Brigid Brophy

Brigid Antonia Brophy, Lady Levey (12 June 1929 – 7 August 1995) was a British novelist, critic, and campaigner for social reforms, including the rights of authors and animal rights. Among her novels was Hackenfeller's Ape (1953); among her critical studies were Mozart the Dramatist (1964, revised 1990) and Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction ... In Praise of Ronald Firbank (1973). In the Dictionary of Literary Biography: British Novelists since 1960, S. J. Newman described her as "one of the oddest, most brilliant, and most enduring of [the] 1960s symptoms."

Brigid Brophy
Brigid Brophy 562717.jpg
BornBrigid Antonia Brophy
(1929-06-12)12 June 1929
Ealing, England
Died7 August 1995(1995-08-07) (aged 66)
Louth, Lincolnshire, England
SpouseMichael Levey

She was a feminist and pacifist who expressed controversial opinions on marriage, the Vietnam War, religious education in schools, sex, and pornography.[1] She was a campaigner for animal rights and vegetarianism. A 1965 Sunday Times article by Brophy is credited by psychologist Richard D. Ryder with having triggered the formation of the animal rights movement in England.[2]

Brophy married art historian Michael Levey in 1954. She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1983.[1]


Brigid Antonia Brophy was born on 12 June 1929, in Ealing in west London. She was the only child of the novelist John Brophy and Charis Brophy (née Grundy), who was a teacher. Even as a child she began writing plays. Of Irish extraction, but having grown up in England, Brophy felt divided in her identity writing in her essay Am I An Irishwoman?: "I feel a foreigner there [Ireland], but I feel like a foreigner in England, too. I was brought up to do so".[3] Her easy-going father, whom she felt closest to, was a lapsed Catholic turned atheist while her stern, cold mother was a member of an apocalyptic sect called the Catholic Apostolic Church who expected the End Times predicated in the Book of Revelation to occur in the near-future.[3] In opposition to her mother, Brophy wrote that she and her father were "natural, logical and happy atheists".[3] A bookish and intelligent girl, as a child she read works by William Shakespeare, John Milton, George Bernard Shaw, Evelyn Waugh and Ronald Firbank.[3]

During World War II she was moved 12 times from one school to another as her parents constantly sought to place her at a school far from where German bombs and rockets might land, making it hard for her to build lasting friendships.[3] The longest period of attendance for her during the war was at The Abbey School, Reading, between May 1941 and July 1943. She then attended St Paul's Girls' School in London. In 1947 she went on a scholarship to Oxford University (St Hugh's College), but left in 1948 without a degree.[4] At Oxford, Brophy specialised in learning Latin and Greek, showing exceptional promise as a Classics scholar, but was expelled from Oxford after completing only four semesters for "indiscretions" on campus.[3] Brophy was vague about the precise nature of these "indiscretions" that led to her expulsion. [5] It seems that the principal "indiscretion" that caused her expulsion was that she showed up at the Church of England chapel on the campus drunk and loudly advocated the virtues of lesbianism to anyone who would listen.[5] In an interview in 1975, Brophy declined to discuss what led to her expulsion, saying: "I shall never describe it, because I won't risk reliving the distress I suffered".[5] After being expelled from Oxford, Brophy lived in London, working part-time as a secretary while working full-time as a writer of short stories that she submitted to various literary journals.[5]

In 1953, when she was 25, her book of short stories, The Crown Princess, was published; it was followed in the same year by her much better received novel, Hackenfeller's Ape.[5] Brophy wrote about Theresa, the heroine of The Crown Princess that: "She was a mooted castle, a royal castle, with a draw-bridge, and ramparts, and there was nothing inside...She had no self. She had no character".[6] The intelligent and artistic Theresa wants to be a painter, but is incapable of asserting herself, instead marrying a cousin she has never met and does not love in an arranged marriage set up by her parents.[6] A shy, introverted woman who feels like an outsider despite being the Crown Princess, Theresa attempts to befriend the common folk of her realm, but her poor social skills and the fact that everything she knows about ordinary people is from Hollywood films instead alienate the common people, leading to sadly conclude: "Her idols were dolls".[6] At the end of the story, Theresa accepts her fate is to be unhappy and on her 21st birthday stand on the balcony of the royal palace hearing the cheers of the crowd while thinking: "GO AWAY!, she shouted. THERE IS NOBODY HERE!".[6] The Crown Princess and the other short stories in the same volume were noted for their fatalism and strong sense of doom as it implied that for woman like Theresa happiness is an impossibility.[6]

