By Alexa Alfer
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Additional resources for A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling
Coming together as adults for their father’s funeral, the physical reality of the parental home makes academic Cassandra ‘realize that she was just as much as ever an object of Julia’s speculation, Julia’s tale-telling’ (G: 108). Julia, meanwhile, as the younger and more worldly sister of the two, notes in a letter to a friend: ‘I’ve always been scared stiff of waking up and finding out that I was nothing but a thought in Cassandra’s mind’ (G: 104). Much of what follows centres on Julia’s predatory use of Cassandra’s life as material for her fiction, an act of mimetic plundering prefigured by a more obvious ‘theft’ of literary material that occurred during the Corbett sisters’ teenage years, when Julia published as her own a version of a story which had initially been devised by Cassandra for the girls’ childhood ‘Game’ and which, up until then, ‘was, or had been, common property’.
It had crimson, slightly convex eyes, which were the orifices of crimson funnels whose pointed ends met inside the skull. Between the flat lips, inside the delicately curving teeth, lay a black thread of forked tongue, whose root was at the juncture of the eyes. (G: 135–6) Coiled within this densely descriptive passage lies a double image, two entwined metaphors that have presided over the narrative of The Game throughout – glass and serpent. qxd 24/09/2010 13:23 Page 34 34 A. S. Byatt journal conversations with Simon: ‘The serpent is traditionally, as I told you, a symbol for our horror at finding ourselves necessarily embodied’ (G: 27).
As the odour of a rose’ (Eliot, 1921: 64); at best, a rose, a cornfield, or intense sunlight conjure up a remembered line from Coleridge’s ‘The Ancient Mariner’ or Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience; at worst, the ‘struggle toward unification of sensibility’ (Eliot, 1921: 65) descends into Lawrentian pastiche. Oliver Canning, meanwhile, may be an astute thinker and a pragmatist, but what he knows to be ‘real grass and trees’ he nevertheless cannot help but ‘imagine’ as a mere ‘show specially put on and preserved for my benefit’ (SS: 31; emphasis added).
A.S. Byatt: Critical Storytelling by Alexa Alfer