Telling the tales of today

Dame Margaret Drabble (b. 1939)
The gates of ivory, notebook and draft
England and Vietnam, ca 1989–1991

The origins of the novel as a distinct literary genre have been traced back to classical times, but its modern guise is generally regarded as a development of the seventeenth century. Although the delineation of character, rather than narrative action, has come be regarded as its foremost attribute, and the portrayal of personal and domestic life as its distinctive trait, the novel is also capable of encompassing the sweep of historical change and the interplay of the individual and wider society. Nineteenth and twentieth-century novelists drew on their contemporary worlds to create fictions that illuminated the histories of their own times. Margaret Drabble’s 1991 novel The gates of ivory combined social comedy with the harrowing recent experience of Cambodia. Its title, though, is a direct reference to Book XIX of Homer’s Odyssey. Modern writers continue to draw on older models and to confront eternal themes which resonate down the ages: fate and free will, character and chance. Cambridge University Library is actively building its modern literary archives, supporting the study and creation of the fables of the future.

MS Add.9974, reproduced by kind permission of Dame Margaret Drabble