Hackenfeller's Ape with its advocacy of animal rights first brought Brophy to widespread attention.[5] Hackenfeller's Ape concerned a story of an young scientists named Clement Darrelhyde who becomes close to an ape couple in London's Regent Park zoo named Percy and Edwina.[6] Darrelhyde is the prototype of Brophy's favorite hero, the "delicate, ineffectual male".[6] Darrelhyde is a deeply shy man whose passions are science and the music of Mozart, which he frequently sings regardless of the appropriateness of the situation.[6] At one point, as he observes the apes in the zoo, Darrelhyde begins to sing one of Mozart's arias and imagines him transformed into a woman as Brophy wrote: "He was transported into another era, another sex. He became the middle-aged Countess, tragically and with dignity calling upon Love to restore her treasure-the affections of her Count".[6] When the government decides to break up the couple by sending Percy up on a rocket on an outer space mission too dangerous for humans, Darrelhyde decides to take matters into his hands by kidnapping the two apes, arguing that it would be cruel to break up the loving relationship between the apes which so closely resembles a relationship between a human couple.[6] With the assistance of a young thief named Gloria, who becomes his lover, Darrelhye tries to kidnap the apes several times, and in the last attempt, he succeeds in freeing Percy who is however shot down by the police.[6] Despite the tragedy, the novel ends on a hopeful note as Edwina gives birth and gently cuddles her baby as Brophy wrote: "It woke all the other animals and set them gibbering as it let out its roar of wrath".[6] For Hackenfeller's Ape, Brophy was awarded the first prize at the Cheltenham Literacy Festival.[5] Brophy always considered Hackenfeller's Ape her best novel as she wrote it "displays at its most intense the violently romantic feeling in a precisely classical form to which most of my fiction aspires".[6]

In 1954 she married art historian Michael Levey (afterwards director of the British National Gallery, 1973–87, and knighted in 1981) and the couple had one daughter named Kate (b. 1957).[7] Through her marriage was ostensibly a happy one, Brophy's statements about the "immorality of marriage" and her complaint about how British society had "imposed monogamy on those who have not chosen it" contributed to rumours that her marriage was a front to establish a respectable image for herself.[5] After homosexuality was legalised in Britain in 1967, Brophy was one of the first to demand gay marriage, at the time an extremely controversial stance to take, which led to rumours that she was a lesbian who just had married to present a heterosexual image.[5] The rumours that her marriage was just a facade to hide her lesbian tendencies hurt her.[5] Nevertheless, Brophy's daughter states that Brophy and Iris Murdoch were lovers.[8]

In 1956, she published her only autobiographical novel, King of a Rainy Country, a roman à clef dealing with a failed relationship she had after being expelled from Oxford.[5] Brophy once said: "I do not dislike or despise autobiographical novelists...I cannot, however be one of them".[5] However, Brophy admitted that Susan, the heroine of King of a Rainy Country was a "cut down version" and "stunned self-portrait" of herself while Neale was a "reasonably accurate portrait" of a man she was once in love with.[5] The plot of King of a Rainy Country concerned the platonic relationship between two bohemian intellectuals both of whom are described as "incurable romantics" living in the drab post-war London, namely Susan, an aspiring writer and her roommate, Neale, an young man described as a brilliant intellectual who however works as a dishwasher in a filthy restaurant.[6] Neale is confused about his sexual identity, saying he is not certain if he is bisexual or homosexual.[6] The climax of King of a Rainy Country is when Neale and Susan both go on a road trip to Italy as travel courriers to locate an old school friend for whom Susan had feelings. In Italy they meet the famous opera singer Helena Buchan, and Neale falls for a rapid succession of women who are not Susan. [5]

