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Brophy, Brigid (1929-1995)  

English novelist, essayist, and biographer Brigid Brophy was one of the 1960s' most daring voices in her explorations of the varieties of sexuality.

Brophy was born in London, June 12, 1929, the daughter of the novelist John Brophy and Charis Grundy, the American-born daughter of the Bishop ("Angel") of Liverpool of the apocalyptic and now-defunct Irvingite sect. She was educated at St. Paul's Girls' School, London, and, in 1947, was admitted to St. Hugh's College, Oxford, on scholarship. In her second year at Oxford, she was "sent down" for "unspecified offences," which have been variously rumored to be drunkenness in chapel or lesbianism.

After her expulsion, she worked as a secretary to a pornographer, among other odd jobs, in London and began to write fiction. In 1953, she published The Crown Princess and Other Stories, a collection of short works, and Hackenfeller's Ape, a novel indicative of her ongoing interest in animal rights. Both works brought her favorable critical attention, the latter winning the Cheltenham Literary Festival prize for best first novel.

In 1954, Brophy married Michael Levey, art historian and author of The Case of Walter Pater. During the 1960s, their unconventional marriage, informed by Brophy's boldly outspoken views favoring bisexuality and opposing monogamy and institutional heterosexuality, was a cause célèbre in the British press and literary circles. Her social and sexual concerns, outlined in essays in Don't Never Forget (1963) and Baroque 'n' Roll and Other Essays (1986), are among the recurring themes of Brophy's fiction.

Her semiautobiographical second novel, The King of a Rainy Country (1956), explores the nexus of heterosexuality and desire against the backdrop of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Le Nozze di Figaro. In this picaresque tale, a youthful and not-quite-straight pair, Susan and Neale, travel across Europe in search of Cynthia, Susan's long-lost love from her schoolgirl days.

Throughout the early 1960s, Brophy employed the comedy of manners as her favored mode for exploring social and sexual mores. From a cool, detached perspective, Flesh (1962) traces the development of a hedonist. In The Snow Ball (1963), she returns to Mozartean sources, examining the sexual psychology of the opera Don Giovanni in the context of a New Year's Eve costume party in contemporary London. The Finishing Touch (1963), a tale of romantic misadventures in a lesbian-run girls school on the French Riviera, pays homage to the novels of Ronald Firbank, another of Brophy's icons.

Her most ambitious work, In Transit (1969), is a free-associative narrative set in the international terminal of an airport. While the text explores through puns and allusions many of Brophy's favorite themes (for example, opera, pornography, rationalism, varieties of sexuality), protagonist Patrick/Patricia loses knowledge of language, hence the linguistic means of differentiating sex and gender and, consequently, his/her own distinctive sex or gender.

A Palace Without Chairs (1978), her last novel, is a modern-day fairy tale set in an imaginary Eastern European socialist monarchy and relates the tragicomic woes of its impecunious royal family, including the lesbian Archduchess Heather who, through a series of disasters, unwittingly and unwillingly inherits the throne.

In addition to her novels, Brophy published several volumes of essays, short stories, and literary criticism, as well as authoritative critical biographies of Mozart, Firbank, and painter Aubrey Beardsley. She was founder, with novelist Maureen Duffy, of Writers Action Group, which successfully campaigned throughout the 1970s for parliamentary approval of the Public Lending Right, by which writers are guaranteed remuneration for public use of their works.

In 1984, Brophy was afflicted with multiple sclerosis, and she and her work gradually faded from public notice. Recent reprints of her novels and renewed critical interest, however, are beginning to reverse this neglect of one of the 1960s' most daring voices of sexuality difference.

Brophy succumbed to multiple sclerosis on August 7, 1995. Recently, following the death of Iris Murdoch, an affair between the two women has been made public.

Patricia Juliana Smith


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Brophy, Brigid. Baroque 'n' Roll and Other Essays. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1986.

_____. Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews. London: Cape, 1963.

_____. Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank. London: Macmillan, 1963.

Lawrence, Karen R. "In Transit: From James Joyce to Brigid Brophy." Transcultural Joyce. Karen R. Lawrence, ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998.


    Citation Information
    Author: Smith, Patricia Juliana  
    Entry Title: Brophy, Brigid  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated December 12, 2002  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates  


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