Boekverslag : Margaret Drabble - The Millstone
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Writer: Margaret Drabble

Year of publication: 1995

Pages: 159 (epilogue included)

Publisher: Wolters-Noordhoff, Groningen

Main characters

Rosamund Stacey: She's the main character in this book, who lives in a flat in London. This young woman is very unsure on having sex. When she suddenly becomes pregnant, she first wants to kill her baby, but later she keeps it. After the birth of the baby, she doesn't even want to have her baby been adopted.

Lydia Reynolds: She's the girlfriend of Rosamund, and later she's also her roommate. Lydia is writing a novel about Rosamund and her daughter Octavia.


This novel belongs to the stream of consciousness, because it's a narration of a big change in the life of Rosamund. A main facet is that she first doesn't want the baby, but later she wants to keep it. Information om the stream of consciousness:

James Joyce (1882-1941) was searching for the secret places in which the real self is hidden. He believed he had found the way to it through human vocal language. To him language was the means by which the inner, or subconscious, feelings gained expression. Civilized man tries to control his spoken language; natural man would let his language flow freely. If one could capture this free flow of language in writing, he would have the secret of man's nature. Thus was born stream of consciousness, a technique that has been employed in much contemporary literature. 'Ulysses' (1922), a vast, rambling account of 24 hours in the lives of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, was banned in some countries but has nevertheless greatly influenced modern fiction. (See also Joyce.)

Joyce's stream-of-consciousness technique was refined by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941). For her, reality, or consciousness, is a stream. Life, for both reader and characters, is immersion in the flow of that stream. 'Mrs. Dalloway' (1925) and 'To the Lighthouse' (1927) are among her best works (see Woolf). Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923), Dorothy M. Richardson (1882-1957), and Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) also wrote fiction of this type (see Mansfield).

Another group of poets, like the stream-of-consciousness novelists, sought to escape from the world of ideas and problems. William Empson (1906-84) and Dylan Thomas (1914-53), for example, found their inner chaos best expressed in ambiguity (see Thomas, Dylan). To them, precision represented a departed world and today's chaos is better portrayed through the confused, the irrelevant, and the inexact. Theirs was a literature filled with vivid imagery.*

This book is a psychological novel too, because the things Rosamund thinks about are important throughout the whole story. Here follows more information on this genre:

Psychological Novels

Psychological novels are stories in which the primary focus is on the workings of the mind in the leading character or characters. Of this type, the first and one of the greatest is Cervantes's 'Don Quixote'. Few books have dealt so well with mental aberration and later reflections on it. In France the psychological novel made its appearance with Marie-Madeleine de La Fayette's 'The Princess of Cleves' (1678), and the category was improved upon by the Abbe Prevost's 'Manon Lescaut' (1731).

In England the psychological novel made its debut with George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), one of the modern period's prime practitioners of the type. Her major works include 'Adam Bede' (1859), 'The Mill on the Floss' (1860), 'Silas Marner' (1861), and 'Middlemarch' (1871-72). The novels of Henry James are psychological in that the crucial events of a story often occur in the minds and spirits of his characters. A more recent work, 'Something Happened' (1974) by Joseph Heller, takes place almost entirely within the mind of the leading character.

Two of the most outstanding psychological novels are masterpieces of Russian literature: Leo Tolstoi's 'Anna Karenina' (1875-77) and Fedor Dostoevski's 'Crime and Punishment' (1866). Tolstoi's novel is a probing study of feminine psychology. Dostoevski's novel is, on the face of it, a simple murder mystery as is his greatest novel 'The Brothers Karamazov'. Its fascination, however, is not in the solution of the crime but in the relentless investigation of the soul of the murderer. In the 20th century two of the best creators of psychological fiction were James Joyce in his 'Ulysses' (1922) and 'Finnegans Wake' (1939) and Vladimir Nabokov in 'Lolita' (1955), 'Pale Fire' (1962), and 'Ada' (1969).

