A. S. Byatt  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Dame Antonia Byatt, DBE (born August 24, 1936, Sheffield, England) has been hailed as one of the great postmodern novelists in Britain. She is usually known as A. S. Byatt.


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. In her quartet of novels about mid-century England, she is clearly indebted to D.H. Lawrence, particularly The Rainbow and Women in Love. There and in other works, Byatt alludes to, and builds upon, themes from Romantic and Victorian literature. Byatt conceives of fantasy as as an alternative to--rather than an escape from--everyday life, and often it is difficult to tell if what is fantastic in her work is actually the irruption of psychosis. More recent books by Byatt have brought to fore her interest in science, particularly cognitive science and zoology.

Rivalry with her sister Margaret Drabble

Byatt's younger sister, Margaret Drabble, is also a successful novelist, and the rivalry between the two is legendary, although of uncertain origin. It has been suggested by some that, before becoming successful in her own right, Byatt resented her sister because Drabble gained a starred double-first over her own mere double-first. Drabble herself suggests that part of the rift is due, after the death of Byatt's son in a car accident, to the guilt she felt that her own children survived (this reported by Suzie Mackenzie of the UK's Guardian Unlimited.) Byatt has stated publicly that Drabble's depiction of their mother in Drabble's book The Peppered Moth angered her.

The Harry Potter controversy

More recently, A. S. Byatt caused controversy by suggesting that the popularity of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books is because they are "written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip." In her editorial column in the New York Times newspaper, she scathingly attacked adult readers of the series as uncultured, claiming that "they don't have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had."

After the column appeared in the newspaper, her editorial was described by Salon.com contributing writer Charles Taylor as "upfront in its snobbishness." He also suggested that Byatt's claims may be due to jealousy towards Rowling's commercial success.

In an article in the Guardian, the author Fay Weldon defended Byatt in this controversy over Harry Potter, and praised her courage for speaking out. "She is absolutely right that it is not what the poets hoped for, but this is not poetry, it is readable, saleable, everyday, useful prose," Weldon said. She said she found the sight of adults reading the Potter series troubling, adding: "Byatt does have a point in everything she says but at the same time she sounds like a bit of a spoilsport. She is being a party pooper but then the party pooper is often right."

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "A. S. Byatt" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools