Authors: A.S. Byatt
‘I went to see him once, you know, after the war, when he was living in that apartment in Nice. I was full of hope in those days, I loved him and was enraged by him and meant to outdo him, some time soon, when I had just learned this and that—which I never did. He was ill then, he had come through this terrible operation, the nuns who looked after him called him “le ressuscité”.
‘The rooms in that apartment were shrouded in darkness. The shutters were closed, the curtains were drawn. I was terribly shocked—I thought he
lived in the light
you know, that was the idea I had of him. I blurted it out, the shock, I said, “Oh, how can you bear to shut out the light?” And he said, quite mildly, quite courteously, that there had been some question of him going blind. He thought he had better acquaint himself with the dark. And then he added, “and anyway, you know, black is the colour of light”. Do you know the painting
La Porte noire}
It has a young woman in an armchair quite at ease in a peignoir striped in lemon and cadmium and … over a white dress with touches of cardinal red—her hair is yellow ochre and scarlet—and at the side is the window and the coloured light and behind—above—is the black door. Almost no one could paint the colour black as he could. Almost no one.’
Gerda Himmelblau bites into her orange and tastes its sweetness. She says,
‘He wrote, “I believe in God when I work.”’
‘I think he also said, “I am God when I work.” Perhaps he is—not my God, but where—where I find that. I was brought up in the hope that I would be a priest, you know. Only I could not bear a religion which had a tortured human body hanging from the hands over its altars. No, I would rather have
Gerda Himmelblau is gathering her things together. He continues,
‘That is why I meant what I said, when I said that young woman’s—muck-spreading—offended what I called sacred. What are we to do? I don’t want her to—to punish us by self-slaughter—nor do I wish to be seen to condone the violence—the absence of
Gerda Himmelblau sees, in her mind’s eye, the face of Peggi Nollett, potato-pale, peering out of a white box with cunning, angry eyes in the slit between puffed eyelids. She sees golden oranges, rosy limbs, a voluptuously curved dark blue violin-case, in a black room. One or the other must be betrayed. Whatever she does, the bright forms will go on shining in the dark. She says,
‘There is a simple solution. What she wants, what she has always wanted, what the Department has resisted, is a sympathetic supervisor—Tracey Avison, for instance—who shares her way of looking at things—whose beliefs—who cares about political ideologies of that kind—who will—’
‘Who will give her a degree and let her go on in the way she is going on. It is a defeat.’
Oh yes. It is a question of how much it matters. To you. To me. To the Department. To Peggi Nollett, too.’
‘It matters very much and not at all,’ says Perry Diss. ‘She may see the light. Who knows?’
They leave the restaurant together. Perry Diss thanks Dr Himmelblau for his food and for her company. She is inwardly troubled. Something has happened to her white space, to her inner ice, which she does not quite understand. Perry Diss stops at the glass box containing the lobster, the crabs, the scallops—these last now decidedly dead, filmed with an iridescent haze of imminent putrescence. The lobster and the crabs are all still alive, all, more slowly, hissing their difficult air, bubbling, moving feet, feelers, glazing eyes. Inside Gerda Himmelblau’s ribs and cranium she experiences, in a way, the pain of alien fish-flesh contracting inside an exo-skeleton. She looks at the lobster and the crabs, taking accurate distant note of the loss of gloss, the attenuation of colour.
‘I find that
, you know,’ says Perry Diss. ‘And at the same time, exactly at the same time, I don’t give a damn? D’you know?’
‘I know,’ says Gerda Himmelblau. She does know. Cruelly, imperfectly, voluptuously, clearly. The muzak begins again.
beautiful morning. Oh
She reaches up, in a completely uncharacteristic gesture, and kisses Perry Diss’s soft cheek.
‘Thank you,’ she says. ‘For everything.’
‘Look after yourself,’ says Perry Diss.
‘Oh,’ says Gerda Himmelblau. ‘I will. I will.’
Winner of England’s Booker Prize and a literary sensation,
is both an exhilarating intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets.
ANGELS & INSECTS
In “Morpho Eugenia,” a shipwrecked naturalist is rescued by a family whose clandestine passions come to seem as inscrutable as the behavior of insects. In “The Conjugial Angel,” a circle of fictional mediums finds itself haunted by the ghost of a historical personage.
PASSIONS OF THE MIND
Thoughtfully and stylishly, A. S. Byatt considers the parallels between George Eliot and Willa Cather; Robert Browning’s spiritual malaise and the mythic strands in the novels of Saul Bellow and Iris Murdoch; and other matters of art and intellect both past and present.
A story of two sisters, Cassandra and Julia, once close, but now hostile strangers. Confronted by a man from their past, who they once both loved and suffered over, they struggle with each other toward a denouement that is both shocking and as inevitable as a classical tragedy.
SUGAR AND OTHER STORIES
This dazzling collection of short fiction explores the fragile ties between generations, the dizzying abyss of loss, and the elaborate memories we construct against it.
THE VIRGIN IN THE GARDEN
A wonderfully erudite entertainment about a brilliant and eccentric family, in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and contemporary comedy, intersect richly and unpredictably.
Available at your local bookstore, or call toll-free to order:
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FIRST VINTAGE INTERNATIONAL EDITION, APRIL
1993 by A. S. Byatt
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York, for permission to reprint the following three black-and-white line drawings by Henri Matisse :
La Chevelure, Nymphe et faune
L’Artiste et le modèle reflétés dans le miroir.
Copyright © 1995
Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the Random House edition as follows:
Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)
The Matisse stories/A. S. Byatt
1. Matisse, Henri, 1869-1954. I. Title.
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