepared her for her encounter with William.

Despite being engaged to Gerald who has headed off on a trip to the United States, she is swept off her feet by the insufferable playwright William.

You don’t want to expect normality from him. He’s an artist after all.”

He says the most beautiful things. He is an elemental charmer, and soon she winds up in bed with William.

There were no preliminaries. Nor did he take any precautions.”

Only later does she discover that he has been divorced and has kids. Only later does she discover that he has also remarried and thus has another wife now. Only later does she discover that he has started something going with her younger female cousin Pamela. Only later does she discover that she is pregnant.

She had been happier when he indicated love, not practiced it.”

But Ann still figures she can work things out with William. She loves him.

Oh he was terribly sincere. At least that first week.”

Ann’s mother Mrs. Walton takes a differing view of things. Her mother got married to a British officer shortly after he returned from World War II.

You talk about modern life and things being different now. You haven’t learned anything at all. All this permissiveness has led you young girls into slavery.”

Things are definitely different for Ann in the 1970s from her mother’s World War II times. Her mother and her aunt preferred the company of women and to “leave the nasty men alone with their brutish ways and their engorged appendages”.

It was very difficult for her under the circumstances. All those years of duty and conformity gone for nothing. Of no value. Twenty years later the old standards swept away as if they had never been.”

In our time more than forty years later, Sweet William would be accused of serial sexual harassment which doesn’t sound so sweet.

It is difficult to comprehend that we are now farther distant from the 1970s than those people in the 1970s were distant from the time of World War II.


Grade:    B+




8 responses to this post.

  1. This is one of my favourite Bainbridges – it was very autobiographical, based on a relationship she had – she is reputed to have said that she toned William down from reality!!!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I really like Beryl Bainbridge, but still have several to read. Thankfully, I think I have a copy of this somewhere. She is so good at portraying the dark or strange in people and their relationships.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Heavenali,
      Beryl Bainbridge said that when she ran out of subjects based on her own experiences, she turned to historical subjects. I actually prefer her work based on her own experiences.



  3. Gosh, I hope she sent him an autographed copy…

    Liked by 2 people


  4. This is one that’s definitely on my “will read it within the next year” list (I have a lot of unread books), particularly as your review of BB’s Bottle Factory reminded me of how much I’ve enjoyed her work! Most of the novels I’ve read have been her “historical” ones, so I’ve missed Sweet William. I must say it sounds like a perfect subject for Ms. B’s slightly sinister gaze.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Janakay,
      I first encountered Beryl Bainbridge’s fiction with her later historical novels as they came out. I didn’t discover these earlier more personal works until I read ‘The Bottling Factory’. Now I am quite excited about her work.

      Liked by 1 person


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