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The July Ghost by A S Byatt
Bonus Episode6th June 2022 • Members Only Episodes • Tony Walker
00:00:00 01:03:54


A S Byatt

Antonia Susan Duffy known as A S Byatt is s dame. She was born in 1936 in Sheffield in Yorkshire. Byatt is her former married name. Her sister is the equally famous novelist Margaret Drabble. They don’t read each others books and are not close.  Her mother told her when she was 5 that she would go to Cambridge. All the Drabbles went to Cambridge. 

Her father was a Queens Counsel and her mother an academic and expert in the poet Browning. She was educated privately in Yorkshire and then what to Cambridge University where she got a First Class degree in English Lit, specialising in 17th Century Religious Allegory and Neo-Platonism in English literature.  She knew Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath at Cambridge. She didn’t think much of Plath. 

She became an academic and went to  Bryn Mawr in the USA and then Oxford. She was a lecturer. For this story it’s important to note that her son was killed by a car when he was aged 11. Her son Charles was killed by a a drunken driver near Battersea Park. 

Her first novel was published in 1964 when she was 28. It was called The Shadow of the Sun and the theme was of a young woman growing up in the shadow of a dominant father. The next novel was about rivalry between two sisters.  She says her intellectually frustrated mother liked her sister Margaret best. Her best known novel is Possession: A Romance and I remember loving it. 

It starts in a London party on a hot day. A ?younger American woman  who is just out of a relationship with her older professor. At this party, she meets an academic who tells her a strange story.  He is the narrator. The story he tells begins at a similar party with almost the same line: I must move out of where I’m living. In the first case it was because his beloved Anne had walked out on him. 

This is the kind of fiction, I was going to say, often penned by women, or particularly popular with women which is an exposition of feelings and emotions usually about relationships. I thought of A S Byatt, Edith Wharton, even Joan Aiken. But then I thought of Gustave Flaubert and the book I just picked up in a charity shop in Shrewsbury The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford. So I was wrong. 

Her prose was complex, and quite hard to narrate and reminded me of Henry James whom she cites as one of her influences. (Along with Balzac and Iris Murdoch. 

There is a picture of broken relationships. The narrator’s loss of his beloved Anne is rather straight forward compared with the picture we get of Imogen’s loss of her son and the apparently subsequent breakup of the marriage, despite him trying. She seems set in to her grief, not wanting to move on. The husband tried, as did our narrator, but she didn’t want to. 

The idea that the child will get peace by the narrator impregnating the grieving mother is an odd one, and it doesn’t work.   In the end the man can’t leave and they can’t move on. I’m not sure if the smile is meant to mean that they will try the impregnation thing again, and it will work, or whether it is just the aura of the boy ghost that traps people like the gravity of the sun. 

Byatt also seems trapped by her atheism. Byatt reports being anti-religious and anti-Christian. I can't help but think if she had a belief then this story would have been an easier one, but not as powerful by far.