9780674004511 / 0674004515

On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays (Richard Ellmann Lectures in Modern Literature)


Publisher:Harvard University Press



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About the book:

A.S. Byatt is that wonderful figure, a creative writer who is also equally at home in the seminar room, having taught at the University of London for many years, before winning the Booker Prize for her novel Possession in 1990. In On Histories and Stories she pursues one of her most recent interests, developed in her novel The Biographer's Tale, of the "sense of a new possibility of narrative energy" in what Byatt see as "the sudden flowering of the historical novel in Britain" in the last 50 years, in the work of Anthony Burgess, Penelope Fitzgerald, William Golding, Muriel Spark and Lawrence Norfolk. The seven essays that constitute this collection attempt to explain this fascination with history, ranging from the recent attraction of the Second World War in novels like Julian Barnes' Staring at the Sun and Martin Amis' Time's Arrow, via the evocation "of distant pasts" in recent novels, and the use of "precise scholarship" in historical fiction, to a marvellous concluding chapter on the Thousand and One Nights. Byatt argues that telling stories "is as much part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood", and that it "consoles us for endings with endless new beginnings" that defy death. On Histories and Stories is a formidably intelligent defence of storytelling, and rejection of high modernism; it is neither to be taken, nor read, lightly. --Jerry Brotton

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