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Anita Brookner, the award-winning British author and historian, died peacefully in her sleep Thursday, according to The Times. She was 87 years old.

The former professor took to writing late in her life, beginning in her fifties. In 1984, her third novel Hotel du Lac won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. And in 1990, she was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

Brookner was born on July 16, 1928 in London and was the only child of Newson Bruckner (a Polish immigrant who fought in World War I) and Maude Schiska (a former singer). She earned a B.A. at London’s King’s College and received her doctorate in art history from Courtauld Institute of Art, a decision her mother disapproved of. “She thought I wouldn’t get married, and that would be her disappointment,” she told The Telegraph in 2009. She never did marry, a decision she made to not ever “be taken over” by a man, she said. She also had no children — a fact she regarded with sadness, she told The Telegraph. “That’s why I write,” she said. “Because I have no children.”

Brookner made history in 1967 by becoming the first woman to hold the Slade Professorship of Fine Art at Cambridge University. She later returned to Courtauld to teach from 1977 until her retirement in 1988.

Hotel du Lac was Brookner’s breakthrough novel (even if she felt her later work Latecomers should have won the big award instead, as she told The Telegraph). The drama centers on romance novelist Edith Hope, whose life starts mimicking her works. Her escape to the titular hotel doesn’t give her the reprieve she seeks.

Brookner went on to write more than 20 novels — her most recent book, At The Hairdressers, was released in 2011 as an ebook — but claimed she never found satisfaction in her accomplishments.

“It is actually quite a dynamic process, and very absorbing when you’re doing it. But when you’ve done it, you’re rather disgusted,” she told The Telegraph. “Because it’s all over, and you must do it all over again. … When it’s over, it’s over. I mean, I can’t remember my books. I can’t even remember the names. They’re so finished. … If I felt satisfaction I would question it. Because it would be temporary. And illusory. Clutching at something that has very little validity.”