In 1954, before she was even 30, she burst onto the literary scene when her novel "Hackenfeller's Ape," about an ape at the London Zoo and its increasingly close relationship to the professor observing its mating habits, won the Cheltenham Literary Festival First Prize for a first novel. Her novels are known for their imagination and acerbic wit, and include "The Snow Ball," in which the characters attend a ball dressed as figures from "Don Giovanni"; "Flesh," which she described as "an almost distressingly cold-blooded little story," and "In Transit," set, claustrophobically, in an airport transit lounge.
But she also developed a reputation as a sharp thinker and fierce intellectual who liked a good fight, and her nonfiction books tended to have provocative, often mischievous points of view. In 1967, for instance, she was one of the authors of "Fifty Works of English Literature We Could Do Without," an attack on a number of classic books including "Jane Eyre," which was likened by the authors to "gobbling a jar-full of school-girl stick-jaw." She also championed the writing of Ronald Firbank in "Prancing Novelist" (1973), subtitled "A Defense of Fiction in the Form of a Critical Biography in Praise of Ronald Firbank."
Miss Brophy, who spoke freely in her early years about her bisexuality and often referred to marriage as "an immoral institution," nonetheless married in 1954. Her husband, the art historian Michael Levey, shared her delight in literature and the arts. He became director of the National Gallery in 1973 and was knighted eight years later.
In a tribute to Miss Brophy in The Independent on Tuesday, her literary agent, Giles Gordon, described her as a "deeply shy, courteous woman" who wrote delightful thank-you letters and kept to rigorous standards in her work. "Woe betide the 'editor' who tried to rewrite her fastidious, logical, exact prose, change a colon to a semi-colon (or vice-versa), or try to spell 'show' other than 'shew,' slavish Shavian that Brophy was," Mr. Gordon wrote.
In 1979, Miss Brophy's physical problem was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, which steadily worsened until she was housebound and had to use a wheelchair. She remained at home, looked after by paid companions, friends and her husband, who in 1987 quit his job to help care for her. But she continued to work with all the energy her illness would allow. In 1987 she published "Baroque 'n' Roll," a collection of essays in which she outlined, with lucidity and detail, the debilitating toll her condition had taken on her. Eventually, her condition deteriorated so badly that she had to move into the nursing home where she died.
She is survived by her husband and a daughter, Kate.Continue reading the main story
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