By Alexa Alfer
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Additional resources for A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling
Prompted by Ivan, Julia readily concedes that her fictional heroine Emily Burnett ‘is a composite portrait, like any. And of course Cassandra and me – it’s a composite creature, in a way, a sort of binary fission’ (G: 176–7). And yet, as Ivan reminds her, A Sense of Glory still presents a decidedly ‘one-sided equation. Onesided, that is, because you’ve left out the persecuting female novelist’ (G: 175–6). Campbell (1988: 160) comments that ‘[b]y including the novelist in her novel – as Julia did not in hers – Byatt takes account of the moral problems of art and shows herself to be a better novelist than Julia’.
Something about transferring human interest from our ‘inward nature’ and ‘a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment . ’ – ah, yes – ‘that constitutes poetic faith’. (G: 148)6 Cassandra, meanwhile, ponders George Herbert’s poem ‘The Elixir’ in one of her journal entries. Her reflections on Herbert’s, her own and, one might argue, Byatt’s uses of the metaphor of glass throughout the narrative of The Game double as a comment not only on the ambivalence of Cassandra’s private writings but on the general problematics of a writing based on the paradigm of vision: It could be argued that I resent the simple idea of reality conveyed in the solid presence of chair and paper-weight.
S. Byatt’s focus in ‘People in Paper Houses’ is on symbiosis, on productive rather than combative relations between the two poles of the storytelling debate. Her broader allegiances are, however, clear. Or are they? ‘If I have defended realism, or what I call “self-conscious realism”’, Byatt (PM: 4) writes elsewhere, ‘it is not because I believe it has any privileged relationship to truth, social or psychological, but because it leaves space for thinking minds as well as feeling bodies’. At first sight, this is not such a far cry from the liberal-humanist mindset that underpins the classic case in favour of realism.
A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling by Alexa Alfer