Birth of the Psychological Novel

As biology and psychology advanced, it became clear that human beings could no longer be shown simply as heroes and villains. The study of human character demanded the examination of motives and causes rather than the making of moral judgments. To find the cause of action meant probing into the secrets of individual psychology.

George Meredith (1828-1909) was one of the first to apply psychological methods to the analysis of his characters. For the average reader the brilliance of such novels as 'The Ordeal of Richard Feverel' (1859) and 'The Egoist' (1879) is obscured by the absence of plot and the subtleties of the language. Meredith was also a poet of merit, and his essay on comedy and the comic spirit is a masterly interpretation of the function of comedy in literature.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) brought to fiction a philosophical attitude that resulted from the new science. He believed that the more science studies the universe the less evidence is found for an intelligent guiding force behind it. If there is just chance meaningless blind force in the universe, what hope is there for mankind? In a series of great novels, from 'The Return of the Native' (1878) to 'Jude the Obscure' (1895), Hardy sought to show how futile and senseless is man's struggle against the forces of natural environment, social convention, and biological heritage. (See also Hardy.)

Samuel Butler (1835-1902) entered into the scientific controversies of his day. Holding that evolution is the result of the creative will rather than of chance selection, Butler wrote a novel about the relations of parents to children 'The Way of All Flesh' (1903). The point of the story, made with irony, is that the family restrains the free development of the child.

Charles Reade (1814-84) was, like Dickens, an ardent critic of the social abuses of his day. His most famous novel, 'The Cloister and the Hearth' (1861), however, is a historical romance with a 15th-century setting. Filled with exciting incidents, intrigue, and witchcraft, it is based on the birth and boyhood of the Dutch scholar Erasmus.

George Gissing (1857-1903) was greatly influenced by Dickens. His hatred of the degrading effects of poverty is reflected in many of his novels. Gissing's most successful book was 'The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft' (1903), the imaginary journal of a retired writer who lives in happy solitude in the country amid his beloved books (as Gissing always wished that he could do).*


Rosamund Stacey is a young woman living alone in an apartment in London. She's afraid of having sex with a boy, that's why she and Hamish Andrews do never sleep together. They have a relation for about one year. Rosamund also go out with two men at once, Roger Anderson and Joe Hurt. Roger thinks Rosamund makes love with Joe and Joe thinks she does it with Roger. But in fact she only makes love with George (he works at the BBC as a radio announcer) later. He's homosexual, so she didn't really expect it. She discoveres later she is pregnant. To kill the baby she tries to drink a lot of gin and take a very hot bath. Unfortunately some friends drink almost all the gin and the water isn't hot. Then she decides she doesn't want an abortion.

Her relatives and her friends clearly advises Rosamund to have an abortion, for instance Joe thinks Rosamund is really out of her mind. He's very surprised she hasn't even told the father she's pregnant. When she tells it to Roger he asked if she wants to marry him. That's a big surprise for her, but she refuses him. She teaches four students private lessons (she's a cheap teacher), but only one (the Greek one) sees she's pregnant. She has to see a doctor now, but she has never seen one for many years. When she's in the waiting-room she's surprised she has to wait such a long time for seeing Dr Moffat.

Dr Moffat arranged a bed for her in St Andrew's Hospital (not far away) and she has to go to the midwife a lot of times (of course). First she doesn't understand for example the way in the building. Rosamund sees many women who has problems (they're poor), which she has never realized while she 's living in her apartment. She thinks of the father of the baby sometimes (George), then she turns the radio on to hear his voice. For earning money she writes a thesis about Elizabethan poetry.

The birth of the baby takes a very short time, it's a girl and her name is Octavia. When the baby smiles at her (sometimes) she's very glad. Later the baby gets a cold and has to have a serious heart operation. First Rosamund doesn't want that, but fortunately Dr Prutheroe can convince her. After that operation Rosamund isn't allowed to see her baby, but after yelling and crying she can see her baby together with Dr Prutheroe (who has operated Octavia). The doctor knows the father of Rosamund, who is now in Africa (together with his wife). Prutheroe informs her father of the situation, which results in the fact that the parents of Rosamund aren't going to come home for another year (they're going to India). Now Rosamund is able to be in the apartment of her parents (together with her baby and Lydia) for another year.

