The Chinese Lobster

Byatt, A. S. (Antonia Susan)

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie
  • Date of entry: Feb-04-1997
  • Last revised: Jan-23-2013


This is a story of the interactions of an art student and her assigned mentor, with whom she is at odds, and the interactions of the mentor with a university professor who has been given the task of arbitration between the student and the mentor. The problem for the student and the mentor is that they have totally divergent views of Matisse as a painter of women's bodies.

The mentor sees these paintings as beautiful but they are abhorrent to the student, who has developed an eating disorder as part of her rebellion against the emphasis on female pulchritude. The painting "La Porte Noire" is used to describe the mentor's great admiration for Matisse's amazing use of color.

The university professor brings to the encounter with the mentor her astute understanding of the problem, but also some of her personal issues; this interaction includes a subtle description of the many possible reasons for suicide attempts. The story skillfully describes academic conflict, unhealthy human behaviors, and the importance of skillful arbitration.



Primary Source

The Matisse Stories


Random House

Place Published

New York



Page Count