Maureen Patricia Duffy
21 October 1933
|Education||King's College London|
|Occupation||Novelist, poet, playwright, nonfiction author, activist|
Maureen Patricia Duffy (born 21 October 1933) is an English poet, playwright, novelist and non-fiction author. A longstanding activist, including on such issues as gay rights and animal rights, she is known especially for campaigning on behalf of authors. She is a recipient of the Benson Medal for her lifelong writings.
Duffy's work often uses Freudian ideas and Greek mythology as frameworks. Her writing is distinctive for its use of contrasting voices, or streams of consciousness, often including the perspectives of outsiders. Her novels have been linked to a European tradition of literature which explores reality through the use of language and questioning, rather than through traditional linear narrative. James Joyce in particular, and Modernism in general, are influences on her fiction, as is Joyce Cary. "Duffy has inspired many other writers and proved that the English novel need not be realistic and domestic, but can be fantastical, experimental and political." Her writing in all forms is noted for an "eye for detail and ear for language". and "powerful intense imagery".
Her early plays often depict working-class life with humour and evocative language. She joined the Royal Court writers' group at a time when the social realist school of such playwrights as John Osborne and Arnold Wesker was transforming British drama. Some of her plays have been described as "anarchic... dealing with taboo subjects... 'total theater' reminiscent of the ideas of Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet, employing Brechtian techniques." Jean-Paul Sartre has also had an influence on her drama.
Duffy's affinity to London, present and past, and its cosmopolitan inhabitants often features in her writing, which celebrates diversity, regardless of class, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or species. She advocates "an ethic of compassion" towards human and animal rights.
Early life and education
Maureen Duffy draws on a tough childhood in That's How It Was, her most autobiographical novel. Her working-class roots, experience of "class and cultural division" and close relationship with her mother are key influences on her work. Her family came from Stratford, East London, where Duffy went to live at the age of 14, when her mother died. Her father was Irish, an important strand in her identity, but left when she was two months old. She developed an early passion for reading "stories of Ancient Greece and Rome, folk tales of Ireland and Wales, tales of knightly chivalry and poetry..."
Inspired by her mother, who Duffy recalls, "early on instilled in me that the one thing they can't take away from you is education," she completed her schooling and supported herself before she went to university by teaching at junior schools. At King's College London, she gained a degree in English in 1956, then taught in Naples till 1958 and in secondary schools in the London area till 1961.
Duffy's earliest ambition was to be a poet. She won her first such prize at the age of 17 with a poem printed in Adam magazine; soon followed by publication in The Listener and elsewhere. She later edited a poetry magazine called the sixties (1960–1961).
While at King's she completed her first full-length play, Pearson, and submitted it to a competition judged by Kenneth Tynan, drama critic at the Observer. This brought an invitation to join the Royal Court Writers Group, which she did in 1958, when its members included Edward Bond, Ann Jellicoe, John Arden, William Gaskill and Arnold Wesker.
Duffy started writing full-time after being commissioned by Granada Television to write a screenplay Josie – broadcast on ITV in 1961 as part of the Younger Generation series – about a teenage girl, hoping to break out of factory work by pursuing a talent for fashion design. The advance of £450 enabled Duffy to buy a houseboat to live in. Pearson won the Corporation of London Festival Playwright's Prize in 1962 and was performed, under the title The Lay Off, at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. The play drew on Duffy's student experience of vacation jobs in factories. Pearson/The Lay Off is a modern reworking of Piers Plowman, and an early example of Duffy's inclusion of black characters in prominent roles and of her opposition to racism. The set for Room for Us All recreates a small block of flats, with residents interacting, and the audience looking in as each one is lit up. Two and Two Makes Five is about a teacher disillusioned by the constraints of school culture at the time deciding to quit the profession.
Maureen Duffy's play, The Silk Room, about a male pop group, was produced at the Palace Theatre Watford in 1966. An episode of TV drama Sanctuary was commissioned by Associated Rediffusion and broadcast on ITV in 1967.
