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Angels and Insects Paperback – Nov 27 1993
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From Publishers Weekly
Byatt revisits the Victorian landscape of Possession in these two fluid and intricate novellas.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
This work consists of two novellas set in the mid-19th century. The first, "Morpho Eugenia," is a Gothic fable that explores the multiple themes of earthly paradise and Darwin's theories of breeding and sexuality. There is an implied parallel between insect and human society throughout. The hero, a poor, scholarly entomologist, is taken into a wealthy Victorian family. His life and loves, particularly for the daughter Eugenia and the eponymous species of butterfly, comprise this tale. The second novella, "The Conjugal Angel," is reminiscent of Possession ( LJ 11/1/90), Byatt's 1990 Booker Prize winner for fiction, wherein poetry is woven into the narrative. Here, the poem is Tennyson's "In Memoriam , " written to mourn the death of Tennyson's friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who was engaged to the poet's sister Emily--a main character here. This is a philosophical ghost story, bizarre and comic, but since assorted mediums meet real characters, it is difficult to relate to any of them. These novellas will attract attention due to the fame of their author, but they will appeal to a very limited audience. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/92.
- Patricia C. Heaney, Nassau Community Coll. Lib., Garden City, N.Y.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
"Morpho Eugenia" introduces us to a young naturalist named William, who until recently had been studying insects in the Amazon. He was shipwrecked, then rescued by the wealthy Alabaster family. While continuing to study butterflies, he marries the beautiful eldest daughter Eugenia and for a time, lives the good life. The only problem is that unknown to him, Eugenia is wrapped up in a lifelong tangle of obsession and incest.
"The Conjugial Angel" introduces us to a group of mediums who gather to call up spirits. Mrs. Papagay is still in love with the dead Arturo. Emily mourns her dead lover, immortalized in her brother Alfred Tennyson's "In Memoriam" -- except she has married again. Now she struggles with her past emotions, her present doubts, and her longing to communicate with her love again.
As in her prior works, Byatt's writing is almost dizzily lush. She has a good sense of detail, describing ribbons, moths, butterfly wings, and the flames of gaslights. But pretty words are not all that Byatt has to offer -- she makes use of poetry (her own, and that of others), Darwinism and religious faith, Swedenborg, a family whose opulence covers their decay, and the nuances of love. Not to mention the dialogue: Eugenia's rambling explanation about her relationship with her brother is chilling.Read more ›
The second story is more like Possession in that it plays revisionistic (or maybe impressionistic) with Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and his sister Emily through the medium of a medium (that is, a clairvoyant). The point around which the story revolves is Arthur Hallem, the subject of Tennyson's "In Memoriam," a friend of his youth and the betrothed of his sister, who died on a sea voyage when Hallem was twenty-two. Emily, now married, has lingering doubts about her choice of marriage, wondering, if she should have, as her brother's poem snidely implies, spent her days in perpetual maidenhood. Are we destined to have only one soul mate, the other being with which we form 'the conjugal angel'?
Byatt's style is Byzantine. Her scholarship into literary istory has informed her pen to leak the century from its nib, and is not for those married to modernity. Yet her subjects are fresh and vibrant, pictured with painful clarity in the harshest of lights. Her characters ache in-between the lines.
The first novella is set in a fairly conventional Victorian setting, and deals with the themes of man's relationship to the natural world (which here means that we have to think about Darwin and evolution) and whether we really are closer to the angels or the insects in our innate nature.
The hero here marries Eugenia, who appear to be the quintessential Victorian young lady, and finds himself married to a woman who is a breeding machine, also involved in incest. In contrast to her self-absorbed fecundity is Mattie, the governess of the household, who embarks with him on a study of the wood ants in the woods of the estate. Her careful, scientific observations and her logic ultimately win out and the hero leaves with her to explore in the Amazon, foresaking here the life of the ...for Mattie's dry, brisk life of the mind.
The second novella deals with spiritualism (another preoccupation of the late Victorian age) and with the fictional lives of the family and friends of Aldred Tennyson and Arthur Hallam, immortalized in In Memorium. I think without some knowledge of the life of Tennyson and his work this may be a difficult work to figure out--it takes awhile even with the appropriate "literary" context. It is a very strange, ultimately very moving ghost story. I am very impressed with it and still not sure what all of it means.
Most recent customer reviews
The title says it all, the delivery was fast and efficient. The book was in good quality too!Published on April 22 2010 by Taco Trivia
The literary conceit of the book is so great I admit that I am intimated. But baring my ignorance, I will say the book was tedious. Read morePublished on June 7 2002 by Mary T. Dumont
The first book I read by A.S. Byatt was Possession, which remains one of my all-time favorite books. Then I wanted to read more of her work. Read morePublished on Jan. 1 2002 by Amazon Customer
The four stars are for the "Insects" portion of this double novella. The second half, a yawner on spiritualism, can be skipped. Read morePublished on Aug. 3 2001 by Jeff Dunn
Byatt is one of my favourite authors, and her talent for style, subtlety and depth in her narrative are present in these novellas. Read morePublished on July 25 2001 by moonstealer
The first novella, Morpho Eugenia, is an account told in the fashion of a Victorian novel and is set in that time. Read morePublished on Jan. 15 2001 by Eric Anderson
I bought this looking for more of A.S. Byatt based on some Amazon recommendations, so I must write it's NOT her best. Read morePublished on Aug. 15 2000 by J. Case
Shimmering beauty and shocking sensuality are the only phrases to adequately describe A.S. Byatt's Angels and Insects. Read morePublished on July 29 2000