Byatt, A. S.
A. S. Byatt 1936-
（Full name Antonia Susan Drabble Byatt） English novelist, critic, essayist, short story writer, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Byatt's career through 1998. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 19 and 65.
Byatt is a distinguished English critic and novelist best known for her Booker Prize-winning, neo-Victorian novel Possession （1990）. Byatt is known for her faithfulness to Victorian language and mores and her multilayered texts which include novels, poems, letters, and journals within the narrative construct as well as allusions to art, philosophy, religion, and literary theory. Byatt has stated that her works “try to be about the life of the mind as well as of society and the relations between people.”
Born in Sheffield, England in 1936, Byatt received her B.A. from Newnham College, Cambridge in 1957 before pursuing graduate studies at Bryn Mawr College and Somerville College, Oxford. Although she intended to obtain a doctorate in seventeenth-century literature, she left Oxford in 1959 without completing her degree and married in July of that year. In addition to raising her children, Byatt taught part-time at the University of London and worked on her first novel, The Shadow of a Sun, which was published in 1964. A year later she published Degrees of Freedom, a critical work focused on the novels of Iris Murdoch, whom critics regard as a major influence on Byatt's fiction. In addition to her novels, Byatt has edited works by George Eliot and Robert Browning and has written criticism on subjects such as Victorian poetry, William Wordsworth, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. She also wrote a second work of criticism on Murdoch, titled Iris Murdoch, in 1976. Byatt lives in London with her second husband.
Much of Byatt's fiction is concerned with the creative process and the imagination. In The Game （1967） Byatt studies the pitfalls of the creative process and the inability of the imagination and fiction to accurately articulate reality. The book also employs one of Byatt's favorite devices, the novel within a novel. Sugar （1987） is a series of short stories exploring loss, including “Precipice Encurled,” a fictionalized account of an event from the life of Robert Browning. Possession tells the story of two academic researchers whose own love story parallels that of the two 19th-century poets who are the subject of their research. Angels and Insects （1992） contains two novellas, “Morpho Eugenia” and “The Conjugial Angel.” Both are written in an imitation of Victorian-style English and deal with the notions of free will and determinism. The tales presented in The Matisse Stories （1993） each link to a different painting by Matisse and reveal Byatt's continuing interest in painting. Babel Tower （1996） is the third in a planned tetralogy featuring Byatt's heroine Frederica Potter. The earlier installments, The Virgin in the Garden （1978） and Still Life (1986） follow Frederica through her years at Cambridge. Babel Tower begins in 1964 and explores Frederica's marriage to Nigel Reiver. The two are soon divorced, and the novel follows Frederica as she struggles with single motherhood in the tumultuous 1960s.
Byatt has been both praised and criticized for her intellectual scope and her willingness to deal with complex ideas in her fiction. Reviewers often note Byatt's fascination with the creative process and the artist's craft. Critics have also called attention to her interest in painting as an artistic expression and her use of painterly language to create a visual picture. Merle Rubin stated, “A. S. Byatt is an artful writer, craftsmanlike in her approach and drawn to themes involving art and artists. An academic critic as well as a novelist, she has a painter's eye for form and color, a scholar's respect for significant detail.” Several reviewers credit Byatt for her scholarship, but some complain that her fiction gets bogged down under the weight of her erudition. However, many critics assert that the strength of her storytelling keeps her narratives compelling. Byatt's recreation of the Victorian novel of manners has also sparked discussions concerning the role of the postmodern novel and the relationship between history and contemporary fiction.
The Shadow of a Sun （novel） 1964
Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch （nonfiction） 1965
The Game （novel） 1967
Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time （nonfiction） 1970 [republished as Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time, 1989]
Iris Murdoch （nonfiction） 1976
The Virgin in the Garden （novel） 1978
Still Life （novel） 1986
Sugar and Other Stories （short stories） 1987
Possession: A Romance （novel） 1990
Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings （nonfiction） 1991
Angels and Insects （novellas） 1992
The Matisse Stories （short stories） 1993
The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye: Five Fairy Stories （short stories） 1994
Babel Tower （novel） 1996
Collected Stories （short stories） 1998
Elementals (short stories) 1998
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SOURCE: “The Mantle of Jehovah,” in London Review of Books, Vol. 9, No. 12, June 25, 1987, pp. 22-3.
[In the following review, Spufford praises Byatt's ability to aptly portray “strong feelings and violent flavours” in her work, and asserts that the overriding sentiment of the stories in Sugar is loss.]
