A. S. Byatt
|A. S. Byatt|
Byatt in June 2007 in Lyon, France.
|Born||Antonia Susan Drabble
24 August 1936
Sheffield, England, UK
|Period||1964 – present|
|Notable award(s)||Man Booker Prize|
Dame Antonia Susan Duffy, DBE, known as A. S. Byatt (// BY-ət; born 24 August 1936), is an English novelist, poet and Booker Prize winner. In 2008, The Times newspaper named her on its list of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945.
Life and career
Byatt was born in Sheffield as Antonia Susan Drabble, the daughter of John Drabble, QC, and Kathleen Bloor, a scholar of Browning. Her upbringing was fairly unhappy as she struggled against her domineering mother. Byatt was educated at two independent boarding schools, Sheffield High School and the Quaker Mount School in York. She noted in an interview in 2009 "I am not a Quaker, of course, because I'm anti-Christian and the Quakers are a form of Christianity but their religion is wonderful – you simply sat in silence and listened to the nature of things." The family had moved to York as a result of the bombing of Sheffield during the Second World War. She did not enjoy boarding school, citing her need to be alone and her difficulty in making friends. She went on to Newnham College, Cambridge, Bryn Mawr in the United States, and Somerville College, Oxford. Sister to novelist Margaret Drabble and art historian Helen Langdon, Byatt lectured in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of London University (1962–71), the Central School of Art and Design and from 1972 to 1983 at University College London.
The story of a young girl growing up in the shadow of a dominant father, Byatt's first novel, The Shadow of the Sun, was published in 1964. Her novel The Game (1967) charts the dynamics between two sisters, and the family theme is continued in her quartet The Virgin in the Garden (1978), Still Life (1985), Babel Tower (1996), and A Whistling Woman (2002), Still Life winning the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award in 1989. Her quartet of novels is inspired by D. H. Lawrence, particularly The Rainbow and Women in Love. Describing mid-20th-century Britain, the books follow the life of Frederica Potter, a young female intellectual studying at Cambridge at a time when women were heavily outnumbered by men at that university, and then tracing her journey as a divorcée with a young son making a new life in London. Byatt says some of the characters in her fiction represent her "greatest terror which is simple domesticity [...] I had this image of coming out from under and seeing the light for a bit and then being shut in a kitchen, which I think happened to women of my generation." Like Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman touches on the utopian and revolutionary dreams of the 1960s. She describes herself as "a naturally pessimistic animal": "I don't believe that human beings are basically good, so I think all utopian movements are doomed to fail, but I am interested in them."
She has written critical studies of Iris Murdoch, who was a friend, mentor and a significant influence on her own writing. In those books and other works, Byatt alludes to, and builds upon, themes from Romantic and Victorian literature. She conceives of fantasy as an alternative to, rather than an escape from, everyday life, and it is often difficult to tell when the fantastic in her work actually represents the eruption of psychosis. "In my work", she notes "writing is always so dangerous. It's very destructive. People who write books are destroyers." Possession (1990) parallels the emerging relationship of two contemporary academics with the past of two (fictional) nineteenth century poets whom they are researching. It won the Man Booker Prize in 1990 and was made into a film in 2002. Byatt's novel Angels & Insects also became a successful film, nominated for an Academy Award (1995). The Children's Book was shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
Also known for her short stories, Byatt has been influenced by Henry James and George Eliot as well as Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Browning, in merging realism and naturalism with fantasy. Her story collections include Sugar and Other Stories (1987); The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye (1994), a collection of fairy tales; Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice (1998); and Little Black Book of Stories (2003). The Matisse Stories, (1993) features three pieces, each describing a painting by Henri Matisse, each the tale of an initially smaller crisis that shows the long-present unravelling in the protagonists’ lives. Her books reflect a continuous interest in zoology, entomology, geology, and Darwinism among other repeated themes. Byatt has written for media including the British journal Prospect, The Guardian, The Times and the Times Literary Supplement. She has been a judge on many literary award panels including the Hawthornden Prize, the Booker, David Higham Prize for Fiction, and the Betty Trask Award.
On the role of writing in her life, she says: "I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It's the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. Well, that's putting it pompously – but constructing. I do see it in sort of three-dimensional structures. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people."
A. S. Byatt married Ian Charles Rayner Byatt in 1959 and had a daughter, as well as a son who was killed in a car accident at the age of 11. The marriage was dissolved in 1969. She has two daughters with her second husband Peter John Duffy.
Byatt has been engaged in a feud with her novelist sister Margaret Drabble since she learned that Drabble wrote about their family's tea set, a tea set which Byatt had intended to write about herself. The two sisters have also disagreed about the appropriate portrayal of their mother. The pair seldom see each other and don't read each other's books. However, in a BBC interview from 1991, Byatt states that their rivalry is "terribly overstated by gossip columnists" and that the sisters "always have liked each other on the bottom line".
