Eva Figes

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Eva Figes
BornEva Unger Edit this on Wikidata
15 April 1932 Edit this on Wikidata
Berlin Edit this on Wikidata
Died28 August 2012 Edit this on Wikidata (aged 80)
Greater London Edit this on Wikidata
Alma materQueen Mary College
OccupationNovelist, social critic Edit this on Wikidata

Eva Figes (/ˈfz/; 15 April 1932 – 28 August 2012) was an English author and feminist.[1] Figes wrote novels, literary criticism, studies of feminism, and vivid memoirs relating to her Berlin childhood and later experiences as a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany.

Early life and education[edit]

Born Eva Unger in Berlin in 1932 to an affluent, secular Jewish family, she arrived in Britain as a refugee in 1939 with her mother Irma Unger, and her younger brother, Ernst.[1][2] During Kristallnacht in November 1938, her father Emil was arrested and sent to Dachau concentration camp. He was later released after his wife offered the Nazis a large bribe and managed to escape to England to join his family in London.[1][3] At least three of Figes's grandparents on both sides of the family died in concentration camps.[4] Towards the end of the World War II, Figes recalled in The Observer in 1979, "my mother gave me nine pence and sent me off to the local cinema ... I sat alone in the dark and watched the newsreel of Belsen". It gave her nightmares for many years.[1]

She graduated with a B.A. with honours from Queen Mary College in London in 1953.


She married John George Figes on 10 July 1954.[5] The couple had two children: the writer Kate Figes (1957–2019),[6] and the historian Orlando Figes.[7] The marriage was dissolved by divorce in 1962.[1] She met the German author Günter Grass in London and the two had a short romantic affair that turned into a lifelong friendship.[1]

In the 1960s, she was associated with an informal group of experimental British writers influenced by Rayner Heppenstall that included Stefan Themerson, Ann Quin, Alan Burns, and its informal leader, B. S. Johnson. Unger worked in publishing until 1967, when she became a full-time writer.[8]

Figes's best known work is Patriarchal Attitudes, a feminist polemic written in 1970, published one month before Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch. The book argued that nurture rather than nature has shaped all secondary sex characteristics and considered why prominent female figures of the nineteenth century were ambivalent or hostile towards the feminist movement.[9]

Figes' novel, Light (1983), is an impressionistic portrait of a single day in the life of Claude Monet from sunrise to sunset.


Figes won the Guardian Fiction Prize for Winter Journey in 1967.


Figes' archive was acquired by the British Library in 2009 consisting of 186 files of drafts and working papers relating to her literary works, as well as correspondence and personal papers.[10]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • Equinox (1966)
  • Winter Journey (1967)
  • Konek Landing (1969)
  • B (1972)
  • Days (1974)
  • Nelly's Version (1977)
  • Waking (1981)
  • Light (1983)
  • The Seven Ages: A Novel (1986)
  • Ghosts (1988)
  • The Tree of Knowledge (1990)
  • The Tenancy (1993)
  • The Knot (1996)

Literary and social criticism[edit]

  • Patriarchal Attitudes: Women in Society (1970)
  • Tragedy and Social Evolution (1976)
  • Sex and Subterfuge: Women Writers to 1850 (1982)
  • Women's Letters in Wartime, 1450-1945 (1993)


  • Little Eden: A Child at War (1978)
  • Tales of Innocence and Experience: An Exploration (2004)
  • Journey to Nowhere (2008)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Tucker, Eva (7 September 2012). "Eva Figes obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  2. ^ Flood, Alison (12 October 2009). "British Library acquires Eva Figes archive". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  3. ^ Figes, Kate (2018). "My family after the holocaust". The Guardian.
  4. ^ Figes, Kate (2018). "My family after the Holocaust". The Guardian.. Kate Figes's piece implies all four did, but Eva Figes's own memoir Journey to Nowhere (Granta, 2009, p.87 of the paperback) recounts how grandmother Unger escaped to Sweden only to die in her bed (of natural causes) a few months later in Stockholm.
  5. ^ "Figes [née Unger], Eva". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/105542. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. ^ Armitstead, Claire (9 December 2019). "Kate Figes obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Eva Figes". Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved 17 January 2011.
  8. ^ "Eva Figes". The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  10. ^ Eva Figes Archive, archives and manuscripts catalogue, the British Library, Retrieved 7 May 2020.