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.