By Alexa Alfer
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Extra info for A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling
In her hastily scribbled leaving note to Peter, Anna writes: ‘I have suddenly come to see that I must do things for myself. Because what one does affects one more than it looks as though it is going to when one does it’ (SS: 295). Ironically, Anna will understand the precise extent of the truth of this last sentence only after she has run away to York, determined to start her own life at last, free not only of Peter, of his family as well as of her own, but also of Oliver, whom, contrary to previous arrangements, she is resolved not to meet at the city’s Station Hotel.
Do you mean describe, or condemn, or both? No, I can’t say I do. And I wouldn’t know how else to come to grips. I’m not going to live in it, or near it. I don’t have to. ’ ‘Because it’s real. ’ ‘I find this real and urgent enough,’ Henry muttered into his beard. (SS: 31–2) And indeed he does. Prone to ‘attacks of vision’ since his youth, Henry has long been accustomed to what, invariably and in line with Romantic tradition, are exalted – and very ‘real and urgent’ – moments of artistic apprehension of nature which, in his wife’s experience, are ‘almost always only a prelude to fits of really strange behaviour’ (SS: 8), but which Henry himself perceives as ‘a direct source of power’ (SS: 58–9).
SS: 31) To perceive the landscape that stretches before him as mere imitation, as a poor copy of what Oliver, with marked cynicism, calls ‘a pocket of England as it used to be, . . before subtopia got it, before concrete and corrugated iron and diesel fumes, before London and Birmingham and Manchester started putting out feelers towards each other and spreading smoke further than that’ (SS: 31), is, of course, in many ways a deeply Platonic stance to take. Yet aesthetic Idealism is not what primarily motivates Oliver here.
A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling by Alexa Alfer