A S Byatt & Margaret Drabble – sisterly strife

Antonia Byatt, Booker prize winner for her novel Possession, once described as the most consciously intellectual woman writer since George Eliot, has died. To her intense  frustration, what interested the press most about her was her difficult relationship with her younger sister Margaret Drabble, who outshone her at Cambridge and became a bestselling novelist some decades before her.

  Antonia was born on August 24 1936 in Sheffield, the eldest of four children, with a circuit judge for a father and a depressed mother who was given to fits of rage because of her restricted life as a housewife. Antonia was ill in bed with asthma for much of her childhood and read voraciously. In later years she was described as ‘unsentimental, uncompromisingly intelligent and with limited capacity for making or enjoying jokes’ and formidable to meet.

  She had a Virgo Sun and Neptune, Venus and Mercury also spread out through Virgo, the writers’ sign. Her Scorpio Moon was trine Saturn and trine Pluto, a hint of an ungiving, under-nurturing mother. Her saving grace would be Jupiter in Sagittarius square Venus Neptune in Virgo giving her optimism and an active imagination.

  Her sister Margaret Drabble, born 5 June 1939 just before the outbreak of war, is a Sun Mercury in Gemini – another writers’ sign. She has a truly difficult Mars (maybe Moon) opposition Pluto square Saturn in Aries T square; and probably an Earth Grand Trine of Capricorn Moon trine Neptune trine Uranus Venus in Taurus.  Like her sister, she was badly affected by their unhappy, melancholy mother. She later remembered: “When I was a child of nine or ten years old, I was so depressed that I used to wish I could die in my sleep.’

  She wrote her first novel Summer Birdcage at the kitchen table when she was a young mother in 1963 which explored the relationship between two sisters. Its success and the books following made her one of the leading literary lights of Swinging London.  The result for her sister Antonia was a feeling “that I wasn’t a real person, that there was somebody coming who was the real person and that everybody would see I hadn’t been there”.

  Antonia’s Booker prize did not come for almost another thirty years but she did pick up a huge readership in the latter half of her career and there were suggestions that Antonia’s late success was driven by a determination not just to escape Margaret’s shadow but to eclipse her in turn.

Their relationship chart had a controlling composite Sun Pluto which would however unconsciously lead to a tussle for the upper hand. There was an emotionally chilly composite Venus square Saturn; a composite Venus sitting on the focal point of a highly strung (and creative) Uranus trine Neptune. And an argumentative Mercury opposition Jupiter square Mars; with Mars also square Pluto.

 Competitive Mars often rears its head in sibling stand offs. Olivia de Havilland her sister Joan Fontaine, famously at odds, in their relationship chart had a composite Sun Mars conjunction. As does King Charles and Prince Andrew. Prince William and Harry have a composite Sun square Mars.

  Sibling rivalry casts a long shadow.

23 thoughts on “A S Byatt & Margaret Drabble – sisterly strife

  1. Hi all,
    My son has Jupiter in Gemini at 0 in the fifth house. is that considered a good placement? He has also Mercury in the first house at 0. He is a skilled writer.

    • Hi Aim, I’m not a qualified astrologer but do have a passion for astrology. I smiled when I read that your son is a writer – it sounds like he’s living his Jupiter in Geminy & Mercury! I would imagine he is very eloquent with words & chatty, unless there are other aspects that impact on his Mercury and/or Jupiter.

      Even though Mercury is said to be in its detriment in Gemini (because Jupiter’s natural ‘home’ is Sagittarius), I think it still brings bountiful-ness. The fifth house of fun & creativity, amongst other things, means that his writing is likely a creative outlet for him aswell as an integral part of him, with added weight to it because he has Mercury in the first house. But, there will be other factors at play because his natal chart contains other factors.

      My son is also a writer (fiction & non fiction) but has Mercury in Sagittarius (in the 8th house) & Jupiter in Aquarius (in the 10th house, along with Uranus) & Venus & Mars in the 9th (which I think explains him studying philosophy & law at university) – lots of conversations on every topic going & a wonderful writing style – I imagine your son has a wonderful writing style to 🙂

  2. Thank you so much, Marjorie and everyone! I learn so much and am so thankful to you all for all your contributions through the years.

    The Mars–Pluto description below gives me hope. I knew that aspect had to be a treasure of some kind, even literally, given Pluto as the ruler of wealth hidden below ground, and not just.