Becoming a novelist
Duffy's first novel, That's How It Was (1962), written at the suggestion of a publisher, won great acclaim. While many reviewers focused on its vivid depiction of a working-class childhood, Duffy also emphasised that her goal was to show the influences which could form a writer, and those which could encourage a preference for same-sex love.
Duffy's first openly gay novel was The Microcosm (1966), set in and around the famous lesbian Gateways Club in London (renamed the House of Shades). It was the first novel to depict a wide range of contrasting gay women of different ages, classes and ethnicities – and historical periods – to make a point that "there are dozens of ways of being queer." Widely reviewed, it sold well and inspired lesbian readers, including U. A. Fanthorpe and Mary McIntosh.
Duffy's other early novels deal with the life of creative artists. The Single Eye (1964) has a talented photographer gradually realising that his wife has become his rival, a restriction which is holding back his life and his art, and that for the sake of his creativity and his identity, he must leave her. The Paradox Players (1967), about a writer, draws on Duffy's experience of living on a houseboat. It shows the attractions of the freer life of this alternative community, together with its shortcomings (including rats in the food cupboard). The paradox lies in the difficulty of sustaining this as a permanent lifestyle, as the pressures of the outside world break through.
In 1968, Duffy was one of five women novelists commissioned by Joan Plowright to write a play for the National Theatre with an all-female cast. Duffy's Rites was selected for a second run at the Old Vic, then the home of the National Theatre and has been frequently performed since. Set in ladies' public toilets, it climaxes with an attack by a group of women on a "male", discovered too late to be a woman in a suit. It is described by Duffy as "black farce... pitched between fantasy and naturalism". Rites was shown with Old Tyme and Solo at the ADC Theatre in Cambridge in 1970. A sequel, Washouse, was set in a launderette run by a male to female transsexual. All these plays had contemporary settings, but drew thematically on Greek or Roman myths (the Bacchae, children of Uranus, Narcissus, Venus and Diana).
In 1971, Duffy was commissioned to write the second episode of the ITV series Upstairs Downstairs. Her play about the last hour of Virginia Woolf's life, A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square, was performed in 1973 at the Hampstead Theatre Club, and also featured Vita Sackville-West and Freud as imagined by Virginia.
Duffy's BBC radio plays include The Passionate Shepherdess about Aphra Behn (1977) and Only Goodnight (1981) about Edith Somerville and Violet Martin (Martin Ross). Family Trees (1984) dealt with family history research. Afterword, a witty two-hander about a writer under pressure from a benefits officer (a response to Vaclav Havel's play Conversation) was performed by Manchester University Drama Society in 1983. Megrim, set in a mythical matriarchy in the Welsh mountains, was performed at King Alfred's School of Speech and Drama, Winchester in 1984. The Masque of Henry Purcell was staged at Southwark Playhouse in London in 1995, while Sappho Singing was performed in London in 2010 and in Brighton in 2011.
Rites and A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square have been published. Typescripts of other plays are accessible to researchers in King's College London [KCL] Archive. A survey and analysis of Duffy's drama is available in Lucy Kay, (2005).
Duffy's play Hilda and Virginia was shown at the Jermyn Street Theatre on 27 February – 3 March 2018. The twinned monologues performed by Sarah Crowden focused on the last evening of Virginia Woolf's life and several episodes in the life of Abbess Hilda of Whitby as recorded by Bede, where Hilda tells of the poet Caedmon and the shift in the church from Irish to Roman Catholicism.
Duffy's first poetry volume appeared in 1968. Nine came out altogether, including Environmental Studies (2013), which was long-listed for the Green Carnation Prize, and most recently Pictures from an Exhibition (2016). Her Collected Poems, 1949–84 appeared in 1985.
Her poetry ranges widely, in form from the villanelle to free verse, and in content from erotic and lyrical love poetry to a humanist mass; family memories to political comment. Her work often references earlier poets from a contemporary angle, as in "Piers Plowless". Alison Hennegan credits Maureen Duffy with "the first modern lesbian love poems, unabashed and unapologetic. These showed what was possible." The "major concern" of Duffy's poetry is "sympathy for the human (or animal) condition, devoid of sentimentality or condescension".
