Allusion in A.S. Byatt's fiction

Braun-Jackson, Sally J. (2006) Allusion in A.S. Byatt's fiction. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

This study delineates A.S. Byatt's use of allusion over the course of her literary career. From the tentative attempts in The Shadow of the Sun to the elaborate patterns of allusions in Possession, Byatt has continually experimented with the device with surprising effects. A.S. Byatt employs allusion in the early stages of her career sparingly, but gradually incorporates more complex references as her technical skill matures. Although Byatt's mid-career novel, Possession, is best-known for its many allusions to nineteenth-century literary figures and for Byatt's insertion of poems, journals and prose, she has experimented with all of these elements in each of her earlier novels. – Chapter One traces the development of Byatt's allusory effects in epigraphs to signal the conventions she will be using. In The Shadow of the Sun, an excerpt from a Renaissance poem hints at the Petrarchan love sonnet conventions Byatt will apply to her novel about a girl's first serious love affair. The epigraphs from Still Life successfully allude to the conventions of narrative realism and still life painting, as Byatt experiments with verbally representing Van Gogh's paintings. The cross-pollination of the arts reaches its climax in Possession, a novel in which Byatt blends the conventions of the romance novel and the realist novel. Chapter Two shows how readers may misapply the allusion to a much wider network of precursor texts than Byatt's original allusion is intended to evoke. When readers do not grasp the import of Byatt's choice of an allusion embedded in an epigraph from Coleridge, they might apply the allusion to an alternate precursor text, or they might resist the alluding epigraph because it is too difficult to understand or because it is perceived as unimportant while the main body of the tale awaits. Focussing on the complexity of the biblical and classical serpent allusions in The Game, Chapter Two offers explanations for misapplied and misunderstood allusions. Chapter Three focusses on the historical allusions in Byatt's mid-career works: Possession, Angels and Insects, and Babel Tower. Each of these works is compared to a contemporary novel to demonstrate that Byatt is not unique among writers of historical fiction. Chapter Four focusses on the function of ekphrasis - the verbal representation of a visual work of art - in Byatt's short stories, particularly those following the publication of Possession. -- This work is essential for several reasons: most of the critical, scholarly work on Byatt's fiction focusses on Possession and very little academic work has been done on the novels preceding it; similarly, very little work has been done on the novels and short story collections that follow Possession, although interest is growing. While a small amount of critical work examines recurring themes and images in Byatt's novels, very few critics analyse the allusions. It is the objective of this study to contribute to the commentary on Byatt's experimentation with the form of the novel, particularly as it has been reflected in her allusions to literary conventions; to classical and biblical precursor texts; to historical figures and events; to philosophical ideas; and to visual works of art.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/10198
Item ID: 10198
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 192-204.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: 2006
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Allusions in literature.

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