At the day Rosamund gets the letter with this news, Octavia has eaten some pages of the novel which Lydia was writing (about Rosamund and her baby and Octavia!). When Rosamund met George (while buying penicillin for her baby) she invites him to see the baby (she didn't say it was his baby), but she realizes she can't live with George, she only wants to live together with Octavia.

Narrative technique

In this book Rosamund Stacey is the first-person and omniscient narrator, she tells this story after it has happened. Not everything is told in the same order as it has happened.


In this novel the big changes of Rosamund when she became pregnant are very important. So in this story the psychological aspect of living is a main theme.

Explanation of the title

Most friends of Rosamund think she has to have an abortion, but Rosamund takes the baby. Her friends think the baby will be a millstone around Rosamund's neck: The baby will be very important for Rosamund and gives her a new intention in her life.

For many hundreds of years, grinding grain was a tedious hand operation. Rotary grinders, called millstones, were developed in about 700 BC, and for the first time animals could be used to produce the needed energy. Improvements brought wind- and water-powered mills that greatly increased the amount of grain that could be processed by a single mill. A mill powered by water with gears and other advanced features has been restored in Pompeii, Italy.

The first automatic manufacturing process was a flour mill patented by Oliver Evans in the United States in 1785. Millstones are still used in various parts of the world, but in the last 100 years they have been largely supplanted by the steel rollermill.*

My opinion

Seeing the cover I thought this book was a thriller about an exciting relation resulting in pregnancy. I thought there would be a plot in the end. But in fact only the feelings of a pregnant woman is written down, and I think that's a pity.

Information on the writer

Drabble, Margaret (born 1939), English novelist, born in Sheffield, Yorkshire; began writing after leaving Cambridge Univ.; novels are all thematically concerned with development of characters toward maturity through experiences of love, marriage, and motherhood; novels include 'The Summer Bird-cage' (1963), 'The Needle's Eye' (1972), 'The Ice Age' (1977), and 'The Middle Ground' (1980).*

Information on the name of the child: Hill, Octavia (1838-1912), British pioneer in housing reform, born in Wisbech, England; bought, improved, and managed tenements in London.*

Information on her example: ELIOT, George (1819-80). One of England's foremost novelists of the 19th century was Mary Ann (or Marian) Evans, who wrote under the masculine pen name of George Eliot. In such novels as 'Silas Marner' and 'The Mill on the Floss', George Eliot created realistic pictures of English country and village life. In 'Felix Holt', 'Middlemarch', and 'Daniel Deronda', she worked on a broader theme. In these novels she depicted the effects of the powerful new forces that were reshaping English ideas (see English Literature). In 'Romola' she used her vast knowledge of history to portray the life of a young woman living in the world of the Italian Renaissance. George Eliot was born in Warwickshire, England, on Nov. 22, 1819. Her father, Robert Evans, was agent, or manager, of the Newdigate estate. The family, including Mary Ann's sister, Chrissie, and her brother, Isaac, lived at Griff House on the estate. When she was 7, Mary Ann was sent to boarding school. She spent week- ends and long vacations at home, most of the time in the company of Isaac, whom she adored. The scenes between Maggie Tulliver and her brother Tom in 'The Mill on the Floss' come directly from these childhood days with Isaac.

Mrs. Evans died when Mary Ann was 16. Soon after, Chrissie married, and Mary Ann assumed charge of Griff House. When Isaac married, Robert Evans retired, and father and daughter went to live in nearby Coventry. Here Marian (as she now wrote her name) became a close friend of Charles Bray and his family. Bray, a prosperous manufacturer, had forsaken conventional Christianity in favor of his own system of ethics. Bray's ideas greatly influenced the girl, much to her father's anguish. During these years at home she translated David Friedrich Strauss's 'Life of Jesus' from the original German.

