Dame AS Byatt, an iconic critic and author whose book Possession won the Booker Prize and inspired Hollywood film, dies aged 87. How she died, career, and biography facts explored.
AS Byatt had a flourishing career that spanned over 5 decades.
She was an author and a critic who was influenced by Henry James and George Eliot as well as Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, Coleridge, Tennyson, and Robert Browning, in merging realism and naturalism with fantasy.
The author, whose career started while attending boarding school and began writing her first novel while at the University of Cambridge, ‘had a remarkable mind which produced a unique creative vision’.
Unfortunately, the world learned about her passing in November 2023.
Here’s everything we know about the renowned writer.
What was Dame “A. S. Byatt” Antonia’s cause of death?
Famous and award-winning author Dame Antonia is reported dead.
She died aged 87 on November 16, 2023, but her death was announced a day after by her publisher as tributes poured in for the acclaimed writer.
She reportedly passed away “peacefully at home surrounded by close family”.
A statement from publisher Penguin said:
“She died peacefully at home surrounded by close family. A girl from Sheffield with a strong European sensibility, Antonia had a remarkable mind which produced a unique creative vision.”
Clara Farmer, her publisher at Chatto & Windus, an imprint of Penguin Random House, added:
“Antonia’s books are the most wonderful jewel boxes of stories and ideas. Her compulsion to write (A4 blue notebook always to hand) and her ability to create intricate skeins of narrative was remarkable. It was always a treat to see her, to hear updates about her evolving literary characters and indulge in delicious titbits of literary gossip. Like all Chatto’s publishers before me, I was devoted to her and her writing. 2024 would have been her 60th (Diamond) anniversary as a Chatto author. We mourn her loss but it’s a comfort to know that her penetrating works will dazzle, shine and refract in the minds of readers for generations to come.”
Zoe Waldie, her literary agent at agency RCW, said she “held readers spellbound” and called her writing “multi-layered, endlessly varied and deeply intellectual, threaded through with myths and metaphysics”.
She added: “Her formidable erudition and passion for language were combined with a love of scholarship and an astonishing memory, forged learning poetry and rules for spelling and grammar by heart as a child.”
Who was the writer Dame A. S. Byatt?
A. S. Byatt (real name: Dame Antonia Susan Duffy DBE HonFBA) was an English critic, novelist, poet and short story writer.
Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages.
And last year, her 1995 short story The Djinn In The Nightingale’s Eye inspired a fantasy drama starring Idris Elba.
Elba and Tilda Swinton starred opposite each other Three Thousand Years Of Longing which features a conversation between a genie and an academic in a hotel room in Istanbul.
Dame Antonia lived in Putney, southwest London, with her husband Peter Duffy.
Dame Antonia won the Booker Prize for her novel Possession in 1990 and was appointed CBE the same year.
The time-jumping tale tells the story of the love between two Victorian poets that is uncovered by scholars in the modern age.
Dame Antonia was made a dame in 1999 and received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award in 2018 amid a glittering career.
The author also penned the Children’s Book in 2009, which again saw her nominated for the Booker Prize.
More recently, she published many short stories including Medusa’s Ankles: Selected Stories, in 2021.
Born in 1936, Dame Antonia grew up in Sheffield and York before studying English at Newnham College, Cambridge.
She went on to study the same subject at Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia, and Oxford.
The dame became a teacher at University College London in 1962, two years before publishing her debut book Shadows of a Sun.
She went on to write 23 books along with works of criticism, according to her publisher.
Other highlights include The Frederica Quartet series, which included The Virgin In The Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower, and A Whistling Woman, and was adapted by BBC Radio 4.
Dame Antonia also had a beetle named after her in 2014 following a coleopterist reading her novella Morpho Eugenia from Angels And Insects.
The story was adapted into a 1990s romance film called Angels And Insects, about a naturalist, with Sir Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Dame Kristin Scott Thomas among the cast.
What was A. S. Byatt’s net worth?
The famed author with several publications under her belt had made an impressive fortune over the years.
At the time of her passing, A. S. Byatt was reported to have a net worth of between $1 million and $5 million.
She accrued her money from her work as a Critic, novelist, short story writer, and poet.
Who are AS Byatt’s husband and children?
AS Byatt was married twice in her life. The names of her current husband and ex-spouse are Peter John Duffy and Ian Byatt.
At age 23, she had her first marriage to Ian Charles Rayner Byatt. They walked down the aisle in 1959 and at the time, Ian was 24 years old.
Who’s Ian Byatt? Sir Ian Charles Rayner Byatt is a British economist who was the Director General of the economic regulator of the water industry in England and Wales, Ofwat, from its creation at the time of the privatization of the water industry in 1989 until 2000.
The marriage was dissolved in 1969 after a decade but they were already a parent of two who tragically lost one of them.
However, she still maintained his surname and added the initials of her real name as her professional pen name.
Later that year, Byatt married Peter Duffy, her second husband. The duo remained a husband and wife for over 50 years until her passing.
How many children did AS Byatt have?
Writer AS Byatt was a mother at the time of her death.
She had four children who survived her.
She had three daughters and a son. The known name of her kids is Charles, her only son.
She welcomed her kids from her two marriages; two each with ex-husband Peter John Duffy and current spouse Ian Byatt.
Unfortunately, Dame and Peter’s son Charles tragically died aged 11 as he was killed by a drunk driver while walking home from school.
Years later, she spoke of her son’s death and its influence on her lecturing and subsequent career after publishing The Children’s Book, in which the image of a dead child features. Byatt said she wished to become a full-time writer, but “if I had a job we could send my son to a fee-paying school. My son got killed on Frank Kermode’s doorstep, the day I accepted the job more or less — so there was no point in having the job except what else was I going to do”.
Byatt stayed in the job for “as long as he had lived, which was 11 years”, then, she said, “it was like being released from a spell”. She came to regard her academic career “very symbolically”. She later wrote the poem “Dead Boys”.
What is known about AS Byatt’s family?
Antonia was born into a high-profile family. Her parents are John Frederick Drabble (father) and Kathleen Bloor (mother).
Her dad was a County Court judge while her mom was a scholar of Browning.
She was not the only child of her parents as she had three younger siblings. Her sisters are the novelist Margaret Drabble and the art historian Helen Langdon. Her brother Richard Drabble KC is a barrister.
Her other known family members include nephews; Adam Swift and Joe Swift and had a niece called Rebecca Swift.
The Drabble father participated in the placement of Jewish refugees in Sheffield during the 1930s. The mother was a Shavian and the father a Quaker. As a result of the bombing of Sheffield during the Second World War, the family moved to York.
Byatt’s relationship with her sister Margaret Drabble was sometimes strained due to the presence of autobiographical elements in both their writing. While their relationship was no longer especially close and they did not read each other’s books, Drabble described the situation as “normal sibling rivalry” and Byatt said it had been “terribly overstated by gossip columnists” and that the sisters “always have liked each other on the bottom line.”
Byatt was an agnostic, though she maintained an affinity for Quaker services. She enjoyed watching snooker, tennis, and football.