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Byatt, A(ntonia) S(usan)

academic frederica set novel

(British, 1936– )

Born in Sheffield, A. S. Byatt is an academic as well as a popular literary novelist. Her work is often about the relationship between art and life, especially as both affect women. Her first novel, Shadow of a Sun (1964), describes a young woman's efforts to escape the influence of her novelist father. These themes are developed in a series of novels that begins with The Virgin in the Garden (1978). Set in Yorkshire in 1953, the book introduces Frederica Potter, a schoolgirl preparing to play the role of Elizabeth I in a Coronation pageant. The hopes of a second ‘Elizabethan Age’ are richly evoked, but shadowed by the disappointment of the late 1970s, when Byatt was writing. Still Life (1985) follows Frederica into a provincial marriage, while Babel Tower (1996) sets Frederica's turbulent divorce against the dangerous and heady background of the 1960s. The Booker Prize-winning Possession (1990) is Byatt's most ambitious novel to date. An academic studying the works of a neglected Victorian poet finds the tangled emotions of the past increasingly reflected in the present. A love-story on several levels, Possession is as much about the passions of the mind as the emotions. Angels and Insects (1992) returns to this Victorian setting to recount a love-affair between an enigmatic woman and a scientist making a study of butterflies, while The Biographer's Tale (2000) comes up to date with the story set in the 1990s of Phineas G. Nanson, a disillusioned academic who sets out to write the biography of a biographer.

Marina Warner, Margaret Drabble, Elizabeth Jane Howard. See HISTORICAL  WB

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