Dame Antonia Susan Byatt (1936) is the author of an extensive body of work that includes dozens of (historical) novels, biographies, short stories and critical essays. She made her name with the novel ‘Possession’, in which she describes how the paths followed by two young academics merge with those of the (fictional) nineteenth-century poets they are researching. In her work Byatt unites great erudition with remarkable imaginative power. Her writing is influenced by Marcel Proust and George Eliot, among others. Writing, for Byatt, is a “lifeline”. She calls it “one of life’s essentials, just like breathing”.
Byatt has a deep fondness for art. A central theme in many of her works is the way artists live life through their artistic expression. She focuses on the creative process itself, which fascinates her greatly. Byatt explores a range of genres, literary forms and subjects to immerse the reader in the history of European thinking, taking the big questions of science, history and identity as her starting point.
Among her recurring themes are the influence of art on life, magic and reality, and the conflict between ambition and family. Her works bring together not only artists and academics, but also fairy tales and myths. Many of her novels, including ‘The Biographer’s Tale’ and ‘Possession’, explore the act of writing biography or conducting research. They have enabled her to reshape the genre of life writing in her own, original way. Among her best-known works are ‘Possession’, collections of short stories like ‘Sugar and other Stories’, and the novel ‘The Children’s Book’. Her most recent book (2016) ‘Peacock and Vine’, examines the work and life of visual artists William Morris in London and Mariano Fortuny in Venice.
A.S. Byatt has received numerous honorary degrees, including one from Leiden University (2010). She has also won literary accolades around the world, among them the Booker Prize in 1990 for ‘Possession’. In her native country she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1999, and in France she was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2003.