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Margery Sharp (January 25, 1905 – March 25, 1991), born Clara Margery Melita Sharp in Salisbury, England, was a prolific British author. Though she wrote numerous books (many in the comic novel genre), her most enduring work is The Rescuers series for children, two of which were adapted into animated Disney films.
After completing a varied education in arts and languages, Margery started her career by getting her stories published in Punch magazine, at age 21. She continued to write for this and other major magazines in Britain and the U.S. By the time she was 30, she had published her first novel, Rhododendron Pie (1930) which took her just a month to write. By the end of the 30s, she had married Major Geoffrey Castle, an aeronautical engineer.
World War II years
For a long stretch of the war, Margery worked as an Army Education Lecturer, but continued to write. She produced Cluny Brown and Britannia Mews, which were two of her relatively enduring works in a canon that has been largely forgotten. Though most of her works were on the lighthearted side, the devastating bombing of London featured in Britannia Mews. She continued to produce works that are generally considered comic novels, but she was a keen observer of human nature and foibles and captured the details of daily life of the World War II years.
Stage and film adaptations
Margery wrote some of her novels from a male perspective, and though her work tended to be lighthearted, it was never cloying. She was adapt at characterization and tight plotting, which made her work a natural fit for film and stage adaptation.
In 1940 The Nutmeg Tree was adapted into a Broadway show titled The Lady in Waiting. The same book became a Hollywood film, Julia Misbehaves, in 1948. Cluny Brown (1944) went from page to screen as a Hollywood film of the same name in 1946. Britannia Mews was retitled The Forbidden Street when it came out as a film in 1949.
In addition to her own novels enjoying film and stage treatments, Margery she wrote the screenplay for The Notorious Landlady (1962), a comedy that starred Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak.
Margery originally wrote The Rescuers (1959), the adventures of a mouse named Miss Bianca (the titled heroine of the second novel of the series), for an adult audience, but it quickly became a huge hit as a children’s book. The series continued with with eight more volumes, embellished by the drawings of the popular illustrator Garth Williams. The Rescuers came out as an animated film by Walt Disney Productions in 1977. Though it was quite successful both critically and commercially, the Disney version took many liberties with the book. Its sequel, The Rescuers Down Under, didn’t come out until 1990.
Margery Sharp died in Aldeburgh, Suffolk in 1991. By the end of the first decade of the 21st century, nearly all of her novels for adults were out of print. In 2016, ten of her adult novels were released in e-book editions.
In 1946, The Saturday Review wrote: “It is as natural for Miss Sharp to be witty as for a brook trout to have spots.” Her large body of witty novels may be light and breezy on the surface, but fittingly, they’re quite sharp — and mordantly observant. As a clever wordsmith, Ms. Sharp is a forgotten author worth rediscovering.
Margery Sharp produced some two dozen novels and short story collections for adults. Here’s a partial selection of those that have recently been made available to read, and her most significant.
- The Flowering Thorn (1934)
- The Nutmeg Tree (1937)
- Cluny Brown (1944)
- Britannia Mews (1946)
- The Gypsy in the Parlour (1963)
- The Eye of Love (1957)
- Something Light (1960)
- Martha in Paris (1962)
- Martha, Eric, and George (1964)
- The Innocents (1971)
The Rescuers series for children
- The Rescuers (1959)
- Miss Bianca (1962)
- The Turret (1963)
- Miss Bianca in the Salt Mines (1966)
- Miss Bianca in the Orient (1970)
- Miss Bianca in the Antarctic (1971)
- Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid (1972)
- Bernard the Brave (1977)
- Bernard into Battle (1978)
- Reader discussion of Margery Sharp’s books on Goodreads
- The Margery Sharp Blog
- Forgotten Authors No. 16: Margery Sharp
Stage and film adaptations
- The Lady in Waiting (Broadway show, 1940; adapted from The Nutmeg Tree)
- Cluny Brown (1946)
- Julia Misbehaves (film adaptation of The Nutmeg Tree, 1948)
- The Forbidden Street (film adaptation of Britannia Mews, 1949)
- The Rescuers (animated film, 1977)
- The Rescuers Down Under (animated film, 1990)
Quotes by Margery Sharp
“It is the gift of all poets to find the commonplace astonishing, and the astonishing quite natural.”
“I feel that I have an obligation to write good English.”
“There is nothing more tedious than a constant round of gaiety.”
“But truth, that dangerous commodity, has a way of sticking.”
“Youth is always a little offended to find itself not preferred; it cannot help feeling that when it admits the old to its society, it confers a benefit.”
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