Byatt

Cressida Connolly reviewed Byatt’s Little Black Book of Stories last week and called it “the ideal primer for anyone who has not yet discovered AS Byatt, and a delight for those who have.”

Here’s an excerpt from a 1999 Byatt interview at Salon:

Your first novel, “Possession,” is about a young woman,18 or19 years old, with vague literary ambitions, whose father is an immensely famous writer. Was it a metaphor for the whole situation of a young woman daring to entertain literary ambitions in English culture?

Yes. I think what one should say is that there have always been great women writing the English novel since it began, and it is different in that way from most other cultures’ novels. But it makes peculiar problems for literary feminism in England, because people keep saying you have to prove yourself, and actually the novelists were there. It began with Jane Austen, there was George Eliot, there were the Bröntes. I grew up with Iris Murdoch, Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark, who were already working and were already successful.

I think what the father in “Possession” stood for was the fear of the goodness of good literature, this terror of the great past. Though I left it open as to how good a novelist the father was, I think he did represent the terror of everything that has been done when you’re just starting, and the feeling, when you’re a woman, that you start with one hand tied behind your back, despite George Eliot and the Bröntes and Iris Murdoch.

I think on some other level it’s a novel about a kind of battle between D.H. Lawrence and (the famous literary critic) F.R. Leavis, about a battle between criticism and actually wanting to write. Because if you’ve come out of the university with an English degree, the desire to write, at least in my country, is quite heavily knocked out of you. You have become timid and afraid and overwrought, and also told constantly that it isn’t your business. I had a supervisor of a Ph.D. I was doing in Oxford, and she said, “My dear, every young girl with a first class degree expects to be able to write a good novel. None of them can.”


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