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The Mantle of Jehovah

Francis Spufford

25 June 1987
Sugar 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £10.95, April 1987, 0 7011 3169 1
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... To keep a single vision single, or perhaps to conserve their own energy, writers who deal in strong feelings and violent flavours most often choose narrow canvases. Not, however, A.S.Byatt. Her writing has been synoptically intense. It has been so, anomalously, in a genre (the English social novel) which makes comparisons with other violently-flavoured writers, outside the genre, seem ...

Thirty Years Ago

Patrick Parrinder

18 July 1985
Still Life 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 358 pp., £9.95, June 1985, 0 7011 2667 1
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Wales’ Work 
by Robert Walshe.
Secker, 279 pp., £8.95, July 1985, 9780436561450
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... Like The Virgin in the Garden (1978) to which it is a deeper and darker-toned successor, A.S.Byatt’s Still Life has the classical English narrative setting of a generation ago. Apart from the prologue, which evokes the Post-Impressionist exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1980, the events here ...

Underlinings

Ruth Scurr: A.S. Byatt

10 August 2000
The Biographer's Tale 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 224 pp., £14.99, June 2000, 0 7011 6945 1
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... Antonia Byatt’s new novel opens with a lecture and a window. Phineas G. Nanson, listening to an exposition of Lacan’s theory of morcellement, looks up at the window and decides to quit academe. He thinks: ‘I ...

Looking back

John Sutherland

22 May 1980
Metroland 
by Julian Barnes.
Cape, 176 pp., £4.95, March 1980, 0 224 01762 4
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The Bleeding Heart 
by Marilyn French.
Deutsch, 412 pp., £6.50, May 1980, 9780233972343
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Creator 
by Jeremy Leven.
Hutchinson, 544 pp., £6.95, April 1980, 0 09 141250 1
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...  though he as yet has written no novel on the theme – has expounded at length his agreement that 1956 is the year in which Trillingesque liberal humanism went under to the new barbarism. A.S.Byatt (The Virgin in the Garden) found a slightly earlier epicentre in the Coronation year, 1953. David Lodge’s new novel (How far can you go?) charts Catholic perplexity in the face of the permissive ...

Bristling with Diligence

James Wood: A.S. Byatt

8 October 2009
The Children’s Book 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 617 pp., £20, May 2009, 978 0 7011 8389 9
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... There is what seems an interesting slip early in A.S.Byatt’s new novel. It is 1895. A young working-class man, Philip Warren, has been adopted by a liberal upper-class family, the Wellwoods. At the Kentish country home of Olive and Humphry Wellwood, a ...

Overindulgence

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: A.S. Byatt

28 November 2002
A Whistling Woman 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 422 pp., £16.99, September 2002, 0 7011 7380 7
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... Towards the end of A.S.Byatt’s first novel about the Potter family, The Virgin in the Garden (1978), the heroine and a clever friend debate the question of whether modern life has rendered some literary forms obsolete. The ...
8 March 1990
The Wimbledon Poisoner 
by Nigel Williams.
Faber, 307 pp., £12.99, March 1990, 0 571 14242 7
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The Other Occupant 
by Peter Benson.
Macmillan, 168 pp., £12.95, February 1990, 0 333 52509 4
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Possession 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 511 pp., £13.95, March 1990, 0 7011 3260 4
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... reveals him to be competent and attractive. The fight in which Greg punishes his oafish rival Nicky (a public schoolboy who drives a Capri – no mercy for him) takes place in a pub, and is also, implausibly, the occasion for Greg to berate the local yokels for thinking of Marjorie as a sinister old bat. This is Greg’s apotheosis: he is heroic and righteous, and in the very next chapter ...
10 October 1991
ThePoems of Browning. Vol. I: 1826-1840 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin.
Longman, 797 pp., £60, April 1991, 0 582 48100 7
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ThePoems of Browning. Vol. II: 1841-1846 
edited by John Woolford and Daniel Karlin .
Longman, 581 pp., £50, April 1991, 9780582063990
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... Browning is in high favour once again, or promises to be. Has not A.S.Byatt, CBE, declared him ‘one of the very greatest English poets’? In a switch to fighting talk, she adds that ‘his greatness has never been fully acknowledged or described ... in part because he is ...