The birth of her daughter Kate in 1957 and the demands of motherhood led to a period of prolonged depression which she described in 1968: "In the dark crisis of my personal life, the constituents of my personality were broken down like the constituents of a caterpillar inside the chrysalis-case".[5] Not until 1962 did she felt capable of publishing again.[5] In the following years she brought out a series of novels, including Flesh (1962), The Finishing Touch (1963, described as a "lesbian fantasia"), The Snow Ball (1964) and Palace Without Chairs (1978, in which a child of royal descent survives political tumult). The Finishing Touch is set in a girls' boarding school on the French Riviera where the headmistresses are all lesbians who put the "finishing touch" to the education of the young women under their care by introducing them to the pleasures of Sapphic love. One of Brophy's favorite writers was the gay novelist Ronald Firbank and The Finishing Touch was written in a style that paid homage to his thinly veiled homoerotic novels.[5]

One of Brophy's principal heroes since childhood was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose music and operas she adored.[5] The Snow Ball, a comedy of manners set in modern London is a tribute to Mozart's operas, and many reviewers noted The Snow Ball was also something of a game as Brophy contrived to put in as references to Mozart's work and life into her novel as possible.[5] In the same year that The Snow Ball was published, Brophy also published Mozart the Dramatist: A New View of Mozart, His Operas and His Age, a Freudian psycho-analytical account of Mozart and his work.[5] Critical reception to Mozart the Dramatist was mixed with some praising her for an original and well researched account of Mozart's life while others being exasperated by her psychoanalytical approach.[5] In the Hudson Review, Joseph Kerman wrote a hostile review that concluded: "I do not think that Miss Brophy knows quite what she is up to...Criticism is not psychoanalysis."[5]

Brophy was friends with Charles Osborne, the editor of London Magazine, who often solicited articles from her.[9] Brophy's articles together with frequent appearances on television in the 1960s–1970s created the image of her as the enfant terrible of British literature as she was outspoken in praising writers and artists she liked while being vociferous in denouncing those she disliked.[10] Besides for literature, Brophy frequently wrote about and spoke out on social and political issues.[9] The principle issues that engaged her were feminism; animal rights; gay rights; opposition to the strict censorship laws that existed in Britain until the 1960s; making vivisection illegal; demanding changes in British publishing laws as she believed that the current laws allowed publishers to benefit financially at the expense of writers; and a general opposition to marriage and monogamy as "oppressive".[9] Through in fact a very shy woman who was uncomfortable in social settings, her enfant terrible image led to widespread perception of her as an abrasive and opinionated scold who was forever pushing to do away with residual Victorian values, much to her distress.[9]

In 1967, she set off a firestorm of controversy when she co-wrote with her husband and Osborne Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without.[9] The book was widely attacked by critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Typical of the critical response to Fifty Works was the review by the novelist Anthony Burgess who wrote: "Like children, they have shown off, and the showing off has provoked attention...They're still in the nursery, cut off from the big world".[9] However, the challenge the book posed to the literary cannon with its claim that certain Victorian writers were not worth cherishing did have the effect of leading to a number of British and American universities changing their English courses to include more modern writers.[9]

In 1968, she wrote a play The Burglar, an attack upon bourgeois sexual manners in modern London as hypocritical when a thief discovers that certain London housewives do not mind him breaking in to their houses as long as he is willing to have sex with them.[9] The play met with very hostile reviews when it premiered, described as an "instant and virtually unanimous critical cannonade".[9] The play closed three weeks after it opened in west London in the spring of 1968.[9] Brophy was furious with the critical reviews, and when she published The Burglar later in 1968, she added a ferociously written defense of her play in a 47-page long preface which she took issue with the play's critics point by point.[9]

