Professor Mortimer Cropper, biographer of Randolph Henry Ash in Possession, is a ghoulish hoarder who will stop at nothing to appropriate his subject; Scholes Destry-Scholes, the biographer who becomes the subject of Phineas G. Nansom’s biographical aspirations in The Biographer’s Tale, turns out to have fabricated much of the accepted lives of his subjects. Byatt’s first novel, The Shadow of the Sun (1964), dramatises the relationship between a creative artist and his greedy critic, with the former complaining of the latter: ‘he pries, he nibbles, he draws conclusions, he defines, on scraps of information no one with any real tact would try to make anything out of’ (7). These are warnings of the dangers of believing that the meaning of a text should or can be approached via the person of the author. Indeed, in the essay ‘Identity and the Writer’ (1987) Byatt states that one of her aims is ‘to expunge the presence of the self, the presence of the “I” from my idea of writing’ (23), a sentiment Christien Franken glosses as a dislike for ‘the idea of the writer as somebody who autobiographically expresses him- or herself in fiction’, when instead ‘writing serves as an escape from the self towards the imagination of other worlds, other people’s minds, lives, feelings and thoughts’ (13).
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