London and a New Life

After her father's death, Marian had to find a new life. A London publisher, John Chapman, who had published her translation of Strauss's 'Life of Jesus', offered her a job as assistant editor of the Westminster Review. The work completely absorbed her. She often worked 18 hours a day, but she still found time for social life with the leading writers and thinkers of the day. Among them was George Henry Lewes, a fairly well- known but not very successful journalist.

Lewes's wife had deserted him, leaving him their three young sons. In 1854 Marian became his common-law wife in a union that lasted until his death. Marriage was impossible because under English law at the time Lewes could not get a divorce without insurmountable difficulty.

Literary Success

Lewes soon recognized Marian's growing genius and urged her to try fiction. Her first effort was a short story, "The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton." It was accepted by Blackwood's Magazine for the January 1857 issue. Marian used her pen name for the first time, and for some years no one but Lewes knew who George Eliot was. Blackwood's accepted several more stories and reprinted them in a book, 'Scenes of Clerical Life', published in 1858.

For the next 20 years each new book by George Eliot was acclaimed by the critics and widely read by the public. She published 'Adam Bede' in 1859; 'The Mill on the Floss' (1860); 'Silas Marner' (1861); 'Romola' (1862-63); 'Felix Holt the Radical' (1866); 'The Spanish Gypsy' (1868), a dramatic poem; 'Brother and Sister' (1869), a sonnet sequence; 'Middlemarch' (1871-72); 'Daniel Deronda' (1876); and 'Impressions of Theophrastus Such' (1879). Income from the books enabled George Eliot and Lewes to live fashionably, to entertain, and to travel.

Their happy life together ended with Lewes's death in 1878. George Eliot wrote no more, and for a long time she mourned him deeply. In 1880 she became the wife of John W. Cross, a friend of many years. Only a few months later, on Dec. 22, 1880, she died. Cross arranged her letters and journals into a 'Life', published in 1885. This has been the main source for succeeding biographies.*

In England realism was represented by the dark tales of George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. In 'Middlemarch' (1871-72) Eliot took a dim view of human life, with close attention to squalor and poverty. Hardy saw mankind in the grip of blind mechanistic forces over which it has no control. 'Jude the Obscure' (1896) was his most pessimistic novel, and behind it one becomes aware of the newly developed belief in evolution enunciated by Darwin and elaborated by Thomas Huxley.*

Throughout history many well-known persons have written letters that, although originally intended as private correspondence, have been collected and published. Such collections are far too numerous to list, but in the modern period the letters of such famous persons as William Cowper, Charles Lamb, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Dean Howells, Ernest Hemingway, Groucho Marx, Sigmund Freud, Woodrow Wilson, George Eliot, Henry James, Katherine Mansfield, and D.H. Lawrence have proved rich sources of information on the persons themselves and on the world as they saw it.*

In the "Prisma Uittrekselboek Engelse literatuur" the critic compared Drabble to Henry James : JAMES, Henry (1843-1916). One of the most productive and influential American writers, Henry James was a master of fiction. He enlarged the form, was innovative with it, and placed upon it the mark of a highly individual method and style.

James was born on April 15, 1843, in New York City, the younger brother of William James (see James, William). He had two other brothers and one sister. His father, Henry, had inherited wealth, and the family enjoyed a life of leisure. The elder James lectured and wrote, largely about religious matters. The James children were educated by private teachers, and Henry entered Harvard Law School in 1862. At first Henry seemed to have no definite idea of how he would use his many talents. He was just as interested in drawing and mathematics as he was in writing. At Harvard, however, under the influence of Charles Eliot Norton and William Dean Howells, he decided that literature would be his life's work. From 1865 to 1869 he wrote criticism and short stories. After much travel, he decided in 1875 to live in Europe. He went first to Paris but in 1876 settled in London. James received an honorary degree from Harvard in 1911 and one from Oxford in 1912. Angry at the United States for not entering World War I at its start, he became a British citizen in 1915.

Because he wrote of a society of sophistication and culture, Henry James was accused of being a snobbish writer. He maintained, however, that it was only this kind of society that had the leisure to indulge in the delicate personal relationships in which he was interested. He wrote of these relationships with great psychological skill and in precise language, usually seeking to involve the reader in the thoughts and outlook of one character.

