‘The Chinese Lobster’ by AS Byatt

One of three stories inspired by the work of Henri Matisse, ‘The Chinese Lobster’ – first published with its companions in 1996 – seems thoroughly in step with today’s debates about power relations between men and women and the locus of authority. The Dean of Women’s Studies at a London university arrives in the supposedly neutral space of a Chinese restaurant to present an art historian with charges of sexual abuse that a female student has made against him. He is outraged, and cites the student’s lack of ability as a clumsy defence; but we are also encouraged to consider the pain he feels at her desecration of his beloved Matisse. Beyond its subject matter, it is remarkable for the creation of a palpable atmosphere of unease and ambiguous luxury, emblematised by the live lobster trapped in its tank.

(First published in The New Yorker in 1992, and collected in The Matisse Stories, Vintage)

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