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The Frederica Quartet - Frederica Potter/Alexander Wedderburn - all the beginning there was [ep] [11 Dec 2010|11:51pm]

Medium: Book
Fandom: The Frederica Quartet (specifically The Virgin in the Garden)
Subject: Frederica Potter/Alexander Wedderburn
Title: all the beginning there was
Notes: Based specifically on the first book of the Frederica Quartet by A.S. Byatt. All quotes are from the book. Spoilers!


‘a false beginning,’ said alexander./‘all the beginning there was,’ she said.

(I hope this is okay to post here! Please delete if it's not.)
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Cold [08 Jun 2007|10:43am]

I've just finished reading "Elementals, stories of fire and ice", and have to recommend Cold as one of the most perfectly structured and romantic short stories/novellas ever written.
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AS Byatt Christmas [31 Dec 2006|02:50pm]


For the 7th day of Christmas, here’s a brief paragraph from a longer Christmas excerpt from A.S. Byatt’s novel “A Whistling Woman”.  It’s about Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” (see below), and touches on poetry, faith, Christmas, love, grief and some other stuff.  I have a scanned version of the complete excerpt (pp 244-251) - happy to e-mail it to any who request.   To set the stage, here’s a brief cast of characters:

Bill  ... Mary’s grandfather, the strongly atheistic anti-religious father of Frederica, Stephanie and Marcus.  Highly educated man of letters and idealistic educator.

Daniel ... Mary’s father, Stephanie’s husband, an iconoclastic, non-traditional and unusual Anglican priest. 

Frederica ... Mary’s aunt, the central figure of this novel, and the other three novels that make up the “Frederica” quartet.  

Mary ... The young singer

Agatha ... Frederica’s friend and housemate

Saskia ... Agatha’s young daughter

                Best wishes for holiday blessings, … mn

From “A Whistling Woman”, by A.S. Byatt, 2002, Vintage International. 

They sang more carols.  The candles flickered more wildly as they burned down in their glass cylinders.  Finally, Mary stood up to sing "In The Bleak Midwinter," and as she did so, the choir took up their candles and extinguished them, so that the only light was the tall candles roung the creche at the crossing of the aisles.  She sang high and clear.  Frederica the unmusical heard the sound, and made sense of it because of the poet's words, could even see that the singing voice added a lightness, a soaring to those words.
It was a good poem.  It was an uncompromising description of elemental solids - snow, water, ice, iron, stone, with the adjective at work, bleak.  And, Frederica thought, the wind moaned, which is a human sound, and there was the woman with the boy child.  The earth moaning.  And then, infinity.

Mary's voice  grew sweeter as she negotiated her way through angels, maiden kiss, shepherd and lamb, to the human heart.  Her father saw her voice beat in the channel of her throat, in the movement of her lips, across the shimmer of her teeth, as she moved her lovely head with the rhythm, and the curtain of her thick red-gold hair swung in the light of her one remaining candle.  Beside him, Bill Potter coughed unhappily, phlegm rising and suppressed in his dried channels.  There was no life in Stephanie Potter, but life that had come from this cross old man had moved in her, had mixed with his own, which had come from his cross old mother and his unknown father, and there it was now, briefly alight in the shadows, singing of mik, and fleece, and snow.
Bill cleared his throat again.
"Like an angel," he said.
"Hmn?" said Daniel, thickly.
"She sings like an angel, our Mary."
"Aye," said Daniel. "She does."
"She doesn't get it from our side.  We're tone deaf."


In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

                 Christina Rosetti, 1872

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Roland Mitchell [31 Dec 2006|07:00am]


Written 11/14/06.

This morning I’ve been reading the final sections of A.S. Byatt’s “Possession”.  Wonderful, edge-of-the-seat ending with an incredible combination of deep satisfaction and equally deep continued yearning.  [Also midnight grave-robbing, huge Act-of-God storm scenes, and the bad guys getting foiled by the fortitude and heroic actions of intrepid PhD Scholars and Librarians, motivated by Love of Learning and dedication to high ideals – great stuff!].  A true Romance, in the deeper sense of that term.  The full title is “Possession: A Romance”.  Right after the title page there’s an intriguing epigraph defining the term from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s preface to “The House of the Seven Gables”.  Here it is:


“When a writer call his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel.  The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man’s experiences.  The former – while as  work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart – has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing or creation. … The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us.”


This has great resonance for me.  I consider myself a Romantic person, in the larger sense of 19th century Romanticism, which I still don’t fully understand, but to which I nevertheless feel deeply connected.  There’s a great deal about Roland Mitchell, one of the principal characters in Possession, that connects closely with my own experience and, in some cases, with what my experience could have been if life had taken a slightly different course.  Here’s a passage about how Roland's mother extracts for him a decent education from the English school system by sheer brute force and will.  Roland, like me, was born in 1956 and, also like me …


“He thought of himself as a latecomer.  He had arrived too late for things that were still in the air but vanished,  the whole ferment and brightness and journeyings and youth of the 1960s, the blissful dawn of what he and his contemporaries saw as a pretty blank day.  Through the psychedelic years he was a schoolboy in a depressed Lancashire cotton town, untouched alike by Liverpool noise and London turmoil.  His father was a minor official in the County Council.  His mother was a disappointed English graduate.  He thought of himself as though he were an application form, for a job, a degree, a life, but when he thought of his mother, the adjective would not be expurgated.  She was disappointed.  In herself, in his father, in him.  The wrath of her disappointment had been the instrument of his education, which had taken place in a perpetual rush from site to site of a hastily amalgamated three-school comprehensive …  His mother had drunk too much stout, “gone up the school,” and had him transferred from metal work to Latin, from Civic Studies to French; she had paid a maths coach with the earnings of a paper-round she had sent him out on.  And so he had acquired an old-fashioned classical education, with gaps where teachers had been made redundant or classroom chaos had reigned.  He had done what was hoped of him, always, had four A’s at A Level, a First, a PhD.  He was now [1986] essentially unemployed, scraping a living on part-time tutoring, dogsbodying for Blackadder and some restaurant dishwashing.  In the expansive 1960s he would have advanced rapidly and involuntarily, but now he saw himself as a failure and felt vaguely responsible for this.”


I love the image of the disappointed mother scratching and clawing for a real education for her son.  Roland eventually becomes an accomplished Poet Professor, in addition to a noted scholar of Randolph Henry Ash and, in some sense, Ash’s chosen vehicle for the revelation of the truth about Ash and Lamotte, a role that could only be played by a scholar of great erudition and broad understanding.


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Byatt Fans - Still Out There? [30 Dec 2006|01:27pm]

Anybody out there?  Last post was almost two years ago, so I'm just curious to know if this group still functions.

I make a point of reading Possession at least a once a year, along with Middlemarch, Moby Dick and Pride & Prejudice. Truly, one of my top five Desert Island Novels.  It hits me where I live.  I've read the Frederica Quartet twice and find it thoroughly engaging and fascinating.

Would love to post and chat more about Byatt's work, if there is still interest out there.  There is so much to say. 
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Inspired by the last post [05 Feb 2005|03:10pm]

I'm a senior in high school taking an independent study literary analysis class where we have a year to write a research paper on the topic of our choice. I was casting about for a topic for a long time, until finally I resorted to one of my favorite authors, A.S. Byatt (of course). I'm now studying the Jungian concept of the syzygy in the Frederica Potter series, since I'm really interested in psychology and those are my favorite books of hers.

I remember when I first read the books I was intrigued by the word but I had noo idea what it meant. I figured some of you might be in that category too, so here's the prospectus for my paper, which explains what I've researched so far. It adds a lot to the books once you understand what it means.

My ProspectusCollapse )

The amazing thing about A.S. Byatt is that it's so densely packed with information about seemingly every possible subject. As I was reading through at least 20 possible research topics popped out, and that's just from this one series. Anyway, I hope that's interesting for some of you.
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[04 Feb 2005|11:02pm]

This seems like a infrequently used community, but I'll post anyway and see if I can get something rolling. Let me tell you about myself and how I found A.S. Byatt.

Rewind to May of 2001, spring of my junior year. I was sitting in my thesis-advisor-to-be's office. We were having a pre-thesis meeting. I had picked her because I wanted to do something with fairy tales, and she was the professor that you went to if you had any fairy tale interests. She in fact taught the class called "The Fairy Tale" and all her other classes had to do with archetypes, Jungian lit crit, etc. I had never met her before that day.

"What do you want to study in your senior thesis?" she asked.

"Fairy tales," I answered promptly. I had that answer down pat.

"What about fairy tales?" she asked.

"Women in fairy tales," I said. I was getting the hang of this.

"What about women in fairy tales?"

I opened my mouth and nothing came out, so I closed it again. That one stumped me.

My thesis advisor said not to worry, we had the summer to figure it out. She gave me her phone number and told me to call her in a month after I'd read all the Grimms' fairy tales, Jeannette Wintersen's Sexing the Cherry, and a few essays by women like Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run With the Wolves) and Linda Gray Sexton (daughter of Anne Sexton, talented poet who wrote dysfunctional poems about fairy tales and eventually killed herself). Paged through the Grimms' stories, felt totally overwhelmed. Read the Wintersen's book and the essays, nothing inspired me. "A thesis is like a love affair," my thesis advisor said. "You need to pick a topic that is worthy of your attentions." So far, nothing had jumped out at me. When I called her in June, not much closer to a topic, she gave me another reading list, and one of the books on it was a recent Harvard University Press publication, On Histories and Stories by an author called A. S. Byatt, whom I had never heard of. A fiction book by her The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, was also on the list.

