Peacock & Vine by A. S. Byatt
On William Morris and Mariano Fortuny

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Ultimately, though, the book is something of a disappointment. The frisson Byatt experienced in Venice – her synaptic linkage between the two men – is the only significant connection between them.
-National Post arts

Synopsis

From the winner of the Booker Prize: A ravishing book that opens a window into the lives, designs, and passions of Mariano Fortuny and William Morris, two remarkable artists who themselves are passions of the writer A. S. Byatt.

Born a generation apart in the mid-1800s, Fortuny and Morris were seeming opposites: Fortuny a Spanish aristocrat thrilled by the sun-baked cultures of Crete and Knossos; Morris a member of the British bourgeoisie, enthralled by Nordic myths. Through their revolutionary inventions and textiles, both men inspired a new variety of art that is as striking today as when it was first conceived. In this elegant meditation, Byatt traces their genius right to the source.

Fortuny’s Palazzo Pesaro Orfei in Venice is a warren of dark spaces imbued with the rich hues of Asia. In his attic workshop, Fortuny created intricate designs from glowing silks and velvets; in the palazzo he found “happiness in a glittering cavern” alongside the French model who became his wife and collaborator, including on the famous “Delphos” dress—a flowing, pleated gown that evoked the era of classical Greece.

Morris’s Red House outside London, with its Gothic turrets and secret gardens, helped inspire his stunning floral and geometric patterns; it likewise represented a coming together of life and art. But it was a “sweet simple old place” called Kelmscott Manor in the countryside that he loved best—even when it became the setting for his wife’s love affair with the artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Generously illustrated with the artists’ beautiful designs—pomegranates and acanthus, peacock and vine—among other aspects of their worlds, this marvel-filled book brings the visions and ideas of Fortuny and Morris to vivid life.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About A. S. Byatt

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A. S. BYATT is the author of numerous novels, including The Children’s Book, The Biographer’s Tale, and Possession, which was awarded the Booker Prize. She has also written two novellas, published together as Angels & Insects, five collections of short stories, and several works of nonfiction. A distinguished critic and author, and the recipient of the 2016 Erasmus Prize for her “inspiring contribution to ‘life writing,’” she lives in London.
Author Residence: London, UK
 
Published August 2, 2016 by Knopf. 192 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Peacock & Vine
All: 6 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good
on May 31 2016

Although brief, this is an inspiring homage that forges illuminating connections between two dynamos.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by DOMINIQUE BROWNING on Sep 09 2016

...these handsomely decorated pages, though informative, are most successful in evoking the “sensual pleasure” Byatt derived from her project. Then again, maybe that’s enough. When I closed “Peacock and Vine,” my thoughts lingered not just on Morris and Fortuny but on all those artists who have thrown open windows on our history...

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Star Tribune

Good
Reviewed by Patricia Hagen on Aug 05 2016

While both Morris and Fortuny are of interest in their own right, it is Byatt’s cross-boundary connections that provide “the excitement of the [neurons] in the brain” for the reader of “Peacock and Vine.”

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The Economist

Good
on Aug 06 2016

Ms Byatt admits to reading an “unmanageable heap of large books” for it, but her pleasure in just looking is everywhere: in every leaf and tendril, pomegranate and bird, in their colours, balance and geometry.

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Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Fiona MacCarthy on Jul 01 2016

This is a small book but, in its enchanting way, it brings together so many of the themes of Byatt’s larger and more obviously ambitious works.

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National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by ROBERT J. WIERSEMA on Sep 19 2016

Ultimately, though, the book is something of a disappointment. The frisson Byatt experienced in Venice – her synaptic linkage between the two men – is the only significant connection between them.

Read Full Review of Peacock & Vine: On William Mo... | See more reviews from National Post arts
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