The Siege Helen Dunmore Essay Definition


We are devastated by the loss of one of our best-loved authors, the award-winning novelist, children’s author and poet, Helen Dunmore.

Helen has been published by Penguin Random House for over two decades, firstly by Penguin and then latterly by Hutchinson, an imprint of Cornerstone. She has written standalone novels, collections of poetry, short story collections, translations and books for children.

She was known to be an inspirational and generous author, championing emerging voices and other established authors, as well as giving a large amount of her time to support literature and arts organisations across the world. She was also a very dear friend to many at Penguin Random House and in the wider literary community. She will be missed enormously. Our thoughts are with her family at this time.   

Selina Walker, Helen’s editor at Hutchinson, says, “Helen was very much a writer’s writer and it is no coincidence that her final novel, Birdcage Walk, deals with legacy and recognition: what writers, especially women writers, can expect to leave behind them. She left a legacy of exceptional novels, and the fact that there will now be no more is simply heart-breaking. She was an exceptional person and an exceptional novelist, and her emails – like her writing - were filled with grace and light and sensitivity. I will miss her hugely.”

An acclaimed and bestselling author and poet, Helen Dunmore was an extraordinary writer and will be remembered for the depth and breadth of her fiction. Rich and intricate, yet narrated with a deceptive simplicity that made all her writing accessible and heartfelt, Dunmore’s writing stood out for the fluidity and lyricism of her prose, and how well constructed all her narratives were.

Her novel, A Spell of Winter, won the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996 and she went on to become a Sunday Times bestseller with her novels The Siege,The Betrayal, and lately The Lie and Exposure.

Helen Dunmore graduated from the Nottingham High School for Girls in 1970 and attended the University of York.  After university she taught English as a foreign language in Finland and later became a fully qualified teacher. For many years Helen taught literature and creative writing courses for the University of Bristol’s Continuing Education Department, as well as at the Universities of Glamorgan and Bath Spa, and the Arvon Foundation, amongst other institutions.  

Helen had a lifelong passion for languages. She spoke fluent French and had a passion for French poetry and fiction, travelling to France and other francophone countries to spread her joy of literature in translation. She travelled to Russia to research her novels The Siege and The Betrayal, which were kindled by her love of Russian culture, language and literature, and both novels contain some of her translations.  Similarly, Counting the Stars, which centres on the Latin poet Catullus, has at its heart her translations from Catullus’ poetry. 

Helen had a deep attachment to Cornwall and has a family home in St Ives.  Her first novel for adults, Zennor in Darkness, which won the 1994 McKitterick Prize for debut novelists,  was set there, and both the INGO series of novels for children and her picture books incorporated her love for Cornish culture and language.

Helen was also a keen critic, reviewing contemporary literature and writing essays and other contributions, with particular interests in D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and Russian literature.

Helen spent three years on the Management Committee of the Society of Authors, a year as Chair of the Society of Authors, and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1997. She later became a Trustee of The Royal Literary Fund, which supports authors in need of pensions and grants.  

Helen’s last novel, Birdcage Walk was published by Hutchinson in March 2017 and was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime. It was described by The Observer as ‘the finest novel Helen Dunmore has written’.

There will be a funeral for family and friends.

For enquiries: Co-op Funeralcare, Westbury On Trym 0117 950 7494.

Family flowers only please. Donations to St Peter’s Hospice Bristol.

Book Summary

Called "elegantly, starkly beautiful" by The New York Times Book Review, The Siege is Helen Dunmore's masterpiece. Her canvas is monumental - the Nazis' 1941 winter siege on Leningrad that killed six hundred thousand -- but her focus is heartrendingly intimate.

One family, the Levins, fights to stay alive in their small apartment, held together by the unlikely courage and resourcefulness of twenty-two-year-old Anna. Though she dreams of an artist's life, she must instead forage for food in the ever more desperate city and watch her little brother grow cruelly thin. Their father, a blacklisted writer who once advocated a robust life of the mind, withers in spirit and body. At such brutal times everything is tested. And yet Dunmore's inspiring story shows that even then, the triumph of the human heart is that love need not fall away.

"The novel's imaginative richness," writes The Washington Post, "lies in this implicit question: In dire physical circumstances, is it possible to have an inner life? The answer seems to be that no survival is possible without one." Amid the turmoil of the siege, the unimaginable happens -- two people enter the Levins' frozen home and bring a kind of romance where before there was only bare survival. A sensitive young doctor becomes Anna's devoted partner, and her father is allowed a transcendent final episode with a mysterious woman from his past.

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