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A(ntonia) S(usan)

Byatt
1936
Childhood & Education

 Born in Yorkshire
 Educated in York, Cambridge,
Pennsylvania and Oxford
Academic Career

 Extra-Mural Department of London


University and the Central School of
Art and Design
 1972 - full-time Lecturer in English
and American Literature at University
College, London (Senior Lecturer,
1981).
 1983 – left University to concentrate
on writing full-time.
Distinguished Critic
 80s – travelled widely to promote her ideas
and books
 Member of many literary panels, councils
and authors’ organizations
 Judging panels for a number of literary
prizes, including the Booker Prize for
Fiction.
 Regular contributions to journals and
newspapers including the Times Literary
Supplement, The Independent and
the Sunday Times, as well as to BBC radio
and television programmes.
Work

 1964 – Shadow of a Sun,


 1967 - The Game

 1978 - The Virgin in the Garden

 1985 - Still Life

 1996 - Babel Tower

 2002 - A Whistling Woman


Possession: A Romance
(1990)
 Greatest success
 Booker Prize winner

 The Irish Times International Fiction


Prize
WORK (cont.)

 1992 - Angels & Insects - The


Conjugal Angel and Morpho Eugenia
- adapted as a film in 1996.
 2000 - The Biographer's Tale

 2009 – The Children’s Book


Short Stories

 1987 - Sugar and Other Stories


 1993 - The Matisse Stories

 1994 - The Djinn in the Nightingale's


Eye
 1998 - Elementals: Stories of Fire and
Ice
 2003 - Little Black Book of Short
Stories
Literary Criticism

 Studies on Irish Murdock


 Studies on Romantic Poets

 2001 - Portraits in Fiction - instances


of painting in novels, with examples
from work by Zola, Proust and Iris
Murdoch
Fellowship

 University College London


 London Institute (honorary fellowship)
Main Literary Awards

 1990 The Booker Prize


 1990 The Irish Time Prize

 1990 CBE

 1999 DBE

 2002 The Shakespeare Prize by the


Alfred Toepfer Foundation, Hamburg
Honorary Doctorates
 University of York
 University of Durham
 University of Nottingham
 University of Liverpool
 University of Portsmouth
 University of London
 University of Cambridge
 University of Sheffield
 University of Kent
 University of Winchester
 University of Leiden
Possession: A Romance,
1990
What is it about?
 Modern fairy tale
 past vs. modernity

 romance vs. technology

 literature vs. criticism

 literature vs. scholarship

 life vs. theory


Structure - Narration

 Overlapping ages – Ageless


structures
 Spoofs

 Embedded narrations

 Intertwined story lines


Types of the narrative
(Possession)
 Romance (and romance)
 mystery

 campus novel

 pastiche

 critical disquisition

 satire
Main devices

 Parody
 Pastiche

 Metafiction

 Intertextuality

 Byatt: “Parody and pastiche are


particularly literary ways of pointing to
the fictiveness of fiction, gloomily or
gleefully”(Passions of the Mind, 1992,
157).
Possession - structure

 Quest Narrative
 Questing Hero:

 Medieval romance

 From myth to romance

 Myth; fairy tale; folktale; medieval


romance
?

 Detective fiction

 Gothic fiction
Northrop Frye
 Romance is "the structural code of all
fiction: being directly descended from
folktale, it brings us closer than any
other aspect to the sense of fiction,
considered as a whole, as the epic of
the creature, man's visión of his own
life as a quest" (The Secular Scripture
15).
The Questers

 Literary scholars: Roland Michell


and Maud Bailey,
 Poets, Randolph Henry Ash and
Christabel LaMotte.
 The Quest?
Main protagonists

 two sets of characters (the


contemporary scholars and the
Victorian poets) closely knitted
together
 The mirroring narrative technique

 First link?