James wrote 20 novels, 112 shorter works, and 12 plays. The theme of much of his writing was the clash between the innocence and exuberance of the New World with the corruption and wisdom of the Old. His themes also included personal relationships, which he explored in 'The Portrait of a Lady,' published in 1881, and social reform, of which he wrote in 'The Bostonians' and 'The Princess Casamassima' (both 1886). Some of his other works included 'Daisy Miller' (1878), 'Washington Square' (1880), 'The Turn of the Screw' (1898), 'The Wings of the Dove' (1902), and 'The Ambassadors' (1903). James died on Feb. 28, 1916, in London. His ashes were taken to the United States and buried in Cambridge, Mass.*

Drabble studied at Cambridge University: Cambridge, University of, famous center of learning, Cambridge, England; established 13th century; given charter by Henry III (1231); 20 colleges, including three for women (women first given degrees 1923).*

More information on Drabble (from a review of "The Gates of Ivory): This novel, Margaret Drabble's 12th, concludes an ambitious project that the author began with The Radiant Way (1987) and continued in A Natural Curiosity (1989). Essentially, Drabble has been trying to counter the solipsistic bent of so much contemporary fiction, that wan parade of heroes and heroines talking to themselves -- usually about themselves -- and deaf to anything beyond the echoes of self-consciousness. Novels, particularly Victorian triple-deckers, once made room for the outside world, for the ways that history, politics, economics, etc., impinged on the lives of ordinary people. Are such narratives impossible now, or have most novelists simply quit paying attention to current events?1


The Millstone (1965) - Margaret Drabble


Margaret Drabble (b. 1939) studied English at Cambridge. After a short career as an actress she began to write fiction. Her best-known novels are The Garrick Year (1964), The Millstone and The Realms of Gold (1975). She has received many literary awards for her fiction and her literary criticism.

Title and Theme

Rosamund Stacey, the main character of the book, is pregnant but unmarried. Some of her friends look upon the baby as a millstone round Rosamunt's neck: They suggest an abortion or having the baby adopted. But Rosamund comes to terms with her situation and begins to enjoy it when she realizes that the baby will give her a new purpose in life. It is an excellent piece of irony when the baby manages to eat several pages of a novel in which Rosamund's situation is depicted rather negatively.


The Millstone is a psychological novel describing Rosamund's acceptance of an enormous change in her life which first embarrasses her but later turns out to enrich her life.


The story describes an eventful year in Rosamund's life and is set in London.

The Story

Rosamund Stacey is nineteen years old when she first spends a night with a man at a hotel. But she and the man, her fellow student Hamish Andrews, do not sleep together. They love each other for a whole year without making love.

All her life Rosamund has been afraid of the physical aspect of sex. She goes out with two men at once, and each of them thinks that Rosamund is sleeping with the other. One of them is Roger Anderson, a somewhat rude but intelligent accountant. The other man is Joe Hurt, an ugly, yet attractive writer. This double affair comes to an end when she meets George, a radio announcer.

One evening he takes her home and they make love. Rosamund accepts the pain because George is so tender and so kind. Since that evening she has not been in touch with George and one day she turns out to be pregnant. Rosamund, who at that time is living in her parents' flat while they are in Africa, has heard that drinking a bottle of gin, combined with a hot bath, will rid her of the baby. She has just bought a bottle when some friends arrive and drink most of the gin. When they have left Rosamund finishes the remainder but the gas heater does not function properly and her bath fills with cold water. Then she decides she will have the baby after all.

Rosamund visits a Dr Moffat who tells her she is in food shape. Because she lives on her own, he promises her that he will try to book a hospital bed for her. Rosamund realizes she cannot keep her pregancy a secret and tells Joe about it, without revealing the identity of the baby's father. They decide to stop going round together. Then she tells Roger and she is touched when he offers to marry her. But she refuses and when she is home again she knows her relationship with Roger has come to and end as well. Of the four students Rosamund teaches privately, only one takes an interest in Rosamund's pregnancy. Only Rosamund's novelist friend Lydia Reynolds is excited by Rosamund's news and starts telling long stories about her own miscarriage.