- 1974–77 Social Effects of Television Advisory Group BBC
- 1977–82 Associate of Newnham College, Cambridge
- 1978–84 Board of Communications and Cultural Studies, CNAA
- 1985–87 Board of Creative and Performing Arts, CNAA
- 1987–88 Kingman Committee of Inquiry into the teaching of English Language, (Department of Education and Science)
- 1984–88 Management Committee, Society of Authors, (Deputy Chairman, 1986, Chairman, 1986–88);
- 1993–98 Board, British Council, (Member of Literature Advisory Panel, 1990–98).
Prizes and awards
- 1986 PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, for Still Life
- 1987 Hon. Dlitt, Bradford
- 1990 Booker Prize for Fiction, Possession: A Romance
- 1990 CBE
- 1990 Irish Times International Fiction Prize Possession: A Romance
- 1991 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book) Possession: A Romance
- 1991 Honorary Doctorate from the University of York
- 1991 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Durham
- 1992 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Nottingham
- 1993 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Liverpool
- 1994 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Portsmouth
- 1995 Honorary Doctorate from the University of London
- 1995 Premio Malaparte (Italy)
- 1995 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye
- 1998 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature, The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye
- 1999 DBE
- 1999 Hon. DLitt from the University of Cambridge
- 2000 Hon. Fellow, London Institute
- 2000 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Sheffield
- 2004 Honorary Doctorate from the University of Kent
- 2004 Fellow, University College London
- 2002 Shakespeare Prize (Germany)
- 2007 Honorary degree from the University of Winchester.
- 2009 Blue Metropolis International Literary Grand Prix (Canada)
- 2009 Man Booker Prize, The Children's Book (shortlist)
- 2010 Honorary Doctorate from the Leiden University
- 2010 James Tait Black Memorial Prize, The Children's Book
- 1964 The Shadow of the Sun, Chatto & Windus
- 1967 The Game, Chatto & Windus
- 1978 The Virgin in the Garden, Chatto & Windus
- 1985 Still Life, Chatto & Windus
- 1990 Possession: A Romance, Chatto & Windus
- 1992 Morpho Eugenia, Chatto & Windus
- 1997 Babel Tower, Chatto & Windus
- 2000 The Biographer's Tale, Chatto & Windus
- 2002 A Whistling Woman, Chatto & Windus
- 2009 The Children's Book, Chatto & Windus
- 2011 Ragnarok: The End of the Gods, Canongate
- 1987 Sugar and Other Stories, Chatto & Windus
- 1993 The Matisse Stories, Chatto & Windus
- 1994 The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, Chatto & Windus
- 1998 Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice, Chatto & Windus
- 2003 Little Black Book of Stories, Chatto & Windus
Essays and biographies
- 1965 Degrees of Freedom: The Early Novels of Iris Murdoch, Chatto & Windus
- 1989 Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge, Poetry and Life, Hogarth Press
- 1991 Passions of the Mind: Selected Writings, Chatto & Windus
- 1995 Imagining Characters: Six Conversations about Women Writers (with Ignes Sodre), Chatto & Windus
- 2000 On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays, Chatto & Windus
- 2001 Portraits in Fiction, Chatto & Windus
- 1970 Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time, Nelson
- 1976 Iris Murdoch: A Critical Study, Longman
- 1990 George Eliot: Selected Essays, Poems and Other Writings (editor with Nicholas Warren), Penguin
- 1995 New Writing Volume 4 (editor with Alan Hollinghurst), Vintage
- 1997 New Writing Volume 6 (editor with Peter Porter), Vintage
- 1998 Oxford Book of English Short Stories (editor), Oxford University Press
- 2001 The Bird Hand Book (with photographs by Victor Schrager), Graphis Inc. (New York)
- Sangster, Catherine (14 September 2009). "How to Say: JM Coetzee and other Booker authors". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-10-01.
- The 50 greatest British writers since 1945. 5 January 2008. The Times. Retrieved on 2010-02-19.
- "Writing in terms of pleasure" 25 April 2009 The Guardian. Accessed 2010-09-11.
- Sir Ian Byatt biog
- Contemporary Authors website.
- Why Margaret Drabble is not A.S. Byatts cup of tea. Daily Telegraph, retrieved 22 September 2011.
- Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 1991-06-16
- A.S. Byatt Recipient of the 2009 Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix
- Hicks, Elizabeth (2010). The Still Life in the Fiction of A. S. Byatt. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-2385-2
- Official website
- Dame A. S. Byatt at British Council: Literature
- A. S. Byatt at the Internet Book List
- A. S. Byatt at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- Works by A. S. Byatt on Open Library at the Internet Archive
- Works by or about A. S. Byatt in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Philip Hensher (Fall 2001). "A. S. Byatt, The Art of Fiction No. 168". Paris Review.
- Cerles Review Interview (2003). Accessed 2010-09-11
- "A Novelist Whose Fiction Comes From Real Lives". 9 October 2009 New York Times. Accessed 2010-09-11
- A. S. Byatt reads from her book Elementals. Accessed 2010-09-11
- Audio: including AS Byatt in conversation on the BBC World Service The Forum. Accessed 2010-09-11
- A. S. Byatt reads from The Children's Book + interview. Accessed 2011-04-12
- KCRW Bookworm Interview