In 1969, she published an "experimental" avant-garde novel In Transit: An Heroi-Cyclic Novel. The story of In Transit concerned an young woman named Evelyn Hillary O'Rooley who becomes lost in an airport as enormous as it is depersonalised, when nobody really belongs as everybody is in transit from one place to another. Trapped in the airport, her identity fades together with her sense of gender identity, leading the heroine to engage in series of comically inept experiments and sexual adventures in an attempt to rediscover the joys of being a woman. In a summary of British literature in 1969, the critic William Webb wrote that "...Brophy's strenuous variations on fashionable sexual themes" provoked boredom.[11] The avant-garde nature of In Transit infuriated both readers and critics in 1969 with Joyce Carol Oates writing in a review: "The reader feels a kind of desperation in his desire to come upon something good in all these pages-something intelligent, something original and striking-something".[9] However, subsequently In Transit was considered to be a pioneering work of post-modernism and as a feminist surrealist fantasia.[9] The critic Karl Stenger wrote that In Transit was "Brophy's most original and enduring creation".[9] Stenger wrote that much of the hostile reception that In Transit met in 1969 may have to do to the fact that the novel was a complete departure in style from Brophy's previous books, and a result of the overwhelming negative reviews, she never attempted a similar avant-garde novel, leaving In Transit as sui generis in her oeuvre.[9] In a retroactive review of In Transit in 1991, the critic Sheryl Stevenson wrote: "By suggesting that individual identity is tied to language and by presenting both in an unstable condition, In Transit draws attention to a juncture between feminist studies of gender and Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of language".[12]

Brophy also wrote several non-fiction books and essays, including Black Ship to Hell (1962; an appreciation of Shavian and Freudian ideas), Mozart the Dramatist (1964) and (with her husband and Charles Osborne) Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without (1967). Her detailed study of Ronald Firbank, Prancing Novelist A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank, appeared in 1973.

In her 1978 comic novel Palace Without Chairs concerned two siblings who are the heirs to the throne in a fictional European nation that resembles Ruritania. After their siblings all meet with bizarre deaths, Crown Prince Ulrich and his twin sister Heather renounce their claims to the throne.[12] Ulrich takes a job working as a banker in Sweden while Heather moves to London, which she comes of the closet and declares her lesbianism, finding a degree of happiness that was never possible as a princess.[12] In a review of Palace Without Chairs, the critic Chris Hopkins praised Brophy for drawing "...upon aspects of modernism in unexpected ways (given its comic aspects and apparent genre)" as she displayed "great interest in language itself...and the capacity and incapacity of language to render the self".[12]

She was a campaigner for several reforms. Brophy had joined the Labour Party, and became increasing involved in social activism which distracted her from writing.[9] She became the Vice President of the National Anti-Vivisection Society, which sought to end cruelty to animals.[9] With Maureen Duffy she fought between 1972 and 1982 for authors' Public Lending Right. One of her father's ideas had been the "Brophy penny", a plan for an author to be paid a penny every time one of their books had been borrowed from a library.[9] Together with Duffy, she founded the Writers Action Group to campaign for the revival of the "Brophy penny" as the Public Lending Right, which she believe would benefit authors whose work were not bestsellers.[9] She was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[13] She became president of the National Anti-Vivisection Society. In her book Baroque 'n' Roll (1987) she wrote about her struggle with multiple sclerosis (of which she knew the first symptoms in 1981), her bisexuality and the causes that she supported.

