What is it about?

A. S. Byatt’s fiction is much possessed by ‘lives’ – not only the lives of her characters, but the ideas of the biographies of those characters, and of characters as biographers. The essay explores the relation between fiction, biography and autobiography in her work, taking in such topics as portraiture, myth, creation and reading. It asks why a novelist who has written about earlier historical periods has eschewed one of the defining devices of the historical novel – and postmodern biofiction – of using real historical figures as characters.

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Why is it important?

Byatt's 'Possession' is celebrated as a gripping novel about literary biographers and their elusive subjects. This essay explores how biography is an important idea in her work more generally.


It was an honour to be invited to give an earlier version of this essay as a talk at a conference in Utrecht marking A.S. Byatt's receipt of the 2016 Erasmus Prize. It was organised by the Praemium Erasmianum, the Huizinga Instituut and the Netherlands Research School for Literary Studies.

Max Saunders
King's College London

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This page is a summary of: Byatt, Fiction and Biofiction, International Journal for History Culture and Modernity, November 2019, Brill, DOI: 10.18352/hcm.543.
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