Summer 1999 Emory Magazine

Volume 75
Number 2

In Brief

Citizenship for a new millennium

The Spirit of Emory

Carlos takes the wraps off the mummies

Born Again

A Volumnious Acquisition

Emory Establishes Institute for Jewish Studies

Quote, Unquote

Commencement 1999

Who Runs Georgia?

Postcard from the Past

Back Cover
The Carlos kylix






In Brief

Born again
The recent renaissance of British historical novels

Booker Prize–winning novelist A. S. Byatt visited Emory in March as the sixth biennial Richard Ellmann Lecturer in Modern Literature.

READERS familiar with the work of literary critic, reviewer, and novelist A. S. Byatt are, like Byatt herself, curious about human nature.

“Human thoughts and human subjects are her proper subjects,” said Anne Fogarty from University College in Dublin, a member of the international selection committee that brought Byatt to Emory in March for the sixth biennial Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature. The three-part lecture series attracted more than two hundred attendees.

Byatt, who is best known outside academe for her Booker Prize–winning novel, Possession: A Romance, and the 1996 film of her novel Angels & Insects, is passionate about writing; about natural history and the sciences; about the Victorian era, art, color, language, and rhythm; and about the recent rebirth of the British historical novel. During her lecture series, “Fathers, Forefathers, Ancestors: The Surprising Renaissance of the British Historical Novel,” she presented what she termed a “galloping survey” of the genre.

The lectures were celebrated with a pig roast at Lullwater, presided over by Goodrich C. White Professor of English Ronald Schuchard. The opening lecture, “Fathers,” discussed British novels of World War II written by those born after the conflict.


Bits ’n’ bobs

On writing: “I work in a very disciplined way if left to my own devices, which I usually am not. I read myself into writing. Something easy, then more difficult, until my brain is moving very fast. If you do this every day, [your writing] moves along. If you do not, you lose it.”

On great writers with whom she “converses”: “Coleridge, [George] Eliot, [Wallace] Stevens, Proust, Balzac. I feel particularly as if IÕm having a conversation with Eliot, and I know she wouldn’t have liked me because she didn’t like passionate women disciples.”

A dubious honor? One of ten “distinguished white poohbahs” (Newsweek, August 3, 1998) on the advisory board of the Modern Library, which in 1998 released a controversial list of the one hundred best twentieth-century novels in English.


One recurring theme, Byatt said, is imagery from those writers’ childhoods and films of secret agents and heroes captured behind enemy lines, of “the Spitfire pilot coming down in flames or alone in the clouds, and brave men cracking under interrogation.”

“Forefathers” addressed the researched novel and nineteenth-century fiction as seen through the lens of modern times. Byatt suggested that the authors of these novels are “ventriloquists” who give “voices to literary voices” and who close the “gulf between the vocabulary of criticism and the feel of the words.”

“As an innocent reader, I learned to listen again and again to text,” she said. Her own historical novel, Possession, plays with the “Victorian rhythms by which I am haunted.”

“Ancestors” concluded the series with a discussion of the Darwinian concept of time as a constructive force in both the narrative and the ethic of the novel. Complementing the series were a screening of Angels & Insects and a panel with Byatt and Philip and Belinda Haas, the film’s director and producer, as well as a reading from Byatt’s most recent collection of short stories, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice. Byatt’s lectures will be published for Emory University by Harvard University Press this fall.—S.P.







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