From 1987 her husband, Michael Levey, looked after her during her illness, resigning his position as director of the National Gallery to do so.[7] She died on 7 August 1995, aged 66, at Louth in Lincolnshire.[14][4]



  • The Crown Princess and Other Stories (1953)
  • Hackenfeller's Ape (1953, reprinted 1991)
  • The King of a Rainy Country (1956, reprinted 1990, 2012)
  • Flesh (1962)
  • The Finishing Touch (1963, revised 1987)
  • The Snow Ball (1964)
  • The Burglar (play, first produced in London at Vaudeville Theatre, 22 February 1967, and published 1968)
  • In Transit: An Heroicycle Novel (1969, reprinted 2002)
  • The Adventures of God in His Search for the Black Girl: A Novel and Some Fables (1973)
  • Pussy Owl: Superbeast (1976), for children, illustrated by Hilary Hayton
  • Palace Without Chairs: A Baroque Novel (1978)


  • Black Ship to Hell (1962)
  • Mozart the Dramatist: A New View of Mozart, His Operas and His Age (1964) (revised 1990)
  • Don't Never Forget: Collected Views and Reviews (1966)
  • (With husband, Michael Levey, and Charles Osborne) Fifty Works of English and American Literature We Could Do Without (1967)
  • Religious Education in State Schools (1967)
  • Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1968)
  • The Rights of Animals (1969. Animal Defence and Anti-Vivisection Society)
  • The Longford Threat to Freedom (1972)
  • Prancing Novelist: A Defence of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank (1973)
  • Beardsley and His World (1976)
  • The Prince and the Wild Geese, pictures by Gregoire Gagarin (Hamish Hamilton, 1983)
  • A Guide to Public Lending Right (1983)
  • Baroque 'n' Roll and Other Essays (1987)
  • Reads: A Collection of Essays (1989)


  • Best Short Plays of the World Theatre, 1958–1967, 1968
  • Animals, Men and Morals, edited by Stanley and Roslind Godlovitch and John Harris (1971)
  • The Genius of Shaw, edited by Michael Holroyd (1979)
  • Animal Rights: A Symposium, edited by D. Paterson and R. D. Ryder (1979)
  • Shakespeare Stories, edited by Giles Gordon (1982)

A collection of Brophy's manuscripts is housed in Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington.

See alsoEdit


  • Stenger, Karl "Brigid Brophy" pages 47–55 from Modern British Women Writers: An A-to-Z Guide edited by Vicki K. Janik; Del Ivan Janik & Emmanuel Sampath Nelson, Westport: Greenwood Publishing, 2002.
  • Webb, William "English literature" pages 474–476 from Encyclopedia Britannia Yearbook 1970, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.


  1. ^ a b Martin Pope (29 December 2008). "Sir Michael Levey". The Telegraph. London. Brigid Brophy was an outspoken campaigner on issues as diverse as humanism, animal rights, feminism, pornography, homosexual rights, the Vietnam War and religious education in schools (she disapproved of only the last two).
  2. ^ Richard Ryder (2000). Animal Revolution: Changing Attitudes Towards Speciesism. Berg. p. 5. ISBN 1-85973-330-1. The moral basis for animal liberation has been given much attention by modern philosophers since the publication of the well-known novelist Brigid Brophy's major article entitled 'The Rights of Animals' in the Sunday Times in 1965.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stenger 2002, p. 47.
  4. ^ a b Sarah Lyall (9 August 1995). "Brigid Brophy Is Dead at 66; Novelist, Critic and Crusader". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Stenger 2002, p. 48.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Stenger 2002, p. 50.
  7. ^ a b Grimes, William (2 January 2009). "Sir Michael Levey, Art Historian and a Director of the British National Gallery, Is Dead at 81". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Stenger 2002, p. 49.
  10. ^ Stenger 2002, p. 48-49.
  11. ^ Webb 1970, p. 475.
  12. ^ a b c d Stenger 2002, p. 53.
  13. ^ "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  14. ^ "Obituary: Brigid Brophy". The Independent. 8 August 1995. Retrieved 3 August 2020.

Further readingEdit

  • The Review of Contemporary Fiction; 15:3 (1995 Fall), issue devoted to Brigid Brophy, Robert Creeley, Osman Lines
  • Discovering Brigid Brophy [1]
  • The King of a Rainy Country by Brigid Brophy – published in 2012 by The Coelacanth Press [2]

External linksEdit