A. S. Byatt

A. S. Byatt bigraphy, stories - Novelist

A. S. Byatt : biography

24 August 1936 –

Dame Antonia Susan Duffy, DBE, known as A. S. Byatt ( 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.. 5 January 2008. The Times. Retrieved on 2010-02-19.

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), website. the Central Saint Martins College 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.

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