A.S. Byatt would seem to be one of the most English of contemporary English fictioneers. She’s the editor of The Oxford Book of English Short Stories and authors introductions for new editions of what seem to be every classic English novel of manners from Jane Austen to Henry James. She’s a respected critic and her work typically features familiar characters from England’s oft literarily-explored intellectual class. But, like one of her literary progenitors, Iris Murdoch, Byatt favors a complicity of irony, language and twists. These inclinations come out as dense mystical beauty, a kind of mythology of the cultural intelligentsia.
A.S. Byatt will speak as part of the Butler Visiting Writers series April 19.
Byatt thrives on ironic comparisons and distinctions: She sees the similarity of anthills and Victorian manor life, a clear difference between political feminism (she approves) and literary feminism (disapproves), and lots of wonderful contradictions in the frailty of human desires and expectations. In the story “Baglady,” she writes of a corporate wife preparing to travel with her husband on business: “She has tried to make herself attractive for this jaunt and has lost 10 pounds and had her hands manicured; but now she sees the other ladies, she knows it is not enough.” In 1990, Byatt’s novel Possession was awarded both the Booker Prize and Irish Times/Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize, two of the real big ones. Her latest novel, A Whistling Woman (2002), follows for the fourth volume Frederica Potter, a teacher of literature, now into “the feminism, divisive protest and cultural ferment of the late 1960s.” Her new collection of short stories, The Little Black Book of Stories, “bringing shivers as well as magical thrills,” is in release this month. Among the stops in the book tour, A.S. Byatt will appear Monday, April 19, 7:30 p.m., reading in Butler University’s Visiting Writers Series, in the Atherton Center Reilly Room.