Ursula Bentley

'Granta' Young British Novelist with a sharp eye for social detail

Ursula Bentley was selected by the literary magazine
Granta for the original "Best of Young British Novelists" in 1983 - a distinguished group that included Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Pat Barker.



Ursula Mary Bentley, writer: born Sheffield, South Yorkshire 18 September 1945; married 1969 Alan Thompson (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1987); died 7 April 2004.



Ursula Bentley was selected by the literary magazine Granta for the original "Best of Young British Novelists" in 1983 - a distinguished group that included Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, Martin Amis and Pat Barker.

Her first and most successful novel, The Natural Order (1982), is a knowing and witty take on the Brontës, a subject that was tragically appropriate for the circumstances of her own life. Her mother died giving birth to her and she lost one of her brothers, Chris, when she was 19. Theirs might have been a sombre childhood. The household was elderly, their father already middle-aged, grieving and preoccupied, and the responsibility for the children's upbringing falling on their grandmother and beloved great-aunt. It was transformed, however, by the rich imaginative life that Ursula shared with Chris, who qualified as a doctor before his early death, and her second brother, Paul, who became an actor and writer. In effect they created a world of their own, where the need for self- expression was satisfied.

At the Roman Catholic grammar school (the Ursuline Convent in Wimbledon) where we formed a lifelong friendship, Ursula Bentley was an unusual girl who disrupted the categories that schoolgirls use to place each other. She was clearly intelligent, but too unorthodox in her opinions and range of interests to be regarded as a swot. In a school that made rigid distinctions between the academically gifted, the arty and those destined for a life of sacrifice or Catholic motherhood (a rather nebulous group that included the genuinely pious and those who were uncomfortable with an academic syllabus), Bentley crossed the boundaries.

She was passionately interested in literature and history; excelled as an actress (a career that her father prevented her from taking up); championed the domestic crafts of cooking and sewing, which were regarded by the nuns as guarantors of virtue; and when she left school began training as a nurse, until she tired of the petty regulations.

Most of all, she was distinguished by her sense of irony. This owed nothing to teenage disaffection and everything to her early awareness that life never matched the expectations and ideals invested in it.

She went on to Manchester University to read English, one of a generation of clever women who benefited from the greater educational opportunities of the post-war period. The traditional constraints on women were still firmly in place, however. While her husband, Alan Thompson, whom she married in 1969, pursued his career as a geologist, at Harvard and then in Zurich, she worked when she could, at what was available, and began to write.

By the time The Natural Order was published Bentley had two small children, a son, Alexis, and a daughter, Ishbel. When her marriage collapsed shortly afterwards she dedicated herself to their well-being. Motherless herself, she was unwilling to compromise her role as a mother and thereafter her writing took second place in her life.

Her later novels, Private Accounts (1986), The Angel of Twickenham (1997) and The Sloping Experience (1999), are comedies of manners that show her sharp eye for social detail, pretence and self-deception. There is a relish in all her novels for the absurdity and helplessness of the human being in the grip of sexual passion. That taste for the ridiculous is balanced, however, by a keen appreciation of the pleasures to be found in children and friendship, on the one hand, and on the other by a kind of existential bleakness.

Bentley was surprised by her early success and, when she settled again in England with her children, too modest to claim the attention that her talent should have ensured. Brought up in London suburbia, she was by inclination a countrywoman, and for the last eight years of her life lived in Suffolk. During that time, she wrote the last of her novels, indulged her passion for dogs and gardening, sang in a choir, was an active Liberal Democrat and worked conscientiously for a number of voluntary groups concerned with prison conditions, youth crime and reforms in the judicial system.

Ursula Bentley had a rare gift for friendship and never lost touch with the friends she made at all stages in her life, in the many places where she had lived. As a friend she was loyal, generous, hospitable, endlessly interested and affectionate, a wonderful raconteur and the best of company.

In her cruel final illness, she was stalwart, stoical and without bitterness, concerned only by the possible impact of her early death on her son and daughter, now in their early twenties. Ishbel, the younger, was still living at home with her mother when illness struck. Ursula's anxiety for them was entirely natural and characteristic. In their devoted and mature response to her suffering, however, and in their courage in facing her loss, they have shown themselves to be very much their mother's children.

Marguerite Alexander

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on