To keep a single vision single, or perhaps to conserve their own energy, writers who deal in strong feelings and violent flavours most often choose narrow canvases. Not, however, A. S. Byatt. Her writing has been synoptically intense. It has been so, anomalously, in a genre （the English social novel） which makes comparisons with other violently-flavoured writers, outside the genre, seem silly. You could, of course, draw a contrast simply in terms of range of Bad Moments covered: Norman Mailer has preferred to steer clear of the peculiar pains of childbirth, and Andrea Dworkin has chosen not to dwell on the distinctive horror an uneasy Christmas dinner can become, while Byatt can and has handled both as elements in her continuing series of novels.
That series began with The Virgin in the Garden in 1981, and proceeded with Still Life in 1985; more is promised. In the meantime comes a book of short stories, Sugar, more distinct in method than in concerns. Several of the pieces in it can be seen as out-takes from the long movement of the series, where...
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SOURCE: “The Hunger of the Imagination in A. S. Byatt's The Game,” in Critique, Vol. XXIX, No. 3, Spring, 1988, pp. 147-62.
[In the following essay, Campbell traces Byatt's use of the imagination as both the subject and the form of her novel The Game.]
In a comment made after the publication of her second novel, The Game （1967）, Antonia S. Byatt described the subject matter of her fiction: “habits of mind—the nature of the imagination, the ways in which different people take in the world, and the uses they make of what they think or see.”1 Her statement defines both the subject of The Game and its form. This novel presents and demonstrates contrasting uses of the imagination and shows the impossibility of its ever fully taking in the world, the difficulty of breaking out of private worlds into communication, and the devastation that can result from the misuse of imagination—especially from attempting to invade the mental space of another person. The Game examines the perils of fiction as well as those of human relationships. It takes its place beside other “self-reflexive” pieces of contemporary fiction in which novelists examine the procedures of their art, and it also explores the moral themes of betrayal and self-deception. Its plot, which relates moral and aesthetic concerns, perfectly suits this duality. The story of two sisters in their...
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SOURCE: “‘The Somehow May Be Thishow’: Fact, Fiction, and Intertextuality in Antonia Byatt's ‘Precipice-Encurled’” in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 28, No. 2, Spring, 1991, pp. 115-23.
[In the following essay, Campbell discusses Byatt's mixing of fact and fiction in the short story “Precipice-Encurled,” and asserts that the story demonstrates the impossibility of capturing reality in art.]
Antonia Byatt's collection of short stories, Sugar （1987）, continues her exploration of the struggle of language with things. In the title story, the last in the volume, the narrator recalls, on the occasion of her father's dying, the versions of family history that have been handed down. The central metaphor is of narration as confecting. As a small girl the narrator was shown by her grandfather, a candy manufacturer, how the stripes in the humbug candy were produced: “It's the air that does it,” he tells her. “Nothing but whipping in air. There's no difference between the two stripes in a humbug but air” （“Sugar” 244）. Self-consciously reflecting on her own confections as she “whips in air,” the narrator struggles for accuracy, at the same time acknowledging its impossibility: “The real thing, the true moment, is … inaccessible” （248）.
In this collection one story stands apart from the others, both in its use of literary history and biography...
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SOURCE: “Affinities and Affections,” in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXII, No. 13, March 29, 1992, p. 11.
[In the following review, Grumbach argues that “there is very little in [Passions of the Mind] to praise, and much to be warned against.”]
Antonia Susan Byatt, in middle age, has made a remarkable and sudden splash on the international scene. Sister of the novelist Margaret Drabble, she was obscured by Drabble's fame since the '60s when Byatt began to write literary essays and reviews. She burst into international notice two years ago with the publication of Possession, an extraordinarily inventive “Victorian” novel that won Britain's prestigious Booker Prize for the best work of fiction published in 1990. A scholarly mystery story, both a romance and a linguistic masterpiece, Possession became an American best-seller.
In the nature of such things, her publisher would normally have asked her for a collection of short stories. Not being given to that form, Byatt instead has gathered together a number of what are sometimes called “fugitive pieces,” essays, introductions and reviews, to form this new book [Passions of the Mind].
Aficionados of Possession will find some of them hard going, a little tough to chew and not of great interest by virtue of their subject matter, most notably her study of Robert Browning,...
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SOURCE: A review of Passions of the Mind, in Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 1992, p. 13.
