Salvation and Meaning in Elementals

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Salvation and Meaning in Elementals At least one of Byatt’s messages, possibly the overriding one in Elementals; is that art, curiosity, and stories save us. I would also agree with the philosophical premise that they do, in fact, give our existences meaning. Since these two facets are linked, I shall be pursuing both threads in my essay. There is ample evidence in this volume that aesthetic expression and desire play an important role in the makeup of characters' lives. Think of Patricia Nimmo in Crocodile Tears, and her distraction of shopping; "a classical column of falling white silk jersey pleats ... a pretty pair of golden slippers, and a honeycomb cotton robe, in aquamarine. These things gave her pleasure." (p18) Equally, the long, descriptive passages Byatt is given to using are a decadent revelling in capturing the essence of a thing; they are works of art in their own right. "Here were beauty and danger flat on a wall ... She stared ... How do you decide when to stop looking at something? It is not like a book, page after page, page after page, end. How do you decide?" (p52) It seems clear that when Byatt writes a phrase such as 'It is not like a book, page after page, page after page, end', she is seeking to make an exception of her own work. Byatt's writing invites continual re-inspection, it can be viewed on many levels of meaning, and some of the images which she describes hold the same qualities as a particularly striking painting. When she writes of 'beauty and danger flat', therefore, she is also discussing the metaphor of life and its potential to be captured within a work of art. For Bernard, interpretive art is what gives existence meaning. The scintillating butterfly at the end of A Lamia i... ... middle of paper ... ...ciations) Byatt writes extremely expressively, bridging the gap between flat text on a page and vivid mental imagery; her short stories are compelling in a way that makes the reader curious, engaging our interest in what is to come. This is the essence of the storyteller's art. Even were it not to be her message, one could not come away from this collection of Byatt's work without the feeling that here, within these words, stories and constructs of art that there was an internal logic which offered a positive alternative to the negativity which seems to be a feature of this dispossessed age; a sense of purpose and innate meaning that channels and releases us, "as though the [emotion] was still and eternal in the painting and the [soul] was released into time." (p230) And be touched by it. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Elementals, A.S. Byatt, Vintage: Random House, 1999.

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