When she was 14, Beryl Bainbridge was expelled from school. In her 60s, she was made a Dame of the British Empire. In between and up until her death July 2 in her mid-70s (the exact year of her birth is up for debate), she wrote prolifically and lived colorfully with a dark sense of humor. The Dressmaker, published in 1973, was the first of her five novels to be short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. The Bottle Factory Outing, published the following year, was the second. An established yet singular figure on the British literary scene, Bainbridge used events and characters from her life and later from history as the basis for her fiction. She wrote of familial relationships and murder, romantic betrayal and the young Hitler. The Birthday Boys took on Robert Scott's South Pole expedition; Master Georgie, the Crimean War. Several of her novels were made into movies, including An Awfully Big Adventure, which was inspired by her years in the theater. As she once said, "I much prefer the past. I don't feel comfortable in the so-called present."
This text originally appeared in the July 19, 2010 issue of TIME Magazine.
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