Excerpt from The Red Queen by Margaret Drabble, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Red Queen

by Margaret Drabble

The Red Queen
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2004, 352 pages
    Oct 2005, 348 pages

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I wrote various accounts of my story during my earthly lifetime, and I must say that they were well written. I am an intelligent and an articulate woman, by any relativist and multicultural standards that you may choose to invoke. But each of those versions was written as a piece of special pleading. I have had to defend to death and beyond death the reputations of my father, my uncles, my brother, my clan. (Our clan, in our lifetime, was known as the Hong family, and we were, of course, as should go without saying, of ancient and distinguished lineage. In some versions of my story in the West, I am now given the title of Lady Hong: indeed, this name appears on the title page of what I believe to be the second Western translation of my work. This was not my name.) Above all, I have had to vindicate the tragic temperament and career of my unfortunate husband, whose horrifying end had such complex and painful reverberations for the history of our country, and for me. There were so many violent deaths in my family circle. I have even had to attempt to defend my immensely powerful yet deeply perplexed father-in-law, who seems to be the villain in some of these versions. Was he villain, victim or hero? With all my hindsight, and with the hindsight of many not always illuminating and often partial commentaries, I still cannot be certain. Death does not bring full light and full knowledge.

Many thought I was fortunate to die in my bed, an old woman of eighty years. Indeed, it is remarkable that I managed to live so long, in such turbulent times. But how could I have allowed myself to die earlier? Many times I wished to die, and sometimes I thought it my duty to die. But in universal terms, in human terms, it was my duty to live. My life was needed. My son and my grandson needed me. I could not abandon them. I survived for them. (I could even argue that my kingdom needed me, but that would be a grandiose claim, a masculine and dynastic claim, and I do not make it.) And now, 200 years later, with the knowledge of two centuries added to my own limited knowledge on earth, I intend to retell my story. I hope to purchase a further lease of attention, and a new and different readership. I have selected a young and vigorous envoy, who will prolong my afterlife and collaborate with me in my undying search for the meaning of my sufferings and my survival.

In life, I was called arrogant by many, and devious by some. I had many enemies. I suppose I was both arrogant and devious. And indeed I cannot look back on my past life without some sense of my innate superiority. Much ignorance and much stupidity and much fear surrounded me, particularly during my middle years. I was designed to be a poor and helpless woman, in a world where men held the power and power was absolute, in those days - but I had eyes in my head, and a quick brain, and could see what was happening around me. At times I could make others dance to my tune. I myself survived, but I had my failures. The worst of them was this.

I lost my poor husband. I tried to save him, but, despite all my efforts, he had to be sacrificed. He was too mad, too perverse, too much destroyed by his place, his heritage, his nature. He was too hard a case for me. Even today, in these advanced and enlightened times, I think I would have been unable to save him. Even today, I think he would have met a similar fate, though in a different, to me unimaginable, but perhaps parallel manner. But that is a conclusion I have reached after many decades, after two centuries of reflection. And who knows, maybe even now some wonder drug is being prepared, a drug that could have saved him and his victims from the extremity of his terrors and the horror of his end? Medication for such diseases of the brain grows ever more precise, or so we are told. We have become expert in tracing chemical imbalances and the defective activity of our myriad of neurotransmitters. But these discoveries come too late for him and for me.

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Copyright © Margaret Drabble, 2004.  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher, Harcourt, Inc.

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