    Yesterday I read about Ananke and fate, inspired by my wondering around here. And I am really fascinated by the topic. I mangled the story of Usud a little bit – the folk tale is about one of two brothers who was born on a less fortune-giving night and his quest to go to Usud and change his destiny. I might try to find if there is something in English about it, even the story translated itself and let you know. It’s deep, perhaps in an understated kind of way, and is also elementary-school required reading in one country.

  3. My son has Scorpio ascendant and rulers Mars Pluto conjunct on his midheaven. His job is as a senior air accident investigator for the Ministry of Transport, working out what causes the air crashes and how could this be avoided in future. He specialises in the engineering issues, and his Mercury is conjunct Uranus. As a child he was rather hyperactive but very intelligent. Someone else with Mars/Pluto on the midheaven could have been a mass murderer. I used to work in a psychiatric hospital and one grief stricken patient told me he was a mass murderer, but it seemed unlikely to me as it was not a ward for criminal patients. Later I discovered he’d been a pilot who bombed Dreden in the war. Some people distinguish between fate and destiny by saying fate is what happens to those who are spiritually unconscious whereas destiny is what happens to those who are spiritual seekers. These matters are very deep.

  4. So… I have a question. That probably does not have an answer.

    Why do these things happen? Basically, Byatt got born and grew into conditions she had no say in and it permanently marked her fate. One could say the usual – she was supposed to outgrow it, to deal with it, to spiritually grown and strengthen, to learn something – but couldn’t she have done it with a happier life or could all these things in her life not have happened? There is so much misery in the world and bizarre happenings to people when, if everything is possible, all could have lived a happier life and everything that is wrong could have been right.

    I think in Slavic folk tales, and probably in other peoples’ too, there is a figure called Usud (literally I think it means “doom” in English, in its Tolkienean sense, fate as neither good or bad – just fate) and in it a guy unsatisfied with hia fate goes to the Fates somewhere at the end of the world, or wherever it was they were, to change his circumstances. To people born one night the Fates give all the riches and blessings of a happy life, tomorrow night the person ends with less, and on the third night people are born into poverty and difficulties of life. And so the cycles goes on again from the beginning endlessly. That’s how I remember it.

    What is the point of suffering and why some peope live lovely lives while some struggle, often, as it appears, with no fault of their own (in both cases).

    Someone might say karma (of past lives and so on)…

    • One of the great imponderable questions – why some people have easier lives than others. And some through no fault of their own have a miserable existence.
      The birth chart in a sense is the hand of cards you are dealt with by the fates or by random chance ++ family dynamics (which are also not within our choosing). Carl Jung thought that freewill was the ability to choose that which of necessity we must do. You are who you are so suck it up and get on with it.
      With age there can be (not for everyone) an acceptance about the pattern of a life and a coming to terms with ‘just the way it is’ – I am not going to climb Mount Everest, be a best selling novelist, make a billion bucks, find a soulmate, have five children and live happily ever after.
      But it is still true that life is grossly unfair for some and not for others. I am haunted by some I have come across which seem blighted, even cursed, from square one – started badly, lived in acute misery and died without any sunshine breaking through the clouds. One in particular I remember who never had any choices – kicked from pillar to post, betrayed by life in the most egregious manner and exited painfully before he reached 20. Heart rending and there was nothing about that kid’s life that I can make any sense of in terms of finding a deeper meaning.
      A strong Jupiter is a gift carelessly bestowed by the gods of fate and brings good fortune, deserved or otherwise. A strong Saturn if its lessons are taken to heart brings a harvest later in life. Pluto ditto if wrestled with mightily over a longish period of time. But it does require (Jupiter apart) insight, self-awareness and the ability (and motivation) to choose. I have also never been clear about how much individual choice anyone has – so can I blame those who ‘choose’ to remain unself-aware? Being Virgo probably I would in earlier days have blamed them, but I am not sure it is clear why some (are able to) choose and others don’t.

      • I have a strong Jupiter (in Sagittarius, conjunct Sun and midheaven, final dispositor of chart etc), but I have not had good fortune.
        I love astrology, but I think there are determining forces in one’s life/fate that override even astrology (based on personal experience).

        • Hmm, not wishing to pry and an open forum is not the place to ask but I would wonder what you had done with your Jupiter, especially one as strong as that. It doesn’t mean there are not setbacks and tragedies in a life but the Jupiter will have had an effect – it can admittedly early on in adult life expect too much without any effort. But it will be providing some luck, call it what you like, which your life would have been more difficult without.
          Admittedly astrology doers not give you all the answers but often there are more than you expect if you look closely enough.

          • Thanks Marjorie, that’s food for thought :).

