Eva Figes, 80, novelist and feminist
NEW YORK — Eva Figes, a refugee from Nazi Germany who became an acclaimed novelist, memoirist, and critic best known for a 1970 influential feminist treatise, ‘‘Patriarchal Attitudes,’’ died Aug. 28 at her home in London. She was 80.
The cause was heart failure, said her son, Orlando.
Ms. Figes was 38, divorced, and raising two children in 1970 when she felt moved to write a blistering indictment of women’s standing in society and what she viewed as the inequality of marriage.
She had been a novelist to that point, but the experience of petty discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere inspired her anger.
“The much vaunted male logic isn’t logical, because they display prejudices — against half the human race — that are considered prejudices according to any dictionary definition,’’ Ms. Figes wrote.
Her book was published within months of two other feminist polemics, Germaine Greer’s ‘‘The Female Eunuch’’ and Kate Millett’s ‘‘Sexual Politics,’’ and together they injected feminist ideas into the national conversation.
She wrote more than a dozen novels and became loosely associated with a British experimental movement led by B.S. Johnson. ‘‘Virginia Woolf and Kafka were the huge influences she looked back to,’’ said Orlando Figes, a historian and author.
Much of Ms. Figes’s fiction was concerned with the passage of time. ‘‘Waking’’ tells one woman’s story through her awakening from sleep over seven days throughout her life. ‘‘Light’’ (1983) is about a day in the life of Monet.
Eva Unger was born in Berlin on April 13, 1932. She recalled her childhood as golden years, shielded at first from the growing Nazi menace by an affluent Jewish household. This peaceful period was shattered when her father, Peter, a zipper wholesaler, was arrested along with thousands of others during the violence of Kristallnacht in 1938 and sent to the Dachau concentration camp.
Peter Unger managed to escape Dachau, and the family fled to England in 1939, but to 7-year-old Eva, it did not feel like safety. She was teased at school. Her grandparents and family servant were left behind and she realized their fate only when her mother sent her to the movies alone at the end of the war to watch newsreels about the concentration camps. She never recovered from the shock of those lonely moments in the dark, she said.
Ms. Figes’s sense of herself as an outsider waned as she mastered English and began to excel as a writer. She received a bachelor’s degree in English from Queen Mary College in London in 1953. Two years later — to get away from her parents, she said — she married John Figes, who ran a job-recruitment agency. The marriage ended seven years later.
Besides her son she leaves a daughter, Kate; a brother, Ernest; and four grandchildren.