Slick Chick

Elaine Showalter

11 July 1991
The Haunting of Sylvia Plath 
by Jacqueline Rose.
Virago, 288 pp., £14.99, June 1991, 1 85381 307 9
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Passions of the Mind 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 340 pp., £17, August 1991, 0 7011 3260 4
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... of] Mother’s love.’ The discussion of the court case provides a fascinating example of the way a ‘legal conception of evidence finds itself up against a literary conception of truth’. Rose is also compellingly readable on the Stevenson biography, and its bizarre trio of self-exculpating and condemnatory appendixes by three Plath ‘friends’. There was obviously something about Plath that ...

Major and Minor

Frank Kermode

6 June 1985
The Oxford Companion to English Literature 
edited by Margaret Drabble.
Oxford, 1155 pp., £15, April 1985, 0 19 866130 4
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... listed the more important works of fiction, with sketches of their plots, and made a point of including American books and writers as ‘an essential part of the literature of our language’. He also tried to elucidate recurrent allusions: for instance, to literary terms, wines, mythological figures, heroes, philosophers, musicians, actors, historical events and foreign authors of eminence. The ...

A Perfect Eel

Elaine Showalter: ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’

21 June 2012
Lady Audley’s Secret 
by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, edited by Lyn Pykett.
Oxford, 448 pp., £9.99, January 2012, 978 0 19 957703 3
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... studies’, and stress the influence of her novels on a flourishing genre in contemporary fiction known as ‘neo-Victorianism’ or sometimes ‘neo-sensationalism’, whose exponents include A.S.Byatt, Sarah Waters and Michel Faber. M.E. Braddon’s secrets would make a sensational novel of their own. Brought up and educated by her mother, she was ‘a keen, precocious and eclectic reader’ of ...

Lovers on a Train

Susannah Clapp

10 January 1991
Carol 
by Patricia Highsmith.
Bloomsbury, 240 pp., £13.99, October 1990, 0 7475 0719 8
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... to act as judges.’ So it seems. There is, for example, Eric Griffiths, who was beamed onto the television screen cutting the Booker finalists, especially the females, down to size. He blamed A.S.Byatt for producing ‘the kind of novel I’d write if I was foolish enough not to know that I couldn’t write a novel’; he commended Brian Moore for having included, in one of the most routine ...
19 November 1992
Angels and Insects 
by A.S. Byatt.
Chatto, 290 pp., £14.99, October 1992, 0 7011 3717 7
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... novellas seems to be something like the converse of the adage that if a thing is worth doing it’s worth doing well: if a thing can be done well, it must be worth doing. But the more successfully Byatt re-creates the Victorian novel of ideas, the more she persuades us of the irredeemable pastness of the past she re-creates, and the more the ideas she deals with, of determinism, individual freedom ...

Faulting the Lemon

James Wood: Iris Murdoch

1 January 1998
Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 546 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7011 6629 0
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... and an ethical respect for the individual, which illuminates his criticism of the novel; but he never created a single character of free and serious depth (he got closest in Late Call). A.S.Byatt has written well about her desire to write what she calls ‘self-conscious realism’; but her realism is seldom deep enough to warrant its self-consciousness. Margaret Drabble appears to want to ...

Diary

John Bayley: On V.S. Pritchett, the Man of Letters

30 January 1992
... the man of letters in a closed shop’, and speaking of the ‘cold horror’ that filled him when he contemplated the professionalisation of criticism today and the spread of literary theory. But he also recognised that there was something forlorn about such aggressiveness, which only made the professional men more cocky. Their chief weapon is to present their opponents as unconscious and thus ...

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