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Portraits in Fiction

Whole works of art Her authors range from Henry James to Iris Murdoch her artists from Holbein to Botticelli Manet to the present day She looks at the way writers use portraits to conjure up the past as in Ford Madox Ford's The Fifth ueen and Virginia Woolf's Orlando She explores their erotic use the idea of painting as a sexual act full of danger And she examines th. Note to self Read Balzac s The Unknown Masterpiece and Zola s The Masterpiece Note to the reader of this review Read Fionnuala s review It says it all for me with the one difference being that after I d read her review I d hoped to also buy this at Shakespeare Co during a planned trip for November which had to be cancelled I didn t know the book existed until I read her review so I m happy I got to read this any which way it s brilliant not surprisingly this is Byatt after all PS Illustrations many in color are included in this volume what a treat not to have to get up to check Google images while reading on a winter s night

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Portraits seem the opposite of fiction fixed in time and space not running with the curve of a story or a life Yet since the birth of the novel writers have been fascinated by portraits as icons as motifs as images of character and evocations of past time A S Byatt delves into the complex relations between portraits and characters and between portraits and novels as. There is a portrait of Shakespeare on the flyleaf of my copy of Portraits in Fiction It is a happy accident that it is there Shakespeare s portrait wasn t selected by A S Byatt or by the publisher although Byatt references Shakespeare often in the pages of this book The portrait is printed in blue ink and surrounded by words which is also very fitting considering this book is about portraits in words The portrait of Shakespeare forms the logo of the bookshop where I bought the book ten years ago the words Shakespeare and Company Kilometer Zero Paris encircle the book stamp imprinted on the fly leaf of every book sold in the world famous shopThe mention of Paris is apt and not only because I bought the book there Many of the fictional portraits Byatt discusses occur in books written in Paris there is Balzac s Le Chef d oeuvre inconnu about a mysterious portrait of a woman as if entombed in layers of paint created by a fictional seventeenth century artist called Frenhoffer there is Zola s L uvre which features a portrait of a vast and monstrous Woman created by his artist character Claude Lantier there are the travestied portraits of both his wife and Odette which fictional artist Elstir paints in Proust s la recherche du temps perdu But Byatt discusses fictional portraits created in Shakespeare s homeland too the various portraits of OrlandoVita Sackville West described by Virginia Woolf in Orlando the portrait of Dorian Gray created by Oscar Wilde the portrait of Demoyte created by Iris Murdoch in The Sandcastle and many However Byatt becomes particularly interesting on the subject of fictional portraits when talking of the fictional portraits she created for fictional poet Randolf Henry Ash in her own novel Possession Two of the fictional portraits were by real artists Edouard Manet and Georges Frederic Watts This is what she says about her Manet and Watts creations They have what Henry James reuired of a good renderer solidity of specification the colours are precise the textures are there even the expressions But readers will see as many Manets as many Wattsas there are readers For this reason the energy which is generated by the visualised unseen and the further energy that springs from trying to bridge gaps and reconcile or connect discrepancies in limited descriptions a novelist particularly a visually minded novelist will always feel anxious even afraid about the portrayal of their characters by actorsA good novel exploits the richness of the imprecision of the hinted Painting as Patrick Heron said is a materialist art about the material world The novel however it aspires to the specificity of Zola s naturalism works inside the headThis slim book a lecture Byatt gave at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2000 is illustrated with real portraits of both real and fictional people but since it concerns itself particularly with the visualised unseen I will refrain from posting any images and leave you instead to imagine them all inside your own head

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E creation of fictional portrait painters by writers like Balzac and Zola whose writing was closely linked in different ways to the art of Cézanne A portrait can defy the process of age but its very stillness can also seem like death Art can be a murderer And sometimes as in Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh a portrait can itself become the victim of Gothic rage. Text of a lecture given at the National Portrait GalleryHighly entertaining look at portraits and portrayals of artists in fiction touching on the differences between a fictive portrait and a painted oneErudite and entertaining also not very long for those with time constraints


