Novelist and art historian Anita Brookner was born in Herne Hill, a suburb of London, England, on July 16, 1928. Her father, Newson Bruckner, was a Polish immigrant, and her mother, Maude Schiska, was a singer whose father had immigrated from Poland and founded a tobacco factory. Maude changed their surname to Brookner due to anti-German sentiment in England. Anita Brookner had a lonely childhood, although her grandmother and uncle lived with the family, and her parents, nonreligious Jews, opened their house to Jewish refugees during the 1930s and World War II. Brookner, an only child, never married and took care of her parents as they aged. Her personal history influenced her first novel, A Start in Life, which she published in 1981 at the age of fifty-three. She continued to write, producing a novel every year or so. Her fourth novel, Hotel du Lac (1984), won the Booker Prize for Fiction and was adapted for television in 1986. Brookner is highly regarded as a stylist, and her novels typically depict intellectual, middle-aged women who suffer emotional loss and isolation, especially disappointment in romantic love.
Brookner received a B.A. in history from King’s College in 1949 and a doctorate in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in 1953. Her specialty was late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century French art, and she studied the art of Jean-Baptiste Greuze in Paris on a French government scholarship for three years. She began her distinguished career teaching art history as a lecturer at the University of Reading in 1959. In 1964, she returned to the Courtauld, where she was promoted to reader in 1977 and taught until her retirement in 1988. From 1967 to 1968 she was the first female Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge University. Her first book, J. A. Dominique Ingres, was published in 1965, and her subsequent art history books are as well-regarded as her works of fiction. In addition to her careers as a novelist and art historian, Brookner has worked as a critic and began reviewing fiction for The Spectator in 1986.
Anita Brookner continues to live in London. She is a Fellow of New Hall, Cambridge, and was made a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) in 1990.
From the guide to the Anita Brookner Notebooks TXRC07-A1., ca. 1986-1994, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)