 Illicit property, illicit relationship,


possession?
QUEST ARCHETYPE – The
Adventure of the Hero
 Separation or departure: (1) "The Call to
Adventure," or the signs of the vocation of the
hero; (2) "Refusal of the Call," or the folly of the
flight from the god; (3) "Supernatural Aid," the
unsuspected assistance that comes to one who
has undertaken his proper adventure; (4) "The
Crossing of the first Threshold"; and (5) "The
Belly of the Whale," or the passage into the
realm of night.
QUEST ARCHETYPE – The
Adventure of the Hero
 The trials and victories of initiation:
(1) "The Road of Trials," or the
dangerous aspect of the gods; (2)
"The Meeting with the Goddess“
(Magna Mater), or the bliss of infancy
regained; (3) "Woman as the
Temptress," the realization and agony
of Oedipus; (4) "Atonement with the
Father"; (5) "Apotheosis"; and (6)
"The Ultimate Boon."
QUEST ARCHETYPE – The
Adventure of the Hero
 The trials and victories of initiation:
(1) "The Road of Trials," or the
dangerous aspect of the gods; (2)
"The Meeting with the Goddess“
(Magna Mater), or the bliss of infancy
regained; (3) "Woman as the
Temptress," the realization and agony
of Oedipus; (4) "Atonement with the
Father"; (5) "Apotheosis"; and (6)
"The Ultimate Boon."
QUEST ARCHETYPE – The
Adventure of the Hero
 The return and reintegration with
society: (1) "Refusal of the Return,"
or the world denied; (2) "The Magic
Flight," or the escape of Prometheus;
(3) "Rescue from Without"; (4) "The
Crossing of the Return Threshold," or
the return to the world of common
day; (5) "Master of the Two Worlds";
and (6) "Freedom to Live,”
Beginning

 Hero must leave the original setting.


 Drafts of a letter written by Ash to an
unnamed lady, folded inside Ash's
personal copy of Vico's Principi di
scienza nuova.
 Feeling "possessed" by the need
 To learn more about this relationship,
Roland decides to keep those drafts
 Expelled from the world of “Ash Factory”
Two storylines

 The quest & the romance advance


simultaneously
 Knitted together by way of motifs &
coincidences
Maud Bailey and Christabel
LaMotte
 Physical as in psychological features
 Fair hair (family connection)
 Colour green (Maud's clothes &
Christabel's leather boots)
 Both women defend their independence
from the male characters
 Both women rely on female
friends(Leonora and Blanche)
Randolph Ash and Roland
Michell
 Both men become "possessed" and
endanger their status
 Both men maintain unsatisfactory
relationships (Roland with Val,
Randolph with his wife Ellen).
Good and evil power:
assistance & distraction
 The body of the quest: reconstruction
of the story of Christabel and
Randolph.
 Geographical & Textual quest
Organizing principle:
embedded tales-various
quests
 Fairy tale: Glass coffin
 Myth: Fairy Melusina

 folktale: Gode’s Story

 folktale: Threshold

 Gothic?

 Romance?
The Glass Coffin
Christabel and Maud
 the motif of green and ice or water -
associated throughout the novel with
both heroines
 Glass Coffin: the blonde sleeper of the
tale lays in a green glass egg, and her
hair resembles seaweed (Byatt 70-71)
.
Maud

 He moved gingerly inside. the


bathroom, which was a chill green
glassy place, glittering-with cleanness,
huge dark green stoppered jars on
water-green thick glass shelves, a floor
tiled in glass tiles whose brief and
illusory depths one might peer, a
shimmering shower curtain like a glass
waterfall, a blind to match, over the
window, full of watery lights (Byatt 63) .
 the sleeping Princesses
Maud & Roland

 Roland (tailor): You have chosen not


with prudence but with daring (Byatt 60).
 Maud (lady): "Not a speck of talcum
powder, not a smear of soap, on any
surface . He /Roland/ thought of his
home bathroom, full of … sticky bottles
of hair conditioner and shaving foam"
(Byatt 56) .
 Black artist?
Motifs

 Green
 Glass

 Egg-shape

 Cold

 Water

 Blonde
“Threshold” (the middle)
the continuance & inevitability
of the quest
 And you know, and I know, do we not,
dear children, that he must always
choose this last, and the leaden
casket, for wisdom in all tales tells us
this, and the last sister is always the
true choice, is she not? But let us
have a moment 's true sorrow for the
silver Misses the Childe would have
preferred ..and then let us decorously
follow as we must (Byatt 155) .
Joseph Campbell

 Destiny has summoned the hero and


transferred his spiritual center of
gravity from within the pale of his
society to a zone unknown. (Herb of
Rests)
Fairy Melusina (ch. XVI)

