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Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Emmanuel Vernadakis
p. 11-13

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Antonia Susan Byatt
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1The release of A. S Byatt’s Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories in 2021 coincides with the original year of publication intended for this special issue. A few years back, at a conference devoted to “Exception(s),” we invited the guest editors, Armelle Parey, Isabelle Roblin and Emilie Walezak to put together this collection of essays on quite an exceptional writer, and we are happy to see it come to life. We are thankful to our three colleagues for their work on this issue which showcases Byatt specialists from the world over. Our desire to have a Byatt issue will not surprise JSSE readers for they know she is one of the journal’s honorary board members; she was also, back in December 1993, the guest of honor at a conference held in Angers on “The British Short Story since 1945.” For this occasion, Byatt had specifically asked the organizer, Professor Laurent Lepaludier, that Professor Jean-Louis Chevalier, who had translated Possession, Sugar and was about to translate her Matisse Stories, should also be invited for she wished to be interviewed by him. Several members of the current JSSE editorial board and reading committee, at the time young, early career academics, were present at this conference. The interview had impressed the audience as much by its form as by its content. It was a substantial, dynamic, and stimulating exchange between two professionals, each marked by their own culture but also very knowledgeable and admiring of the other’s culture. Antonia S. Byatt, a Grande Dame of English letters, willingly allowed herself to be challenged by a Grand Monsieur of the French academic world, earnestly lending herself to his game in a thoughtful, scrupulous, sincere, and skilful manner, by interacting on complex and delicate matters in a spirit of extremely civilized complicity, which lent a theatrical air to the interview without the spectacle ever overpowering the significance of the words.

2Thinking as a process is a theme Byatt is manifestly concerned with. She argues that she enjoys “writing about people when they are thinking at top speed,” as much as she likes building in her short stories “a bit of non-mimetic writing, writing thinking, which is something also writing is for.” Still, she finds it hard to fit thinking into a short story. “[T]hinking in a very short text is a difficult thing and technically rather frightening,” she says. Through subtly commented quotations and questions, Jean-Louis Chevalier led Byatt to admit that she had set herself to prove that it was possible, despite all, to “think of short stories as a thinking form.”

3Upon her practice as a short story writer, she explains:

I think a short story in my mind is much closer to a poem than a novel is, and since it has fewer words, the title is a much more integral and less accidental part of the whole text, and if I’ve got the title, even the provisional title, wrong, the style of the story starts slipping sideways. I thought of a story in the train, as I was coming here. We were talking about the awfulness of deciding that your dog has to die, and I was thinking you could write a story about somebody preoccupied with some quite other death, who has to make this decision, and then I thought of about eight titles. I thought of, you know, “Dog’s Day” and “A Short Life” and neither of those was right, and then I thought of “Death of a Dog,” but you can see that defines it wrongly. When you’ve got anything as small as that, where the form has to be imposed from the beginning, you can’t find it by starting writing, because there isn’t room in this short story to find it. If you get the wrong note in the title, you’re lost, so I have to find them early, whereas a novel can wander along with several possible titles, and quite often has been published under a title that had nothing to do with the running title that it was being written under.

4For Byatt, and she comes to this later in the interview, “most of [her] titles are somehow, as it were, the metaphor in the story.” She means for them to attract the reader’s attention so that s/he will be tempted to uncover the potential mystery after a carefully orchestrated investigation. Byatt scholars and readers will probably remember that the title of her debut novel Shadow of a Sun (1964) was restored to her original idea, The Shadow of the Sun, when it was reprinted in the 1990s. This makes her careful work on titles clear—it is not a specific sun out of many that she had in mind but the one and only sun there is, making its shadow more relatable to the reader and narrowing down the potential interpretations.

5The dinner that followed the 1993 interview was memorable as much for the food—including a pyramid shaped cake, with the title of the short story collection, Sugar, written on top—as for the discussion among the guests—food for thought—inspired by the interview itself.

6Between Sugar and her Selected Stories, A. S. Byatt published Angels and Insects (containing the novellas “Morpho Eugenia” and “The Conjugial Angel”) in 1992, The Matisse Stories the same year as the conference, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye in 1994, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice in 1998, and Little Black Book of Stories in 2003. Several articles in the JSSE are entirely or partly devoted to her stories and her fictional and academic works are regularly quoted.

7The contributions featured here present careful readings that we hope will stimulate future contributions. Each of Byatt’s short story collections are discussed and parallels are also drawn between the stories and the novels (including The Shadow of the Sun and Possession) while the issue of film adaptation is touched upon with a reflection on “Medusa’s Ankles” and its transposition on screen. The volume also includes a useful and extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources. For now, we would like to offer this volume to Byatt herself as a mark of our respect for her work, and as a tribute to our long-lasting association through the journal.

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Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Emmanuel Vernadakis, « Foreword »Journal of the Short Story in English, 76 | 2021, 11-13.

Référence électronique

Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Emmanuel Vernadakis, « Foreword »Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 76 | Spring 2021, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2023, consulté le 07 décembre 2023. URL :

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Gérald Préher

University of Artois, JSSE Editor

Articles du même auteur

Xavier Le Brun

University of Angers, JSSE Associate Editor

Articles du même auteur

Emmanuel Vernadakis

University of Angers, JSSE Consulting Editor

Articles du même auteur

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