Wounds (1969) creates a mosaic of London life through interweaving the voices of a wide range of characters, including a black mother, a local politician, and a gay theatre director, whose lives contrast with the uplifting experience of two passionate lovers, whose encounters recur throughout the book. Love Child (1971) features a narrator whose gender is unstated, Kit, a child whose jealousy of its mother's relationship with her lover Ajax (also of unknown gender) has tragic consequences – an Oedipal theme. Kit has also been identified with Cupid and the mother with Venus.
Duffy's trilogy about London continues with Capital (1975). The lives of a professor, Emery, and a self-educated, homeless eccentric, Meepers, twine around "Queen's" (a fictionalised version of King's College), interspersed with narratives of Londoners of various periods, including 14th-century prostitutes and Stone Age hunters. Many critics saw this as her most impressive novel to date. Lorna Sage noted her writing "becoming altogether more carnivalesque – more deadpan and more comic." The third of the trilogy, Londoners: an Elegy (1983), brings frequent dry humour to the challenges of the contemporary writing world, through a narrator of unspecified gender writing about Francois Villon. Londoners is also inspired by Dante's Inferno and draws parallels with Villon's medieval Paris; it is also notable for depicting gay pubs and characters.
Change (1987), set in World War II, includes a group of apes as one of the sets of narrative voices in a mosaic of stories of a wide range of ordinary people. Many of Duffy's subsequent novels use contrasting and complementary narratives of past and present, a technique she first applied in The Microcosm. Restitution (1998) (long-listed for the Booker Prize), eventually brings past and present together, as a young London woman gradually realizes her identity is unexpectedly altered by events in Nazi Germany half a century before.
Some of Duffy's novels deploy the storytelling techniques of thrillers, including I want to go to Moscow (1973), Housespy (1978), Occam's Razor (1991), Alchemy (2004), The Orpheus Trail (2009) and In Times Like These (2013). Political passion often animates her work. The Microcosm makes the case for acceptance of lesbians; Gor Saga challenges assumptions about the gulf between humans and other species; In Times Like These warns of dangers in possible Scottish independence and in withdrawal of England and Wales from the European Union. Scarborough Fear (written under a pseudonym in 1982) is a horror story with a modern setting and Gothic elements, engaging its young narrator in a psychological battle for survival.
Duffy's literary biography of Aphra Behn (1977) led to a rediscovery of the 17th-century playwright, the first woman to earn a living by writing, and established fresh facts about her life. Maureen Duffy has also edited Behn's plays and her novel Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, and written introductions to other works of hers.
Duffy's other non-fiction includes The Erotic World of Faery (1972), a Freudian study of eroticism in faery fantasy literature; Inherit the Earth, (1979) a social history of her family and their roots in Thaxstead, Essex; a biography of the composer Henry Purcell (1995); and a historical survey of how myths of English identity came to develop: England: The Making of the Myth (2001).
Maureen Duffy was the first gay woman in British public life today to be open about her sexuality. She "came out publicly in her work in the early 1960s" and made public comments before male homosexual acts were decriminalised in 1967. In 1977 she published The Ballad of the Blasphemy Trial, a broadside against the trial of the Gay News newspaper for "blasphemous libel".
As first President of the Gay Humanist Group from 1980 (renamed GALHA, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association, in 1987) she spoke out on many issues such as the human rights of those with HIV and AIDs. At the 1988 TUC conference, as President of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, she succeeded with a motion deploring the passing of Section 28 "as an infringement of the basic right to free speech and expression". Duffy has been a patron of the British Humanist Association since GALHA became part of the BHA in 2012.
Duffy is often invited by LGBT groups to read her work. In 1991, she took part in Saturday Night Out on BBC 2, saying that progress in gay rights since her earliest TV appearances had been more limited than she had hoped. In 1995 she was placed by Gay Times as one of the 200 most influential lesbian and gay people in Britain. She was also included on the Independent on Sunday' Pink List in 2005. In 2014, she received an Icon Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement from Attitude magazine.
