Authorship and Strategies of Representation in the Fiction of A. S. Byatt
Limond, Kate Elizabeth
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
This thesis examines the portrayal of authorship in Byatt’s novels with a particular focus on her use of character-authors as a site for the destabilisation of dominant literary and cultural paradigms. Byatt has been perceived as a liberal-humanist author, ambivalent to postmodern, post-structuralist and feminist literary theory. Whilst Byatt’s frame narratives are realist and align with liberal-humanist values, she employs many different genres in the embedded texts written by her character-authors, including fairy-tale, life-writing and historical drama. The diverse representational practices in the novels construct a metafictional commentary on realism, undermining its conventions and conservative politics. My analysis focuses on the relationship between the embedded texts and the frame narrative to demonstrate that Byatt’s strategies of representation enact a postmodern complicitous critique of literary conventions and grand narratives. Many of the female protagonists and minor characters are authors, in the broad sense of cultural production, and Byatt uses their engagement with representation of women in literature to pose questions about how cultural narratives naturalise patriarchal definitions of femininity. That Byatt’s female characters resist patriarchal power relations by undermining the cultural script of conventional femininity has been under-explored and consequently critics have overlooked significant instances of female agency. Whilst some branches of postmodern and feminism literary theory have conceptualised agency differently, this thesis emphasises their shared analysis of the discursive construction of subjectivity, as it illuminates Byatt’s disruption of literary conventions. My focus on the embedded texts and the discursive construction of authorship in Byatt’s fiction enables me to address the numerous paradoxes and inconsistencies in the novels as fertile sites that undermine Byatt’s presumed politics.
PhD in English