‘A Success Story’ by Margaret Drabble

A Success Story by Margaret Drabble, 1972

The magic trick:

Addressing conflicted issues of feminism and gender politics in a way that is both of its time and still relevant 50 years later

We close this week of Margaret Drabble stories with two of her best, and two that feel cut from the same cloth. Both today’s feature, “A Success Story,” and tomorrow’s, “A Day In The Life Of A Smiling Woman” could be written about the same woman. Both women are about 10 or so years into careers that have brought them some level of public acclaim. Both are married. Both are clearly happy with some aspects of their lives and yet still trying to figure out why true happiness remains elusive.

In the case of “A Success Story,” the protagonist’s situation is portrayed through third-person narration so arch it almost makes her plight feel like an interesting social experiment. The woman, a playwright, meets another playwright who was an idol of hers as a student. [And apparently based on a real-life experience with Saul Bellow?] He drunkenly makes a pass at her. The story then consists of her reconsidering the situation – and how she handled it.

To call it relevant 50 years after it was published is an understatement.

The degree to which the story handles every nuanced detail and feeling involved is remarkable. And that’s an understatement too.

Read it. You likely won’t forget it.

And that’s quite a trick on Drabble’s part.

The selection:

This is a story about a woman. It couldn’t have been told a few years ago: perhaps even five years ago it couldn’t have been told. Perhaps it can’t really be told now. Perhaps I shouldn’t write it, perhaps it’s a bad move to write it. But it’s worth risking. Just to see.

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