Marina Warner is an English writer of fiction, criticism, and history; her works include novels and short stories as well as studies of art, myths, symbols, and fairytales. She has also written extensively on feminism and the role of women in literature and culture.
Marina Warner was born in London to an English father, Esmond Warner, and Ilia, an Italian. She has one sister, Laura Gascoigne, who is an art critic.
Warner's early upbringing was in Cairo, where her father managed a bookshop until it was targeted during the attacks on foreign businesses in January 1952, which foreshadowed the Egyptian revolution. Following this, her family relocated to Brussels and Cambridge.
Marina received her education at St Mary's School, Ascot, and later pursued French and Italian studies at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. While at Oxford, she was the editor of The Isis Magazine.
Warner's professional journey commenced with a role as a staff writer at The Daily Telegraph. Following this, she assumed the position of features editor at Vogue magazine.
In 1972, she debuted with the non-fiction book The Dragon Empress: The Life and Times of Tz'u-hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835–1908.
Her most notable works include:
1. Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976). In this book, Marina Warner examines the cultural and historical significance of the Virgin Mary, exploring her role in Christianity and her portrayal in art and literature.
2. From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers (1994). This work delves into the history and interpretation of fairy tales, tracing their evolution and cultural significance from ancient times to the present day.
3. Indigo (1992) is a novel that melds elements of historical fiction with the enchanting touch of magical realism. It unfolds against the backdrop of the English Civil War, delving into profound themes of identity, gender, and the complex interplay of colonialism.
4. The Leto Bundle (2001) — This collection of short stories weaves together various mythological and folkloric elements.
5. Stranger Magic: Charmed States & the Arabian Nights (2011) explores the impact of the Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) on Western literature and culture, examining how it has shaped the Western perception of the East.
6. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (2014) — This is a concise overview of the cultural significance of fairy tales, exploring their enduring appeal and evolution.
She presented a BBC Radio Four program on the Brothers Grimm in 2012 and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1984. In 1994, she became the second woman to deliver the BBC's Reith Lectures, focusing on myth's role in contemporary society. She holds multiple honorary degrees from prestigious universities and received a CBE in the 2008 Queen's Birthday Honours.
From 2004 to 2014, she served as a professor at the University of Essex and then joined Birkbeck College, University of London, in 2014. She also has affiliations with All Souls College, Oxford. Warner also chaired the jury of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize.
In 2015–16, she was the Weidenfeld Visiting Professor of European Comparative Literature at St Anne's College, Oxford.
Marina Warner was the first female president of the Royal Society of Literature in March 2017. In 2022, she was appointed a Member of the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH) for her contributions to the humanities.
Photo credit: Dan Welldon (www.marinawarner.com)