Archaeologist Frances Wingate, traveling through goodly states and kingdoms, having long since divorced her husband and managed to bring up four children while leaving them at will, seems to be the first Margaret Drabble heroine who is representative of her times while not a casualty of them. But then by nature, Frances is careless, confident, self-sufficient and reasonably sure that a woman can't handle both a man and children, even if this seems markedly at odds with ""nature and society."" All around her are such dreadful human remains--her well-preserved, ungratified mother; a brother who drinks and ignores his serene wife and attractive home; a nephew who will take his life and that of his infant son. But during one of Frances's rare stretches of depression when there's a ""stone in her chest,"" she realizes how much she misses Karel--the only lover she ever loved--a man impossibly beset by a shrewish wife, children and supplicants of all kinds. And after returning to the Midlands of her childhood (Drabble's command of commonplace detail is knowing--there are marvelous contrasts here and throughout), Frances finds that in spite of all her itinerant freedom she still can't quite cut herself off from the past and its institutions. In a notorious rebuke to modern times, her distant great-aunt has starved to death alone in her cottage; Frances appropriates the old homeplace and at the end, she's happily presiding over a menage of her own children as well as Karel's and Karel himself. Margaret Drabble is the only writer we can think of who uses experience and social commentary almost interchangeably and always to astute and entertaining advantage. After all, years ago she anticipated the whole feminist movement, although she's much too clear-eyed and honest to indulge in any of its bitchy grievances. Her human data has always been superb and now, how readily she succeeds in informing the mind and engaging the heart in a season which has rewarded neither. Realms of Gold is a conspicuous pleasure to read--a cheerful reconciliation of the exactions of the past and the possibilities that lie just ahead.