About the Author: A.S. Byatt

Margaret Drabble over the alleged appropriation of a family tea set in one of her novels The pair seldom see each other and each does not read the books of the otherMarried1st 1959 Ian Charles Rayner Byatt Sir I C R Byatt marriage dissolved 1969; one daughter one son deceased2nd 1969 Peter John Duffy; two daughtersEducationSheffield High School; The Mount School York; Newnham College Cambridge BA Hons; Hon Fellow 1999; Bryn Mawr College Philadelphia USA; Somerville College OxfordAcademic HonoursHon Fellow London Inst 2000; Fellow UCL 2004Hon DLitt Bradford 1987; DUniv York 1991; Durham 1991; Nottingham 1992; Liverpool 1993; Portsmouth 1994; London 1995; Sheffield 2000; Kent 2004; Hon LittD Cambridge 1999PrizesThe PENMacmillan Silver Pen Of Fiction prize 1986 for STILL LIFEThe Booker Prize 1990 for POSSESSIONIrish TimesAer Lingus International Fiction Prize 1990 for POSSESSIONThe Eurasian section of Best Book in Commonwealth Prize 1991 for POSSESSIONPremio Malaparte Capri 1995;Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature California 1998 for THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTINGALE''S EYEShakespeare Prize Toepfer Foundation Hamburg 2002;PublicationsThe Shadow of the Sun 1964;Degrees of Freedom 1965 reprinted as Degrees of Freedom the early novels of Iris Murdoch 1994;The Game 1967;Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Time 1970 reprinted as Unruly Times Wordsworth and Coleridge in their Time 1989;Iris Murdoch 1976The Virgin in the Garden 1978;GEORGE ELIOT Selected Essays Poems and Other Writings 1979 editor;Still Life 1985Sugar and Other Stories 1987;George Eliot selected essays 1989 editorPossession a romance 1990Robert Browning''s Dramatic Monologues 1990 editor;Passions of the Mind essays 1991;Angels and Insects novellae1992The Matisse Stories short stories1993;The Djinn in the Nightingale''s Eye five fairy stories 1994Imagining Characters 1995 joint editor;New Writing 4 1995 joint editor;Babel Tower 1996;New Writing 6 1997 joint editor;The Oxford Book of English Short Stories 1998 editor;Elementals Stories of fire and ice short stories 1998;The Biographer''s Tale 2000;On Histories and Stories essays 2000;Portraits in Fiction 2001;The Bird Hand Book 2001 Photographs by Victor Schrager Text By AS Byatt;A Whistling Woman 2002Little



5 thoughts on “Portraits in Fiction

  1. says:

    There is a portrait of Shakespeare on the flyleaf of my copy of Portraits in Fiction It is a happy accident that it is there; Shakespeare’s portrait wasn’t selected by A S Byatt or by the publisher although Byatt references Shakes

  2. says:

    Note to self Read Balzac's The Unknown Masterpiece and Zola's The Masterpiece Note to the reader of this review

  3. says:

    Text of a lecture given at the National Portrait GalleryHighly entertaining look at portraits and portrayals of artists in fiction touching on the differences between a fictive portrait and a painted oneErudite and entertaining also not very long for those with time constraints

  4. says:

    This essay raises numerous interesting points and I appreciate Byatt’s vast discussion of so many books and portraits but some of her arguments are simply outdated and unconvincing I love her fiction

  5. says:

    Lezione teorica sul ritrattouesto saggio è la rielaborazione di un discorso tenuto da Antonia Susan Byatt alla National Portrait Gallery di Londra nel 2000 ed è incentrato sulle descrizioni letterarie di opere pittoriche l'autrice analizza i testi fondamentali in cui gli scrittori raffigurano in parole uadri celebri includendo anche due suoi romanzi La vergine nel giardino e Natura morta Da Henry James a Marcel Proust da Honoré de Bal

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