In "that Borderland Between": The Ambivalence of A. S. Byatt’s Fiction
This thesis explores the conceptualisation of subjectivity, the past and language in the work of one particular English novelist and critic, A. S. Byatt. In doing so, it examines significant points of overlap between Byatt's fiction and criticism, on the one hand, and, on the other, the discourses that have contributed to their formation. Whilst Byatt's work is inflected by recent critical examinations of the three concepts, this thesis is less concerned with how it reflects prevailing notions of subjectivity, the past and language, than with its participation in an ongoing examination of each. Although I do investigate the interplay between Byatt's fiction and criticism, my focus is on how this is played out in Byatt's fictional texts, in particular the novels. The Introduction offers a brief summary of other criticism on Byatt's work summarises the recent definitions of 'text' and broader discussions of postmodernism that have impacted on my approach to her fiction, and proposes a reading of these texts that accounts for their ambivalence. In Chapter One, I focus on the reconfiguration of subjectivity in Byatt's writing, particularly as it relates to textuality. Chapter Two explores the relationship between present and past in Byatt's fiction that is partly enacted through the texts' own engagement with past literatures, in particular nineteenth-century literature, and the related issues of historiography, linearity and memory that these texts investigate. Language, in particular Byatt's interest in its relation to 'things', is the focus of the third and final chapter of this thesis. Throughout each of the chapters is an exploration of Byatt's engagement or reexamination of a persistent 'thread of two' in Western discourse. Although each chapter focuses on one of the three concepts, each also explores the issues that arise from the conjunction of 'two things' in these fictions: text and subject, present and past, language and the world. Related to this is my consideration of how Byatt's fiction is characterised by a number of contradictory impetuses. Of particular interest is the ambivalence that arises from Byatt's partial engagement with recent critical theory - not only because it reflects larger cultural and discursive movements, but also because it contributes to a productive forging of new forms of fiction that combine an awareness of the concerns of literary and cultural criticism with a desire to evoke pleasure in the texts.