[In the following review, Rubin states that in Passions of the Mind, “Byatt proves an illuminating guide to writers she admires, but seldom shines with the brilliance of a Simone de Beauvoir or a Mary McCarthy.”]
Antonia Susan Byatt is the author （thus far） of five novels, a short-story collection, and two books of criticism （one on Wordsworth and Coleridge, the other on Iris Murdoch）. A graduate of Cambridge University who has taught literature at University College, London, Byatt has also written numerous essays, articles, and book reviews, 21 of which form the contents of her latest book, Passions of the Mind.
Byatt is a novelist whose imagination is steeped in literature. It might even be said that literature is a major theme of her fiction. Her most recent and best-known novel, Possession, winner of the Booker Prize, tells the intertwining stories of a pair of modern-day academic researchers and the secret love affair of two 19th-century poets who are the subjects of their research: a Robert Browning-esque man and a Christina Rossetti-like woman.
Byatt's 1978 novel, The Virgin in the Garden, takes place in the England of the 1950s, the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth II, but is replete with references to the England of...
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SOURCE: “When Will He Suspect?,” in London Review of Books, Vol. 14, No. 22, November 19, 1992, pp. 18-9.
[In the following review, Barrell complains that although Byatt effectively recreates Victorian style in Angels and Insects, there appears to be little point in the exercise.]
I don't quite know what to say about Angels and Insects. It consists of a pair of novellas, ‘Morpho Eugenia’ and ‘The Conjugial Angel’, which, like Possession, are set in Victorian England, and written in a free imitation of mid-19th-century literary English. My doubts are the obvious ones. It's not that I can't make up my mind about whether or not the work they do, of re-creation and creative imitation, is well done—much of the time it's very well done, as well as I can imagine it could be. But even when it is, I'm not sure of the point of doing it, or of doing it more than once （just to see if it can be done）. The idea behind these novellas seems to be something like the converse of the adage that if a thing is worth doing it's worth doing well: if a thing can be done well, it must be worth doing. But the more successfully Byatt re-creates the Victorian novel of ideas, the more she persuades us of the irredeemable pastness of the past she re-creates, and the more the ideas she deals with, of determinism, individual freedom, the nature of life after death, seem to announce that these are...
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SOURCE: “Metamorphoses,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 9, No. 1, Fall, 1993, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Lewis lauds Byatt's Angels and Insects as a spiritual heir to the Victorian era.]
Two years after Possession, a magnum opus of intellectual passion, A. S. Byatt offers us two enchanting novellas set in the mid-19th-century and enlivened by the uneasy dance of extremes. The dominant quarrel in Angels & Insects—the stark division of Victorian society between Darwinists and creationists—is familiar ground for her readers. Of course, the argument itself is not as important in Byatt's fiction as the effects of this spiritual struggle between “angels and insects” on the men and women of the time.
In the first novella, “Morpho Eugenia,” named after a rare tropical butterfly, explorer and entomologist William Adamson barely survives his shipwrecked journey back to England after 10 years in the Amazon. Reverend Harald Alabaster, a wealthy baronet and amateur entomologist, offers William refuge in his estate, Bredely Hall. William earns his keep by cataloguing Lord Alabaster's huge collection of specimens and oddities of the natural world and by acting as a sounding board for a book in which Lord Alabaster is trying to reconcile natural selection and divine providence.
William soon falls madly in love with Alabaster's mysterious,...
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SOURCE: “Aesthetic among the Pinks,” in Guardian Weekly, Vol. 50, No. 4, January 23, 1994, p. 29.
[In the following review, Dyer offers a negative assessment of Byatt's The Matisse Stories.]
We need to look at these stories [in The Matisse Stories] in two ways—as stories and as dramatised essays on Matisse—to come up with a compound verdict that does justice to the twin impulses behind them.
Initiated by the voluptuously distorted Pink Nude of 1935, the first story is about a middle-aged academic's visits to her hairdresser. The hairdresser is self-important, full of small-minded determination to enlarge his mind. Knowing and polite, his client ends up with an absurdly coiffured nest of hair; she throws a tanty and trashes the salon.
In the second story, a failed middle-aged artist gets snooty with his philistine cleaner—only to find that she is having an exhibition in the gallery where he'd hoped to show.
In the third, two academics are in a Chinese restaurant, discussing Matisse-related issues between exclamations of delight at the quality of the scoff.
Diverting, pleasant enough tales, in short—so what is it that is so irksome about them? Perhaps the problem is the familiar one whereby snobbery is frowned upon from a vantage point of all-knowing sophistication, and preciousness is judged in the light of an...
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SOURCE: “A. S. Byatt's Self-Mirroring Art,” in Critique, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, Winter, 1995, pp. 83-95.
[In the following review, Gitzen discusses Byatt's attempt to include literary and artistic theory in her work, and asserts that she does so most successfully in Possession.]
The award to A. S. Byatt of the 1990 Booker Prize for her romance Possession virtually assures that her fiction will receive increasing critical attention, perhaps equaling that previously accorded to the novels of her sister Margaret Drabble. An interwoven texture of letters, journal entries, poems, and straight narrative, Possession is Byatt's most ambitious work to date; but its subject, situations, characters, and, indeed, its hybrid form have been anticipated in each of her previous novels. From the start, Byatt has combined the methods of a traditional realist with the subject matter and the themes of an aesthete. Hers is the sort of fiction that might have been written by her young heroine Frederica Potter, who as a Cambridge undergraduate yearns to become both an academic and a creative writer and imagines herself “writing something elegant and subtle on the use of metaphor in seventeenth-century religious narrative … [and] writing quite different things, … maybe even a new urban novel like those of Iris Murdoch” （Still Life 283）. Perhaps because Byatt has written repeatedly and admiringly...
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SOURCE: “Obeying the Genie,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 4788, January 6, 1995, p. 20.
[In the following review, Adil calls the use of language in Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye “rich and archaically extravagant.”]
Like Charles Perrault at the end of the seventeenth century and Oscar Wilde at the end of the nineteenth, A. S. Byatt has chosen to explore the possibilities of the fairy story. Perhaps the fin de siècle creates a sense of cultural unease, of the need for some soul-searching. The fairy story is, after all, the soul of literature, the bedrock of narrative. Byatt's latest collection [The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye] consists of four short stories set in the familiar fantasy world of princesses, dragons, glass coffins and wizards; and a novella, the title-story, which relocates the fairy story in a contemporary landscape.
Her florid baroque style enriches this contemporary fairy-tale, translating the post-industrial into the language of the pre-modern, “the green sea was black, sleek as the skin of killer whales”, in an all too recognizable present where “the empty deserts were seeded with skulls, and with iron canisters, containing death”. Byatt's prose is opulent, sometimes lurid. Her extended descriptions of gradations of colour can descend into the language of paint charts: “mackerel-puckered and underwater-dappled...
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SOURCE: “A Novelist with a Civilized, Artistic Eye,” in Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 1995, p. 12.
[In the following review, Rubin offers a positive assessment of Byatt's The Matisse Stories, emphasizing their connection to famous paintings by Matisse.]
A. S. Byatt is an artful writer, craftsmanlike in her approach and drawn to themes involving art and artists. An academic critic as well as a novelist, she has a painter's eye for form and color, a scholar's respect for significant detail.
Her novel Possession, winner of the 1990 Booker Prize, portrayed the discovery of a secret romance between two Victorian poets （he, somewhat Browningesque; she, a sort of Christina Rossetti with a dash of Emily Dickinson）. Byatt also recreated Victorian milieus in Angels and Insects （1992）, which will be released as a film later this year.
Now in The Matisse Stories, her most painterly book to date, Byatt offers a triptych of short novellas, each linked to at least one painting by the great modern master of color and form.
The first story, “Medusa's Ankles,” is the slightest. A sensible married woman, a university lecturer, long accustomed to relying on her natural （i.e. uncosmetically aided） good looks, has more recently been resorting to the ministrations of a skilled hairdresser to counter the depredations of...
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SOURCE: “Her Shaping Spirit of Imagination,” in Spectator, Vol. 276, No. 8756, May 11, 1996, pp. 34-6.
[In the following review, Hensher praises Byatt's Babel Tower as “a remarkable book, of exceptional gravity and serious charm.”]
Babel Tower, the third in a series of novels which began with The Virgin in the Garden and continued with Still Life, is largely about a marriage and its breakdown. It's not just the literal marriage of A. S. Byatt's heroine, Frederica Potter, and its disastrous outcome. The subject of the book—one is tempted to write, the ‘real’ subject—is the tragic afterlife of Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell; it's the breakdown of the Marriage, in the sad and hopeful projects of the 1960s, which Byatt is chronicling here.
