The short fiction of A. S. Byatt (A special issue of Journal of the Short Story in English/ JSSE 78 - Spring 2022)
Although mostly renowned for her lengthy realist novels, A. S. Byatt has had a sustained practice of short fiction writing which materialized into five collections of short stories and two novellas published as Angels and Insects. In addition, she regularly publishes short stories in the press: among her most recent ones, “Sea Story” was published in the Guardian on 15 March 2013. She has frequently been solicited to appear on the judging panels of short story prizes like the Sunday Times short story award or the BBC national short story award. However, apart from Celia M. Wallhead’s 2007 A. S. Byatt: Essays on the Short Fiction, Byatt’s short stories have not been studied per se. Thus a special issue devoted entirely to her work with the short form was called for.
In a conversation with Cees Noteboom from 2011, Byatt said that “writing a short story is closer to writing a poem than to writing a novel” because “if you get a word or a sentence wrong in a short story, you somehow destroy the whole fabric”. Finding the right word is consistent with Byatt’s overall preoccupation with precision, especially in her descriptive art, while the notion of the text as a fabric relates to her conception of writing as weaving, as exemplified in the story “Arachne”. In the same conversation, she has said that she hated the word “epiphany” which points to the modernist legacy in the apprehension of the short form as a psychological sketch. Instead Byatt likes to multiply twists and pursue various lines of ideas in one and the same story. Even when they revisit the (fairy) tale, her stories often convey a sense of the ordinary as transformed by craft. This is the case in such stories as “Art Work” (The Matisse Stories), “Raw Material”, or “Body Art” (Little Black Book of Stories). Stories also give her the opportunity to engage with her favourite ekphrastic and taxonomic activities. Narrating how art transforms the everyday, Byatt furthermore indulges in fantastic writing, something the realist novel does not allow, except when embedding short forms within its frame. In the short stories, her exploration turns ontological when she depicts outlandish female beings like a “Stone Woman”, a Lamia, a Fetch, a jinx … Is there a Byattan short story? How much are her stories motivated by narrative drive and representative of what she herself has termed “self-conscious realism”? These are some of the general questions that this special issue aims to explore.
Contributors are invited to deliberate the critical and poetic engagement of Byatt with short fiction. The focus can be on specific stories, a single collection or on her whole work. Suggestions below are not restrictive:
- Taxonomy and description
- Intertextuality and intermediality
- New female ontologies
- The everyday
- The sensory and corporeality
- Appropriation of the short story form
- (True or metaphorical) metamorphosis
Proposals of 400 to 500 words should be sent by 1 June 2020 along with a bibliography, and a short bio-bibliography. Completed articles will be due by 30 January 2021.
Please send all queries and proposals to the guest editors: