By Medha Godbole
Dame A. S. Byatt, a poet, critic and novelist, passed away on 16 November 2023. She was eighty-seven at the time of her passing and was surrounded by friends and family at home. She is best known for receiving a Booker Prize for her 1990 novel Possession. The cause of her death is unknown, but reports say that she passed away peacefully.
Also known as Antonia Susan Byatt, she had an illustrious and ambitious career spanning more than four decades. She wrote a range of books, starting with her first novel, The Shadow of the Sun in 1964, after she began teaching at University College London in 1962. Medusa's Ankles: Selected Stories (2021) was her most recent work.
Byatt will also be remembered for writing The Children’s Book, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2009. Her contribution to the field led her to be conferred with a CBE in 1990 and was made a dame in 1999. She was also the recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2018.
A magician with words, she has been described as having an unmatched skill to weave history, myth and a sharp eye for human foibles into books. She broke the academic mould and is credited with publishing eleven novels and six collections of short stories. Her work has been translated into more than thirty languages. The 2022 fantasy film Three Thousand Years of Longing was inspired by one of her short stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye, which won the 1995 Aga Khan Prize for Fiction.
Representatives from Penguin stated that she had a strong European sensibility and a remarkable mind which produced a unique, creative vision. Likewise, Clara Farmer, Byatt’s publisher at Chatto & Windus stated that the author’s books were “the most wonderful jewel-boxes of stories and ideas.”
Hailing from Sheffield, she was born to John F. Drabble, a barrister, judge and published author and Kathleen Drabble (née Bloor), a teacher and homemaker. The prolific author once described herself as an unhappy child who had suffered from severe asthma and spent a great deal of time reading in bed, which became her escape from a tense and angry household. In her adulthood, her greatest fear was being trapped in domesticity. Her four-volume series, The Frederica Quartet talks about coming-of-age in an era when even educated women were not supposed to work after marriage.
Dame Byatt lived in London with her second husband, Peter Duffy, with whom she had two daughters.