On a second visit to her doctor, he tells her he has booked a bed for her in the nearby St Andrew's Hospital. There she is excamined and she soon gets used to hospital routine. Rosamund's friends accept her pregnancy without a great deal of comment. Now and then Rosamund thinks of George an switches on the radio to listen to his voice announcing programmes.

Thinking about her pregnancy, Rosamund is convinced that is serves a purpose, still unknown, but meaningful. She makes enormous progress with her research work in the field of Elizabethan poetry. She thinks about the problem of finding domestic help when the baby is born. Luckily, Lydia suddenly finds herself without a place to live and Rosamund eagerly accepts her as a roommate.

Rosamund's sister Beatrice is not happy with the new situation and advises Rosamujnd to have the baby adopted. Also her sister-in-law Clare is embarrassed when Rosamund happens to meet her in a shop. Rosamund remembers two incidents when she had met children who had obviously been from a lower class. Now she wonders why such a distance exists between children of different social classes.

Rosamund is pleased she will be able to finish her research before the baby's arrival. When she does not feel like working she does jigsaw puzzles. The night before the baby is born, Rosamund finds out what the novel Lydia is working on is about. It is a slightly altered version of Rosamund's life story. It rather upsets Rosamund and she decides not to mention it to Lydia. Later that night her baby is born.

When Lydia and Joe Hurt come to see her, Rosamund tells them her baby's name will be Octavia. She enjoys her stay in hospital and is very fond of her baby, who now and then smiles at her. She realizes that this mutual feeling of love must have restrained her from having an abortion. Sometimes she feels the urge to ring up George to tell him about their daughter, but for various reasons she never does.

Octavia gets a cold and a doctor listens to her chest. He tells Rosamund to have the baby examined in a hospital. There a Dr Protheroe informs her that Octavia must a heart operation. Protheroe is an acquaintance of Rosamund's father and tries to assure her that the baby will be in good hands in hospital. Rosamund struggles through the next fortnight and then the operation is performed. In the days that follow Rosamund is not allowed to see Octavia. She gets so very desperate that she almost becomes hysterical. Dr Protheroe comes to her assistance and finally Rosamund is allowed to see her child and take care of her during her stay in hospital. Back home Rosamund remains anxious about Octavia's health. Also the prospect of her parents' return fills her with concern. However, her parents inform her they will spend some time in India, giving her the opportunity to live in the flat for another year. It turns out that Dr Protheroe has informed them of Rosamund's situation.

One day Lydia leaves the door of her bedroom open and little Octavia tears and chews up a number of pages of Lydia's novel. On her return Lydia accepts the situarion resignedly when Rosamund assures her she did not tear up the pages on purpose.

Rosamund is offered a good job and on Christmas Eve she works in the British Museum. When Octavia starts coughing, Rosamund goes to an all-night chemist's to buy penicillin. There she meets george and they start talking. Rosamund invites him to her flat and shows him the baby, lying about the date of its birth. George asks Rosamund to go abroad with him but Rosamund refuses. She realizes that her own nature, as well as Octavia's all-important presence in her life, make it impossible for her to share the future with George.

Rosamund researched the Elizabethan poetry: Throughout most of the centuries of poetry's existence, it has been directed to the public at large. This was especially true of the Greek dramas and comedies. It was still true for the works of Shakespeare and for other writers of the Elizabethan period and later. Poetry was meant to have a public impact, to affect events and to change people's minds. Since the end of the 18th century, there has been little poetry with a social influence. It has become significant for the solitary reader rather than for society as a whole. It is perhaps coincidental that the decline of poetry as a political influence began with the rise of the novel.*

Rosamund worked in the British Museum: British Museum, museum in London, England; established 1753 by government purchase of the collection and library of Sir Hans Sloane; noted for classical antiquities, medieval and oriental arts.*


* Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, © 1992-1994

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