A vegetarian and a campaigner for animal rights since 1967, who signed a letter to The Times in 1970, along with Elizabeth Taylor and others, promising never to wear fur, Duffy's thinking appears in her book Men & Beasts: an Animal Rights Handbook (1984).
Animal rights become central in two of her novels: I Want to Go to Moscow (1973, in the US: All Heaven in a Rage) and Gor Saga, the 1981 story of Gor, born half-gorilla, half-human, which was televised in 1988 in a three-part miniseries called First Born starring Charles Dance. Maureen Duffy became Vice President of Beauty Without Cruelty in 1975.
Duffy, with Brigid Brophy, founded the Writers Action Group in 1972. Their sustained campaign for Public Lending Right (PLR, annual author payments based on public library loans of printed books) led to it becoming law in 1979, after gathering over 700 authors as members. Duffy successfully proposed support for PLR at the TUC conference in 1978 and joined a delegation to meet Prime Minister James Callaghan in 1977. She remains an internationally respected authority on copyright, intellectual property law and secondary author rights.
"For almost as long as she has been writing for a living, Maureen Duffy has worked to protect the rights of writers, which have been jeopardised by successive changes in technology and in the book market." While continuing to defend PLR, Duffy has also contributed to a campaign for authors to be paid when their work is photocopied, and helped to found the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society, which she chaired for 15 years and remains as its president. She held senior positions for many years in the Writers Guild of Great Britain, the British Copyright Council, the European Writers' Congress (European Writers Council since 2008) and the Royal Society of Literature. She represents the International Authors Forum at the World Intellectual Property Organization (a specialized United Nations agency).
In the media
- President of Honour of the British Copyright Council
- President of ALCS
- Vice President of Royal Society of Literature
- Fellow of Kings College, London
Awards and honours
- 1985 – Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
- 2002 – CISAC gold medal, International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers
- 2004 – Benson Medal, Royal Society of Literature
- 2009 – Medal of Honour – Portuguese Society of Authors
- 2011 – Honorary Doctor of Literature – Loughborough University
- 2013 – Honorary Doctor of Literature – University of Kent
- 2015 – Fellow of the English Association
- That's How It Was (1962)
- The Single Eye (1964)
- The Microcosm (1966)
- The Paradox Players (1967)
- Wounds (1969)
- Love Child (1971)
- I Want to Go to Moscow: a Lay (in the US as All Heaven in a Rage, 1973)
- Capital: a Fiction (1975)
- Housespy (1978)
- Gor Saga (1981)
- Scarborough Fear, as D. M. Cayer (1982)
- Londoners: an Elegy (1983)
- Change (1987)
- Illuminations: a Fable (1991)
- Occam's Razor (1993)
- Restitution (1998)
- The Orpheus Trail (2009)
- Alchemy (2010)
- In Times Like These: a Fable (2013)
- The Erotic World of Faery (1972)
- The Passionate Shepherdess: Aphra Behn 1640–87 (1977)
- Inherit the Earth: a Social History (1980)
- Men and Beasts: an Animal Rights Handbook (1984)
- A Thousand Capricious Chances: a History of the Methuen List 1889–1989 (1989)
- Henry Purcell 1659–95 (1994)
- England: the Making of the Myth from Stonehenge to Albert Square (2001)
- Lyrics for the Dog Hour (1968)
- The Venus Touch (1971)
- Actaeon (1973)
- Evesong (1975)
- Memorials of the Quick and the Dead (1979)
- Collected Poems 1949–84 (1985)
- Family Values (2008)
- Environmental Studies (2013)
- Paper Wings (2014) – set to paper by artist Liz Mathews
- Pictures from an Exhibition (2016)
- Past Present: Piers Plowless and Sir Orfeo (2017)
- Wanderer (2020)
- Great Charles (1953)
- Pearson (1956) (performed as The Lay Off in 1962)
- Johnny Why (1956)
- Room for Us All (1957)
- Return of the Hero (c. 1958)
- Corp and Slogger (1950s)
- Josie (1961)
- Two and Two Makes Five (c. 1962)
- Treason Never Prospers (1963)
- Villon (1963)
- The Burrow (1964)
- The Silk Room (1966)
- Rites (1968)
- Solo (1970)
- Old Tyme (1970)
- Megrim (1972)
- A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square (1973)
- Washouse (mid-1970s?)