 Source: French Folklore


 Christabel’s poem

 Motifs: green, water, ice


Maud

 "The whole thing appeared in this half-


light to be running with water, all the
runnels of silk twisted about her body
by the fiercely efficient knot in which
she had tied her sash ..." (147).
 "Behind him, the long Chinese dragon
wavered palely away, on its
aquamarine ground, along the shifting
carpets, and the pale hair coldly
above it “ (148).
Fairy Melusina –
Melusina-Christabel-Mauld
 "A movement in the shadows made
him were/ Of a gaunt hound that stood
like a dark cloud/ Rough-curled and
smoky grey, with golden eyes/ And
patient noble face that snuffed the air/
And heard and felt air's movements
motionless,/ Alert and motionless
behind his dame" (Byatt 297).
Gode’s Story / Miller’s
Daughter (Sabrine’s Diary)
 Oral mode
 As Gode’s story went on I saw
Christabel knit faster and faster . .
.after a time she laid her work by, and
put her hand to her breast and to
her head; as though she was hot or
had not enough air" (Byatt 362) .
The function of the
embedded tales?
 The fairytale framework?
 Prefiguration of the plot?

 To establish links?

 …?

 Links between the two storylines


Last phase of the quest: The
return of the hero
 The initial conflict must be solved.
 Roland: the return to the academic
milieu, marked by his feeling that he has
"learned a lot" (505); a proper job
 Roland’s awakening assisted by
“goddess”
 The contemporary equivalent of
marriage: Maud and Roland's love affair
“Romance”
 Northrop Frye: Romance is "the
structural code of all fiction: being
directly descended from folktale, it brings
us closer than any other aspect to the
sense of fiction, considered as a whole,
as the epic of the creature, man's visión
of his own life as a quest”
 Medieval beginnings (knights)
 Chivalry
 Privilege audience
Romance-genre

 Developed in 12th century


 Origin: France

 Tales of love and adventure

 Knightly aristocracy who demonstrate


chivalric definitions of honour
 Plot is structured by the protagonists’
quest for love and honour
 Omniscient narrator
Gothic (romance)

 Draws on medieval tradition;


superstition, fantastic events
 Setting: haunted house, graveyards,

 Motifs: monomaniac villain, heroine-


in-distress, fragmented subjectivity,
“shadow”.
 Plot: supernatural events, repressed
needs, lost/found people.
Detective genre

 Puzzle to be solved
 Investigation/Quest

 Collecting clues & deduction

 Detective: sometimes by illegal means


– blurs the difference between the
detective and criminal
Scholars and Scholarship

 Professional Scholars – Questers


 Maud : "Literary critics make natural
detectives" (Byatt 258)
 Quest for different narratives and
intertexts within the text
 The novel centers on a scholarly
quest
Roland & Maud – predominantly
scholars – textual, poststructuralist,
up-to-date

 "Roland was first profoundly shocked


by these writings, and then, in his
scholarly capacity, thrilled. His mind
busied itself automatically with dating
and placing this unachieved dialogue
with an unidentified woman" (Byatt 9) .
 Maud states: “I'm a textual scholar . I
rather deplore the modern feminist
attitude to private lives" (Byatt 230).
Roland & Maud – as if in
their own text (Interextuality)
 Cooperation becomes intertextuality
 Roland: "We need...to do this
together. I know his work, and you
know hers" (Byatt 238)”.
 What they find in the texts of La Motte
and Ash appear in their own
Blurring text and reality –
postmodern age
 "Do you never have the sense that our
metaphors eat up our world ? I mean
of course everything connects and
connects—all the time—and I
suppose one studies—I study
literature because all the concretions
seem both endlessly exciting and then
in some sense dangerously
powerful…" (Byatt 253) .
Critical perspectives
 Historical
 Textual

 Psychoanalytical

 New Critical

 Structuralist

 Deconstructive

 New historicist
James Blackadder and Beatrice Nest
– second type of scholars-
textually oriented
 Single type of work
 Blackadder: Museum - Facts and
ideas must be brought to him
 Beatrice – isolation