            It’s very possible that my Jupiter has kept me on the straight and narrow, if nothing else, where my sibling seems to have gone down some rather dark paths (they have Sun conjunct Saturn, in contrast to me).

  5. Crikey! I hope that Antonia Byatt finds peace on the other side.

    It must have been extremely difficult for her, either being in the shadow of her sister, or feeling as though she was, especially since she was the eldest out of the two.

    The wider world sometimes forgets that siblings don’t always get on, particularly those in the world who do get on with their siblings.

    You’ve got me pondering about motherhood, because of this – ‘her Scorpio Moon was trine Saturn and trine Pluto, a hint of an ungiving, under-nurturing mother’ . My son has a Leo Moon trine Saturn trine Pluto! Jeepers! We get on very well & are always talking. So, I interpreted this configuration as a stronger mother who has always made sure that her child was protected, safe & happy! He is honest with me & tells me that I can be scary to others at times, even though I can’t fully see this. But, I do listen to him. He tells me that he had a fun, happy childhood. Our sun & moons are the reverse of each other’s, so I’m sure that makes a difference – he’s a Scorpio Sun with a Leo Moon & I’m Leo Sun with a Scorpio Moon!

    • Pearl,

      Marjorie sometimes interprets favourable aspects (trines, sextiles) as unfavourable. I pay attention to that sometimes and wonder about it.

      • Does it depend on the nature of the planets involved? Trines mean ease of interaction ( I think!) so ease of interaction between two malefics would not be good news…….?

      • Sextiles and trines (easy aspects so called) make the energy of the two planets flow together. But Mars merging with Pluto is not going to be sweet natured although a sextile will be less stressed than a square, opposition or conjunction.
        Diddy’s Mars trine Pluto sextile Neptune has an unpleasant feel to it – ruthless, control-freaky and rather perverse.
        Napoleon’s Mars trine Pluto trine Uranus – good for war mongering but not exactly benign.
        Catherine is right, depends on the planets involved.
        Also to watch out for – a chart replete with sextiles and trines and no squares or hard aspects can go badly wrong since there will be no effort made to overcome problems when they crop up.

        • Great explanation! Thank you. I knew it wasn’t just by default that you interpret it as such, but that you gave it thought and experience. Perhaps sometimes bias too.

          I’ve also notices what is apparent, I think, above: you don’t really like Mars–Pluto, I’ve noticed conjunction, but neither good aspects, such as a trine or sextile, which could be used for tremendous good. Of some planets and aspects it’s as if you really, really don’t have a good opinion about, which can be scary for people carrying them or who know people who do.

          And also I think in Ancient Greek astorlogy or somewhere similar a chart with a lot of sextiles meant evil.

          • Mars Pluto hard aspects can be good for working in crises situations, largely because early experiences of being pushed around by scary, potentially threatening parents/carers bred a resilience and an ability to keep a cool head in situations of danger.
            Ebertin defines Mars Pluto as superhuman force, brutality, great self-confidence.
            It can make for success since it gives extraordinary and relentless determination. Which is perhaps why it crops up here with regularity.
            But it can also go along with a forceful, bullying streak – or the exact opposite which you tend to find more in women. They bury Mars Pluto in their unconscious and act out the submissive side, thereby attracting the energy to them from outside – which goes along with assaults/rape etc.
            It is not an aspect to be under estimated or glossed over. It has its benefits but you need to be aware of its shadow.

          • I have a lot of sextiles from Virgo to Scorpio and a Mars/Pluto one, though my Mars is also conjunct Neptune. As far as evil-doing goes, I’ve failed somewhat in this lifetime, though certainly been aware of my shadow side from quite early on in life. (Pluto rising).

          • On the topic of inherited aspects, my maternal grandfather had Mars in Virgo square his Gemini Sun/Pluto conjunction. His father (who died when my gf was 9) was a needle-maker and you often find this with Mars in Virgo – those who work with precision implements and tools, the square to Pluto often appearing in the charts of surgeons. But my sister has Mars conjunct Pluto in Virgo, I have the sextile and my father had the conjunction in Cancer.

        • Thanks Marjorie, I know someone with the same combination as Diddy – Sun/Neptune Scorpio sextile Capricorn Mars trine Pluto Virgo, but she was born 2 years earlier. She can be very scary & ruthless & extremely control freaky. This is helpful for me because I’m always trying to figure out what causes her to be the way she is. She has a good heart, but she frightens people & seems to delight in it. I never considered that this combination could be part of a contributing factor on the whole of her chart.

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