Byatt, in all these books, has been constructing a novelist's history of the post-war years. Not a literal history, nor a history of external events, though real people, real events do impinge on the events of the novel, and influence its course. The first volume was largely interested in a consideration of the meaning of the Coronation; this circles around, and finally alights on the trial of the Moors Murderers. But these real events are always presented, not as glamorous importations to add seriousness and truth, but as outcrops of the intellectual life of the time. Byatt is concerned not...
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SOURCE: “Tongues of Fire,” in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXVI, No. 19, May 12, 1996, pp. 3, 10.
[In the following review, Tharoor argues that in Babel Tower, “too many characters and plot lines are introduced and unevenly developed, leaving the reader with a vague sense of dissatisfaction despite the author's undoubted flair and artistry.”]
“Well, let us start with the title … It is an image of the Tower of Babel which was constructed to displace God from Heaven, and was punished for its presumption by having a spirit of discord sent amongst its members, so that their languages were confused, they could no longer understand each other …”
In the author's very words, no less. Or rather in those of Professor Marie-France Smith, expert witness in the defense of a novel called “Babbletower,” much of which is interwoven through A. S. Byatt's extraordinary new novel, Babel Tower, her first since the award-winning Possession. But I shouldn't have said “extraordinary”—Byatt has already taught me that's a tired word, like “brilliant” or “outstanding,” adjectives etiolated by overuse in book criticism. Book criticism is what her characters all indulge in, at various levels—conversing about books, lecturing about books, writing reports for publishers on would-be books, reviewing books, testifying for and against books, even burning...
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SOURCE: “‘What's Love Got to Do with It?’ Postmodernism and Possession,” in English Studies in Canada, Vol. 22, No. 2, June, 1996, pp. 199-219.
[In the following essay, Buxton analyzes Byatt's Possession in terms of its relationship to postmodernism.]
The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, “I love you madly,” because he knows that she knows （and that she knows that he knows） that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.” At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her, but he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony....
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SOURCE: “En Route to the Catastrophe,” in New York Review of Books, Vol. 43, No. 10, June 6, 1996, pp. 17-9.
[In the following review, Coetzee discusses Byatt's Babel Tower.]
In the 1970s the British novelist A. S. Byatt （b. 1936） embarked on an ambitious project: a sequence of novels that would trace the growth of a woman of her own class and generation and education, from the drab early 1950s through the cultural revolution of the 1960s.
Byatt planned four novels. In The Virgin in the Garden （1978） and Still Life （1985） she followed her heroine, Frederica Potter, the daughter of two middle-class literary intellectuals, through the last of her Yorkshire schooling and her three years at Cambridge; Still Life ended with Frederica in the arms of Nigel Reiver, the first man to awaken her sexually.
Since then six years have passed. Babel Tower, the third novel of the series, opens in 1964. The marriage with Nigel is not going well. Cooped up with his horsy sisters and odious housekeeper in a house in the Home Counties, Frederica feels stifled. She would like to see her old college friends, now making names for themselves on the buzzing London cultural scene, but Nigel doesn't like them. When they write, he intercepts their letters. An ex-commando, he has no scruples about roughing her up in ways that leave no telltale marks. She...
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SOURCE: “Chronicle of Higher Education,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. 13, Nos. 10 and 11, July, 1996, p. 35.
[In the following review, Pool questions the excessive length of Byatt's Babel Tower, but also praises the novel as an “intelligent and often funny work [which] is also satisfying in its scope.”]
When A. S. Byatt's novel Possession appeared here in 1990, I doubt many Americans had heard of the English writer. But in fact, when Byatt wrote that Booker Prize-winning work she was hardly a new author. In addition to literary criticism, she had previously published five works of fiction, including The Virgin in the Garden （1978） and Still Life （1985）, the first two novels in a planned quartet. Babel Tower is the third.
This series centers on Frederica Potter, an intelligent, intellectual, self-important young woman who comes of age in Yorkshire and at Cambridge University in the first two volumes. Like all of Byatt's work, these early novels are infused with ideas; she is, always, a cerebral writer. But unlike Possession, with its intricate construction, those were relatively straightforward stories. Returning to her series nearly twenty years after she began it, Byatt now combines a more sophisticated style （there is a novel within the novel） with a continued interest in chronicling her characters' lives....
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SOURCE: “The Redemptive Past in the Neo-Victorian Novel,” in Studies in the Novel, Vol. 29, No. 4, Winter, 1997, pp. 538-60.
[In the following essay, Shiller uses Fredric Jameson's critique of postmodernism to analyze the relationship between Byatt's Possession, Peter Akroyd's Chatterton, and the historical novel, in particular the neo-Victorian novel.]
