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Dame Antonia Susan Duffy, DBE (Born Antonia Susan Drabble 24 August 1936, Sheffieldmarker, Englandmarker) is an Englishmarker novelist and poet. She is the daughter of His Honour John Frederick Drabble, QC and late Kathleen Marie Bloor, and married to Peter Duffy. She is usually known as A. S. Byatt.

Life and career

Byatt was educated at The Mount School, Yorkmarker, Newnham Collegemarker Cambridgemarker, Bryn Mawrmarker in Pennsylvania, USAmarker and Somerville Collegemarker, Oxfordmarker, though her research grant to the latter institution (dependent on single status) ended with her first marriage to Ian Byatt (later Sir Ian Byatt) in 1959. Her younger sister is the novelist Margaret Drabble and their younger sister is the art historian Helen Langdon.

She lectured in the Department of Extra-Mural Studies of London University (1962-71), the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Designmarker and from 1972 to 1983 at University College Londonmarker.

Byatt's first novel, The Shadow of the Sun, the story of a young girl growing up in the shadow of a dominant father, was published in 1964 and was followed by The Game (1967), a study of the relationship between two sisters. The Virgin in the Garden (1978) is the first book in a quartet about the members of a Yorkshire family. The story continues in Still Life (1985), which won the PEN/Macmillan Silver Pen Award, and Babel Tower (1996). The fourth (and final) novel in the quartet is A Whistling Woman (2002). The quartet describes mid-20th-century Britain and Frederica's life as a young female intellectual studying at Cambridge, at a time when women were heavily outnumbered by men at that university, and later, as a divorcée with a young son making a new life in London. Like Babel Tower, A Whistling Woman covers the '60s and dips into the utopian and revolutionary dreams of the time. The Matisse Stories, (1993) features three stories, each describing a painting by Henri Matisse that inspired Byatt, each the tale of an initially smaller crisis that shows the long-present unravelling in the protagonists' lives.

Possession (1990) is her best known novel, which parallels the emerging relationship of two contemporary academics with the past of two (fictional) nineteenth century poets whom they are researching. It won the Booker Prize in 1990.

Also known for her short stories, Byatt has been influenced by Henry James and George Eliot as well as Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, and Robert Browning, in merging realism and naturalism with fantasy. In her quartet of novels about mid-century England, she is clearly indebted to D. H. Lawrence, particularly to The Rainbow and Women in Love. Iris Murdoch, about whose early works Byatt wrote a book of criticism, was also an influence. In those books and other works, Byatt alludes to, and builds upon, themes from Romantic and Victorian literature. She conceives of fantasy as an alternative to—rather than an escape from—everyday life, and it is often difficult to tell when the fantastic in her work actually represents the eruption of psychosis. More recent books by Byatt have brought to the fore her interest in science, particularly cognitive science and zoology.

Two of Byatt's works have been adapted into motion pictures: Possession (2002) and Angels & Insects (1995).

Byatt has written for the British intellectual journal Prospect and for The Guardian. She was awarded a CBE in 1990 and the DBE in 1999.

Personal life

Her second husband is Peter Duffy, whom she married in 1969. She has four children, one of whom was killed in a car accident at the age of 11 and about whom she wrote the poem 'Dead Boys' . On the role of writing in her life, she says:

'I think of writing simply in terms of pleasure. It's the most important thing in my life, making things. Much as I love my husband and my children, I love them only because I am the person who makes these things. I, who I am, is the person that has the project of making a thing. Well, that's putting it pompously - but constructing. I do see it in sort of three-dimensional structures. And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all these people.'

Member of

  • Social Effects of Television Advisory Group BBC, 1974-77;
  • Associate of Newnham College, Cambridge, 1977-82
  • Board of Communications and Cultural Studies, CNAA, 1978-84;
  • Board of Creative and Performing Arts, CNAA, 1985-87;
  • Kingman Committee of Inquiry into the teaching of English Language, (Department of Education and Science) 1987-88;
  • Management Committee, Society of Authors, 1984-88 (Deputy Chairman, 1986, Chairman, 1986-88);
  • Board, British Council, 1993-98 (Member of Literature Advisory Panel, 1990-98).
  • Judge of literary prizes including Hawthornden, Booker, David Higham, Betty Trask


Prizes and awards

She has been granted the title of "Duchess of Morpho Eugenia" by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, claimant to the micronational title of King of Redonda.


  1. Contemporary Authors website.
  3. A.S. Byatt Recipient of the 2009 Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix

External links

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