Desire for Syzygy in the Novels of A. S. Byatt

  • Katherine Tarbox


In her tetralogy that comprises The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, A. S. Byatt meditates upon the destiny of irrational desire as it comes into conflict with rational culture. The novels dwell on the failure of scholarship to contain and express the voice of passion, which seeks equal status with the voice of reason. The Biographer’s Tale and The Shadow of the Sun show characters hovering on the edge of transformation as they attempt to evolve beyond Enlightenment consciousness. Byatt finds, in evolutionary psychology and neurobiology, new slants on being, and her novels work towards an articulation of the possibility of syzygy. Syzygy is an existential condition symbolised by the hermaphrodite — one who transcends gender by conjoining reason and passion (traditionally associated with maleness and femaleness, respectively) into fully realised humanness that is different from and greater than the sum of those parts.


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For Further Reading

  1. For a list of A. S. Byatt’s works, see the British Council website: <>.
  2. Chodorow, Nancy, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978).Google Scholar
  3. Creed, Barbara, The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis (London: Routledge, 1993).Google Scholar
  4. Dinnerstein, Dorothy, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements and Human Malaise (New York: HarperColophon Books, 1977).Google Scholar
  5. Hays-Gilpin, Kelley and David S. Whitley, Reader in Gender Archaeology (London: Routledge, 1998).Google Scholar
  6. Marian, Stanton, ed., Fire in the Stone: the Alchemy of Desire (Wilmette: Chiron Publications, 1997).Google Scholar
  7. Young-Eisendrath, Polly, Gender and Desire: Uncursing Pandora (College Station, Texas: A&M University Press, 1997).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Katherine Tarbox 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine Tarbox

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