- The Passionate Shepherdess (1977)
- Only Goodnight (1981)
- Sarah Loves Caroline (1982)
- Afterword (1983)
- Family Trees (1984)
- Voices (1985)
- Unfinished Business (1986)
- The Masque of Henry Purcell (1995)
- Sappho Singing (2010)
- What You Will (2012)
- "The Choice" (2017)
- "Rites" in New Short Plays 2 (Methuen, 1969), and published on its own by Hansom Books 1969, and in Plays by Women, edited by Michelene Wandor (Methuen, 1983)
- "A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square", in Factions, edited by Giles Gordon and Alex Hamilton (Michael Joseph. 1974)
- "The Choice" and "A Nightingale in Bloomsbury Square" in Hilda and Virginia (Oberon Modern Plays 2018)
- 1969 Prop Art (with Brigid Brophy). London.
- 2014 Paper Wings – a collaboration with Liz Mathews. London
- Maggie Gee (2014), "Maureen Duffy's mosaics", TLS, 1 January 2014: 17.
- Christoph Bode (2001), "The Polyphonic novel as a subversion of realism", Beate Neumier, ed. (2001), Engendering Realism and Post-modernism: Contemporary Women Writers in Britain, p. 89.
- Beate Neumier's talk at "In Times Like These day of celebration of Maureen Duffy" at King's College, London, 6 December 2013.
- British Library. Maureen Duffy interviewed by Sarah O'Reilly, Authors' Lives, 2007–2009. British Library Sound & Moving Image Catalogue reference C1279/03: Track 6 21.01.08.
- Francis Hope, The Observer, 25 November 1962: 29. Similar comments are made, for example, by Jane Miller, TLS 3 July 1969, p. 720; Werson (1983), 274; Bode (2001), 89; and Maggie Gee, TLS 1 January 2014, p. 17.
- Lucy Kay (2005), "Maureen Duffy", Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 310, British and Irish Dramatists since World War II, 4th Series. Bruccoli Clark Layman, ed. John Bull, p. 72.
- Christine Sizemore, (1989), "The city as archeological dig: Maureen Duffy", A Female Vision of the City – London in the Novels of Five British Women, pp. 188–233.
- Sizemore (1989), "The city as archeological dig: Maureen Duffy", in A Female Vision of the City: p. 212.
- Duffy (1983), "Preface" to Virago edition of That's How It Was, p. x.
- Alison Hennegan (1977), "...and out the other side" interview with Maureen Duffy in Gay News, No. 128. London. October 1977: 20.
- Jill Gardiner (2013), "A life of herding words", interview with Maureen Duffy, Diva magazine. London, November 2013, p. 27.
- "Notable alumni - Maureen Duffy - King's Alumni Community". alumni.kcl.ac.uk. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- Duffy (1983), "Preface ", p. v, That's How It Was.
- That's How It Was (1962 ed.)
- The Stage 1 March 1962; The Stage and Television Today 12 July 1962, p. 13.
- Times, 30 September 1966, p. 14.
- IMDB synopsis. Accessed 13 January 2014.
- Well reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement, Observer, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Spectator, Daily Herald, etc.
- Maureen Duffy (1983 Virago ed.), That's How It Was, Preface, p. vi.
- The Microcosm (1989 Virago ed.), p. 273.
- Duffy quoted in Jill Gardiner (2003), From the closet to the screen: women at the Gateways Club 1945–85, pp. 104–107.
- Duffy, Maureen (1969). The paradox players. London: Panther. ISBN 0-586-02699-1. OCLC 877278597.
