Man Booker Prize judge Marina Warner ‘astonished’ to be made a Dame after controversial comments

Dame Marina Warner. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Dame Marina Warner. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

An acclaimed writer has said she was “astonished” to be made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours List months after controversially comparing UK universities to Chinese communist corporations.

Self-described maverick Professor Marina Warner, 68, was awarded a DBE for services to higher education and literary scholarship in recognition of her 40-year writing career.

The chair of judges for the prestigious 2015 Man Booker International Prize spoke of her surprise at receiving the honour just three months after launching a scathing public attack on “for profit” university business models.

Dame Marina, who has lived off Lady Margaret Road, in Kentish Town, for 35 years, said: “I was astonished.

“I didn’t think speaking out about what was happening at universities would endear me to it, but there we are.”

In September, she claimed she was “pushed” into resigning from her post as professor of literature, film and theatre studies at the University of Essex after more than a decade in the role.

However, she remains a fellow at All Souls College, Oxford University, and a professor of English and creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London.

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She said the honour was a recognition of the literary sector.

“I’m pleased with it, in a sense that I’ve been independent, even maverick. That’s very encouraging, not just for me but for other people, because it shows that you don’t have to conform too closely,” she told the Ham&High.

Dame Marina grew up in Cairo, Egypt, and in Brussels, Belgium, before moving back to England.

She published her first book on Chinese history in 1972, entitled The Dragon Empress: The Life and Times of Tz’u-hsi, Empress Dowager of China, 1835–1908, and in 1988 her novel The Last Father was short-listed for the acclaimed Booker Prize.

The mother-of-one is perhaps best known for her array of non-fiction works focusing on feminism, myth and fairy tales.

She is patron of several charities, including anti-death penalty charity Reprieve and Hosking Houses Trust, which provides women over the age of 40 a private residence in which to work.

In 2008, she was appointed CBE for services to literature.

She said: “The honour gives one a very strange feeling of being noticed, and that it’s very nice to have someone approving.

“It’s the same feeling as when a teacher gives you a gold star.”

Dame Marina celebrated the award on New Year’s Eve with friends but said she did not want to do anything special in case it provoked the “wrath of the gods”.

She will not use her new title in day-to-day life except for in an official capacity as a charity patron.