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A. S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) Biography

(1936– ), (Antonia Susan Byatt), Shadow of a Sun, The Game, The Virgin in the Garden

author lives fiction based

British novelist and critic, born in Sheffield, educated at The Mount School, York and Newnham College, Cambridge. Among several academic posts she has been a lecturer at University College, London; she has also travelled widely as a lecturer for the British Council. Her first novel, Shadow of a Sun (1964), describing young Anna Severell's division in loyalties between her novelist father and one of his admiring critics, already showed an intense understanding of the creative processes. The Game (1967) is a powerful study of the relationship of two sisters who in childhood shared an imaginative game, based on Arthurian legend, which has conditioned their subsequent lives. Byatt's ambitious novel sequence about a family in the north of England concerns the Potters, whose emotional and mental lives not only reflect important cultural tensions in English society but can be regarded as metaphors for abiding human conflicts. The first volume, The Virgin in the Garden (1978), set in North Yorkshire, mainly takes place in the symbolically significant year of 1953 (the year of the Coronation of Elizabeth II) and focuses on the three children of the English master, Bill Potter. Still Life (1986) continues the development of the Potters and their associates; this time a drama about Van Gogh is in progress. Sugar and Other Stories (1987) contains ‘The July Ghost’, a moving account of a woman's difficulty in coming to terms with her loved son's early death; ‘On the Day that E. M. Forster Died’, with its meditation on the nature of fiction in society; and ‘Sugar’, in which the author reflects on her childhood and her father's death. Possession (1990; Booker Prize) is a large-scale but intricately worked ‘romance’ in which contemporary researchers uncover a hitherto unknown emotional relationship between two Victorian poets, Randolph Henry Ash (based on Browning) and Christabel LaMotte (based on Christina Rossetti); the author is as concerned with the lives of her twentieth-century characters as with the great Victorians themselves, whose poetry she gives us in passages of sustained intensity too considerable to be called ‘pastiche’. She is also the author of Degrees of Freedom (1965), a study of the fiction of Iris Murdoch, a major influence on Byatt, and of Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time (1970). In Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings (1991), Byatt pursues some of the ideas underpinning her own fiction, the work of the great Victorians and of several twentieth-century women writers. The pair of novellas Angels and Insects (1993) reflect her continuing interest in nineteenth-century themes. In The Matisse Stories (1993), Byatt evokes the colour and light for which the painter is famed. The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (1994) is a collection of fairy tales that play on the conventions of the genre. With Alan Hollinghurst, Byatt co-edited New Writing 4 (1995), an anthology of prose and verse presenting ‘a multi-faceted picture of modern Britain’, and with Ignes Sodre she is the co-author of Imagining Characters: Conversations on Women Writers (1995). Byatt was awarded the CBE in 1990. She is the sister of the novelist Margaret Drabble.

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