Imagining Characters

Imagining Characters

by A. S. Byatt
     
 

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In this innovative and wide-ranging book, Byatt and the psychoanalyst Ignes Sodre bring their different sensibilities to bear on six novels they have read and loved: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Bronte's Villette, George Elliot's Daniel Deronda, Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Iris Murdoch's An Unofficial Rose, and Toni

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Overview

In this innovative and wide-ranging book, Byatt and the psychoanalyst Ignes Sodre bring their different sensibilities to bear on six novels they have read and loved: Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Bronte's Villette, George Elliot's Daniel Deronda, Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Iris Murdoch's An Unofficial Rose, and Toni Morrison's Beloved. The results are nothing less than an education in the ways literature grips its readers and, at times, transforms their lives. Imagining Characters is indispensable, a work of criticism that returns us to the books it discusses with renewed respect and wonder.

Editorial Reviews

Emily Barton
A. S. Byatt sums up ''Imagining Characters'' as ''a sort of conversation which is sophisticated at one level and very deliberately primitive and naive at another....''Imagining Characters'' may have been doomed from its birth in the mind of its editor, Rebecca Swift. The book is a series of dialogues, a form that easily lends itself to rambling; and Swift's editing has left the English novelist Byatt and the Brazilian psychoanalyst Sodre with indistinguishable voices, rendering their arguments even harder to follow. -- New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
When the authors of this articulate, intelligent book acknowledge that "just talking can [add] to understanding," they hit on one of the secrets behind the success of today's popular book groups. For in their six dialogues about Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, Charlotte Bront's Villette, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Willa Cather's The Professor's House, Iris Murdoch's The Unofficial Rose and Toni Morrison's Beloved, Byatt and Sodr invite readers into an illuminating psychoanalytic and literary discussion. Byatt (Possession) and Sodr, a Brazilian psychoanalyst, "talk about the characters in the novels as though they were real people." With a healthy dose of Freud, the authors put central literary characters and their creators on the therapist's couch, discussing relationships with parents and siblings, fear of marriage, female energy, self-knowledge and religion. From Austen to Morrison, the authors reveal the imagined worlds of these novels and confirm Eliot's assertion that "art is the nearest thing to life." Swift introduces each chapter or "discussion" is introduced with a brief synopsis of the novel addressed. A final chapter ties dreams to the process of creating the narrative, with Byatt allowing the reader access to her own process of interpreting her dreams and transferring them into her writing. The individual conversations make for a demanding read, for they delve rather minutely into each novel. But the persevering reader will be rewarded with an engaging interplay of ideas. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In this collection of conversations, leading British novelist/critic Byatt (Possession, LJ 11/1/90) and Brazilian psychoanalyst Sodr discuss novels by six women writers: Austen's Mansfield Park, Bront's Villette, Eliot's Daniel Deronda, Cather's The Professor's House, Murdoch's An Unofficial Rose, and Morrison's Beloved. The authors bring particular insight into the development of these works (and especially their effect on readers) and of the novel in general. Though a sameness in the prose makes for smooth reading, one is left wishing that the voices of Byatt and Sodr were more distinctive. The book's most effective part is the final conversation, in which the authors discuss the value of dreams and stories, emphasizing the importance of reading and sharing reading through conversation as a valuable means of learning. For academic literature collections.Jeris Cassel, Rutgers Univ. Libs., New Brunswick, N.J.
Kirkus Reviews
Two discriminating readers invite us to listen in on seven conversations about six important novels by women.

Bestselling novelist Byatt and psychoanalyst Sodre cultivate the art of literary conversation. The underlying premise is that literature in general, and the novel in particular, is a unique and important form of knowledge that calls upon its readers to carry on its imaginary world in conversation and discussion. Both Sodre and Byatt are shrewd readers, as well as voluble conversationalists. However, in print the effects are mixed. Their conversations are shapeless, as conversation often is, and the reader only gradually begins to see the emphasis fall on certain themes and ideas that appeal to their imaginations: fear of marriage, the problem of womanly self-determination, the presence of myth and fairy tale, moral consciousness in fiction. These themes float by in the wash of words without ever taking a clear shape. And too often the language, as in real conversation, is woolly and inexact. But perhaps the most limiting circumstance of this book is the admirably sympathetic relationship between Byatt and Sodre. They are so like-minded that what we have is not a dialogue but instead a monologue in two-part harmony. They don't force each other to clarify, defend, and produce persuasive evidence for their views. These objections notwithstanding, there remains enough stimulating observation and thought to hold the attention of those interested in the authors' favorite books (Mansfield Park, Villette, Daniel Deronda, The Professor's House, An Unofficial Rose, and Beloved) or in the novel as a way of knowing the world.

Or in Byatt's view—which is aligned with that of Iris Murdoch—"all art but the very greatest is consolation and fantasy, but really great art is a form of knowledge." Byatt and Sodre attempt to bring out the knowledge that resides in art alone.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679777533
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/28/1997
Edition description:
1 VINTAGE
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.66(d)

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