 Unable to see a broader context:


walled up in their offices .
Beatrice Nest

 Unaware of even major changes in


the world of literary study, such as
feminist criticism : "Old Beatrice
began by wanting to show how self-
denying and supper-five Ellen Ash
was . ..for twenty five years; can you
believe it, and woke up to find that no
one wanted self-denial and dedication
any more" (Byatt 31).
Leonora Stern and Mortimer
Cropper – third type of scholars
collectors
 Fascination with relics
 Context rather then text; physical
existence of poets; gender
 Aggressive and flamboyant

 Striking contrast to Maud and Roland


Leonora Stern

 And what surfaces of the earth do we


women choose to celebrate, who
have appeared typically in
phallocentric texts as a penetrable
hole, inviting or abhorrent, surrounded
by, fringed with--something? Women
writers and painters are seen to have
created their own significantly evasive
landscape … (Byatt, 244).
Cropper's biography of Ash

 his interest in the facts of the poet's


life and his weaker interest in the text
itself .- Narcissism
 leap to the physical world

 Possession: the meaning is lost


Fergus Wolff
 Disciple of Barthes and Foucault: “at
the moment he was writing a
deconstructive account of Balzac’s
Chef-d’Oeuvre Inconnu” and facing
the challenge “to deconstruct
something that had apparently already
deconstructed itself” (32).
The frustration of
scholarship
 Meeting between Ash and his
daughter: the scholars remain
ignorant.
 The endurance of the past beyond
scholarly representations of it and the
inability of any particular
representation to capture it fully.
Worldviews scholars vs.
creators
 Only Maud & Roland are open to vital
truths from mythology and fairytale:
Deep nostalgia for a more vibrant
world
 Parody of critical approaches

 Difference in perspectives

 American/European
Jackie Buxton

"[Possession] offers modernist ideology


in postmodern guise"
Recapitulation: Main
concerns

 Metafiction
 Intertexts
 Pastiche
 References to other writers
 Failures /successes
 The role of women in society
 The reader
Possession

 "possessed" by the need to learn


more about this relationship
 Illicit possession
 Possessed so as to start the quest
 Possession of the secret
 Possession of the past – the essential
constructed quality of all historical
narratives
Genres

 Sentimental novel
 Medieval Chivalric Romance (fairy tale)
 Mystery Story: Detective Fiction (deduction)
 Gothic Fiction
 Essay on Ideas
 Epistolary
 Myth
 Poetry
Quest

 Classical motif – to restore the vital


connection with the archetypes
 willingly or not, the hero must leave the
original setting
 Collecting / tracking the archetypes
 Motifs: persecution; isolation, helping
hands, villains
 Revelation – harmony of the two worlds (the
reading of the poem; the meeting) – self-
discovery
Mirror
 two storylines and their characters and
events
 Maud Bailey / Christabel LaMotte
(Intertextual references; professional
discourses)
 Randolph Ash / Roland Michell (possessed
men)
 Val / Ellen
 Leonora Stern / Blanche Glover - distrust of
men and reliance on female friendship
(motif - the jet brooch)
Mirror (2)

 New age / Victorian age (social


values)
 New age / Victorian age (Discourses)

 New age / Victorian age (Literary


Genres)
 New age / Victorian age (Conceptions
of women)
Language and Style

 Genres: romance (subgenres –


gothic, epistolary, detective)
 Diary, poetry, mystery, fairy tale,
biography, fictionalized biography,
myth
 Critical discourse; notes

 Criticism / real language of romance


Present / Past

 Nostalgia: present consumerism/ more


vibrant world of Ash and LaMotte
 Dialogue
 Critics and their bickering / the Edenic world
of the Garden of Proserpina (the world and
words are in perfect Harmony)
 disorderly, contingent world / coherent
meaningful systems of the Victorian world -
mythology
"Postscript"

 illusion is shattered
 distrust of the written word

 Who speaks here? What is the


source? How do we know it
 subversion
Search
 Modernism/Postmodernism
 Present/Past
 Stages of the quest
 Mirroring
 Intertextuality (characters)
 Metafiction
 Pastiche
 Historical Metafiction
 Readerly or Writerly text
 Invitation to the reader to interpret ”possession”
Themes
 Narrative voices
 Quest (tracing clues)
 Collecting
 Genres
 High art/criticism/popular genres
 Characters
 Relationships
 Modern/Postmodern work (why?)
 Past/Present – Dialogue form (genres, voices,
perspectives, discourses of the past)