Over the last decade a number of novels have displayed a various and intriguing range of historical commitments. Although I will not attempt to take on the whole range here, I do want to explore a subset of the historical novel I think I can clearly delineate, or at least two exemplars of this subset. I call this particular category the neo-Victorian novel, and I read it as at once characteristic of postmodernism and imbued with a historicity reminiscent of the nineteenth-century novel.1 In order to develop my own argument, I will make rather free use of Fredric Jameson's critique of postmodernism, particularly his critique of postmodern representations of history.
In his attacks on postmodernism, Jameson has decried its supplanting of the redemptive project of history with “the random cannibalization of all the styles of the past,”2 an approach he finds problematic because if one's relation to the past is a matter of randomly retrieving various “styles,” then one loses the impetus to find...
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SOURCE: “Thinking of England,” in Observer, April 19, 1998, p. 15.
[In the following review, Miller discusses Byatt's inclusions in the anthology The Oxford Book of English Short Stories.]
Virginia Woolf once mentioned, with a hint of displeasure, that Katherine Mansfield's husband had been saying that ‘the most distinguished writers of short stories’ in the England of the Twenties were agreed about Mansfield's importance as a practitioner of the art. Many others have felt that way. But Mansfield is not to be found in this Oxford Book. Insufficiently English, one supposes, since she grew up in New Zealand. Doris Lessing, however, who grew up in Southern Rhodesia, was considered for selection, before being left out. In terms of partiality—the criterion of descent which used to be employed for the admission to Britain of Commonwealth immigrants—there can hardly have been much to choose between them. Angus Wilson and Arnold Bennett are also absent, though not on grounds of nationality. A. S. Byatt is not among the more predictable anthologists.
She ‘decided to be stringent’ about the definition of Englishness, and it is no accident that her collection is published on St George's day. ‘It is not quite nice to think about being English,’ she writes. But she has done so. She took her assignment to ‘mean looking very narrowly for writers with pure English national...
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SOURCE: “Tricks of the Light,” in Spectator, Vol. 281, No. 8889, November 14, 1998, p. 54.
[In the following review, Grant praises the stories in Byatt's Elementals.]
Opening this little collection of short stories [Elementals] is like opening a jewellery box. You extricate a brooch which is, as a concept, essentially a workaday object. It is the coloured gem which is attached to the clasp that, in different lights, transforms the mundane into something magical. This is the art of the lapidarist and this is also the art of A. S. Byatt.
In ‘Crocodile Tears’, the first story of the six, she gives us Patricia Nimmo, a suddenly widowed, unremarkable, middle-aged home counties lady. This perfectly ordinary woman in unfortunate but not unusual circumstances is transformed into something extraordinary as Byatt reveals her in her contrasting lights. ‘Crocodile Tears’ is a tale of warmth and cold, of clarity and obscurity, of the commonplace and the bizarre. It never becomes so fanciful that it loses its sense of the real, yet it is written with a detachment which, despite the detailed, factual descriptions of place and colour, make it as mysterious as a fable or a fairy story.
The following tales—‘Stories of Fire and Ice’, as the author calls them—reach a climax of fancy in ‘Cold’, an unashamed imaginative flight ripe for interpretation by...
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D'Evelyn, Thomas. Review of Possession. The Christian Science Monitor 82, No. 246 (16 November 1990): 13.
Review of Possession.
Djordjevic, Ivana. “In the Footsteps of Giambattista Vico: Patterns of Signification in A. S. Byatt's Possession.” Anglia 15, No. 1 (1997): 44-83.
Analyzes Possession in terms of its indebtedness to the work of Giambattista Vico.
Fichtner, Margaria. Review of The Matisse Stories. Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service (5 April 1995): 405.
Review of The Matisse Stories.
Kendrick, Walter. Review of Angels and Insects: Two Novellas. Yale Review 81, No. 4 (October 1993): 124.
Positive review of Angels and Insects.
Koenig, Rhoda. Review of Babel Tower. The Wall Street Journal (6 May 1996): A11–12.
Review of Babel Tower.
Norfolk, Lawrence. Review of Angels and Insects. Washington Post Book World XXIII, No. 18 (2 May 1993): 1, 10.
Discusses how the two novellas in Angels and Insects come together to create a reading experience more complex and substantial than if the two works are considered separately.
Rubin, Merle. Review of Angels and Insects:...
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