Posts Tagged ‘Beryl Bainbridge’

‘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+




‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ by Beryl Bainbridge – “an outrageously funny and horrifying novel” – Graham Greene

‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ by Beryl Bainbridge    (1974)  –  219 pages


So much of literature today seems designed to placate everyone who reads it. ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ will placate no one; it is uncompromising in its starkness and its gallows humor. It’s sheer originality is amazing; I doubt that there would be anyone else who could write a novel quite like ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’.

It is the story of two women, Freda and Brenda, who room together and work together in the same wine bottle factory in London. I picture the two women as both in their late twenties or early thirties. Freda is big, blonde, and aggressive while Brenda is more hapless and self-effacing, yet it is Brenda who was previously married.

They are the only women who work in the bottle factory besides an older Italian woman Maria. The factory is owned by Paganotti, an Italian entrepreneur transplanted to England, and most of the other employees are Italian men. Freda has her eyes and her heart set on fellow worker Vittorio.

It’s not so much that I want him, she thought, but I would like him to want me.”

Beryl Bainbridge

Meanwhile Brenda is beset by the unwanted fumbling attentions of the plant manager Rossi or what we would call sexual harassment today.

She couldn’t think how to discourage him – she didn’t want to lose her job and she hated giving offense. He had a funny way of pinching her all over, as if she was a mattress whose stuffing needed distributing more evenly.”

The novel centers around a Sunday outing for the workers in the bottling plant. I won’t go into any of the details of the shocking plot so that you can discover it for yourself.

‘The Bottle Factory Outing’ is a deadpan comedy like nothing you have ever read before. Somehow Beryl Bainbridge manages to keep a straight face while telling us this outrageous story.


Grade:    A



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