I picked up On Histories and Stories and was completely hooked. Then I read The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye and fell head over heels in love. After that I devoured every A. S. Byatt book I could get my hands on. I became most enamored with her short stories, which are like clusters of gems, glittering and complex. I wrote my senior thesis on "Djinn" and "Cold," a story in her short story collection Elementals. I talked about how she was creating fairy tales for modern times with modern sensibilities, and also talked about the alchemical imagery that ran through both of these stories.

That thesis, six months in the making, was like birthing a child. It was incredibly difficult, but in the end I produced something that I loved because it was mine, and because it was beautiful.

Any other stories of Byatt conversions?
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A.S. Byatt Group? Fantastic! [24 Jan 2005|11:35pm]

Hi everybody,
I was thrilled to find an A.S. Byatt group on LiveJournal! This is great! I'm currently an English major writing my undergrad thesis on mourning in Possession. (If anybody can help to explain The Virgin In The Garden to me, I'd love that, it was way over my head.) Although Possession is my favourite, I also adore Angels & Insects. Glad to meet everybody here.
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Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye [24 Jun 2004|09:54pm]

Hello, I'm new =) I'm a high school student from California, and I discovered A.S. Byatt two years ago when I read Possession.

Since then I've tried to read everything I could find of hers at the library, and I just finished Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye and absolutely loved it. I think it's now my third favorite of her books, following Bable Tower and Possession.

I was so happy to discover a community like this, I'm really looking forward to insight or input people have about her novels. One of the things I love about her is the amazing amount of references and obscure facts she includes, it makes me even more motivated to be well-read. I really realized how many little things I don't know about in her novels today when on Jeopardy they had a section where they gave the names of two volcanos and the person had to name the country or something like that, and one of the volcanoes that they named, Popocatapetl, was in a poem in Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye that I had just read half an hour before (and of course had absolutely no idea what it was then). Anyway, just thought I'd say hi and see what other people thought about the book.
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A.S. Byatt on Cervantes [06 Feb 2004|11:09am]

[ mood | quixotic ]

Article from the Guardian:

Windmills of the mind

As Edith Grossman's translation of Don Quixote is published, AS Byatt considers the influence of Cervantes' masterpiece on the development of the modern novel

Saturday January 24, 2004

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, translated by Edith Grossman 980pp, Secker and Warburg, £20

In 2002 I took part in a Norwegian book club poll of 100 authors from all over the world to find the "best and most central works in world literature". Don Quixote was first of the selected 100 books, with 50% more votes than any other book. Was the novel selected because the writers felt a primitive love and attachment to the story and characters, or were they making a historical judgment about its importance as the first real novel?
view article

(p.s. Hi! I'm new here! I love A.S. Byatt.)
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Some questions and thoughts [21 Oct 2003|09:26pm]

I was excited to discover an A.S. Byatt community, even if it is currently small.

How 'bout I toss out some questions?

What's your favorite A.S. Byatt book (not including Possession, since that seems to be most people's favorite)?
What's your least favorite?
How do you feel about Byatt movie adaptations (Angels & Insects, Possession)?

And something I've been wondering about lately, anybody know anything about the supposed ties between the Pre-Raphaelites and Byatt's fictional characters in Possession?

Oh, and by the way, hi. I'm Aerdna, I'm a British and American Lit MA student at the University of Utah, and I'm currently posting here instead of doing what I should be doing, which is writing an essay on Christina Rossetti's poem, "Winter: My Secret." I'll admit, Possession is indeed my favorite Byatt novel, but Babel Tower probably comes in a close second. My least favorite is probably The Game - though I find it interesting in light of Byatt's supposed estranged relationship with her sister, Margaret Drabble. I didn't think that A&I was very well done as a film (hey, where were the Angels?), and I liked the film version of P despite its divergences. And, finally, I guess I have my own theories on which Pre-Raphaelites inspired her storyline for Possession, but they are still very nascent and underdeveloped theories...

And now I will stop rambling and hope that you don't think I'm just plain nutty. :) A.S. Byatt has just been on my mind a lot lately.
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[14 Sep 2003|11:32am]

Some poetry from Possession.

Who are you?
Here on a high shelf
In webbed flask I
Hook up my folded self
Bat-leather dry.

Who were you?
The gold god goaded me
Sang shrieking sand high
His head corroded me
Not mine his cry.

What do you see?
I saw the firmament
Steady the sky
I saw the cerement
Close Caesar's eye.

What do you hope?
Desire is a dowsed fire
True love a lie
To a dusty shelf we aspire
I crave to die.

--C. LaMotte
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