- Duffy (1983), play notes for Rites, Plays by Women, Vol. 2, p. 26.
- Duffy (1983), play notes for Rites in Plays by Women, Vol. 2, p. 27.
- "The Mistress and the Maids", Upstairs, Downstairs, Season One. Accessed 28 October 2013.
- Kay, Lucy (2005), "Maureen Duffy" in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 310: British and Irish Dramatists since World War II, 4th Series. Bruccoli Clark Layman, ed. John Bull, pp. 66–72.
- "A star is born at ENO". The Independent. 8 October 1995. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- Environmental Studies- About the author. ASIN 1907587284.
- Marcolina, Cindy. "Review Hilda and Virginia". Broadway World UK.
- Williams, Holly. "Review: Hilda and Virginia at Jermyn Street Theatre". Exeunt Magazine.
- "Maureen Duffy", Poetry. Accessed 14.01.13.
- Quoted in Workman, Bob (1984), 'Duffy's lore' interview in She magazine December 1984, p. 81.
- Memorials of the Quick and the Dead (1979): inside cover.
- Observer 12 October 1975, p. 31 – Summary of reviews in Observer, Sunday Times, Guardian, Financial Times and Sunday Telegraph.
- Lorna Sage (1989). Maureen Duffy. Booktrust with British Council.
- See the TV programme Late Night Lineup – "Man Alive", 14 June 1967, BBC Archive website.
- The Freethinker, August 1977, accessed 4 October 2013.
- Gay & Lesbian Humanist Vol. 8, No. 2, Winter 1988/9, p. 4.
- 1995 May Gay Times, p. 96.
- Independent on Sunday, 26 June 2005: 10, 11.
- Times 26 November 1970: 4
- Workman, Bob (1984), "Duffy's lore", interview in She magazine December 1984: 81.
- Times 13 May 1977, p. 1.
- Marion O'Connor (2013), Speech at ceremony to award Honorary Doctor of Literature to Maureen Duffy – July 2013 Archived 2 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed 10 October 2013.
- Who's Who 2013 Cite error: The named reference "whoswho" was defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
- Royal Society of Literature Archived 26 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- KCL Fellows.
- Who's Who. 2016.
- "Ms. Maureen Duffy". Debretts. Archived from the original on 31 July 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
- Plays, where possible, dated from scripts in King's College London Archive. Dates checked by Maureen Duffy, 23 January 2014.
- date of first performance
- Dulan Barber (1973), "Maureen Duffy talking to Dulan Barber", Transatlantic Review Vol. 45, Spring 1973: 5–16
- Christoph Bode (2001), "Maureen Duffy: the polyphonic novel as a subversion of realism": Beate Neumeier, ed. (2001), Engendering Realism and Postmodernism: Contemporary Women Writers in Britain, pp. 87–103
- Lyndie Brimstone, (1990), "'Keepers of history': the novels of Maureen Duffy": Mark Lilly, ed. (1990) Lesbian and Gay Writing, pp. 23–46
- Maggie Gee (2014), "Maureen Duffy's mosaics", Times Literary Supplement 2 January 2014, p. 17
- Lucy Kay (2005), "Maureen Duffy", Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 310: British and Irish Dramatists Since World War II, 4th Series. Bruccoli Clark Layman. Ed. John Bull, pp. 66–72
- Ruth O'Callaghan (2012), "Running down to winter: Maureen Duffy interviewed by Ruth O'Callaghan", Artemis 8, pp. 7–8
- Lorna Sage (1989), Maureen Duffy. Booktrust/British Council, 8 pp.
- Christine Sizemore (1989), "The city as archeological dig: Maureen Duffy", A Female Vision of the City – London in the Novels of Five British Women, pp. 188–233
- Gerard Werson (1983), "Maureen Duffy", Jay L. Halio, ed., Dictionary of Literary Biography: Vol. 14: British Novelists since 1960, pp. 272–282
- Liz Yorke (1999), "British lesbian poetics: a brief exploration", Feminist Review (62), Summer 1999, pp. 78–90