A. S. Byatt

Following hot on the heels of Margaret Atwood coming to town last week (over at UCLA), we have A. S. Byatt over at USC today! Very exciting. It is actually partly one of our College Commons events as well, and last week as a College Commons event (with a Darwin tinge) we had a viewing of the film of her book Angels and Insects, which I thought was really excellent!

Her lecture is entitled: “The Novel as Natural History”, (and will resonate with some of the themes I talked about in my report on the CC event about Collections) and I expect it is going to be quite wonderful. Details here, and the blurb goes:

British novelist and essayist A.S. Byatt offers a meditation on our obsession with history, time and human memory.

Byatt will look at how 19th century scientific histories of the earth affected the form of the novel, from Honoré de Balzac and the tension between his Christian beliefs and his interest in humans as animals, to George Eliot and her use of Lyell and Darwin to shape her forms. In Byatt’s own work, particularly in novels like Possession and Angels and Insects, she has moved between natural history, the fragments of human recollections, and the mystery of identity. In Possession, grave-robbing literary critics attempt to unearth (quite literally) a literary mystery surrounding an elusive 19th century female poet and the expansive male poet with whom she may have had a child. In Angels and Insects (a pair of novellas), Byatt returns to the 19th century — to the world of Darwin, Tennyson and Charlotte Brontë — attempting to understand a historical moment in which evolution fought with spiritualism. Her work asks how, short of disturbing the earth, we are to imagine human lives separate from our own — whether through the vastness of Darwinian time, the interconnected world of ants and lovers, or the possibility of the human spirit’s escaping the body and entering pure (if terrifying) unearthly consciousness. As a writer who moves between a beautiful, quotidian realism and the haunting world of ghosts, she consistently addresses the difficulty of understanding our literary as well as our biological inheritance — where does any individual story begin or end? Byatt’s latest novel, The Children’s Book, brilliantly blends “real” people, historical events and her own imaginings. But what all of her fiction reveals most powerfully is our endless desire to recognize ourselves.

See you there, perhaps!


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