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Angels And Insects [Paperback]

A S Byatt
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

21 Oct 1993
Morpho Eugenia and The Conjugal Angel are two fascinating novellas and, like A. S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession, they are set in the mid-nineteenth century, weaving fact and fiction, reality and romance.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (21 Oct 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099224313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099224310
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 12.9 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 136,616 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A.S. Byatt is internationally known as a novelist, short-story writer and critic. Her novels include Possession (winner of the Booker Prize in 1990), and the quartet of The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, as well as The Shadow of the Sun, The Game and The Biographer's Tale. Her latest novel, The Children's Book, is shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009. She is also the author of two novellas, published together as Angels and Insects, and four collections of stories, and has co-edited Memory: An Anthology.

Educated at York and Newnham College, Cambridge, she taught at the Central School of Art and Design, and was Senior Lecturer in English at University College, London, before becoming a full-time writer in 1983. She was appointed CBE in 1990 and DBE in 1999.

Product Description


"Her plot is as compelling as that of a classical detective story, but it is the quality of the writing - its use and unity of metaphor, its sensuous language, its wit and intellectual playfulness - which renders it remarkable" (Amanda Craig Literary Review)

"A. S. Byatt is one of our finest living novelists, who manages to tease and to satisfy both the intellect and the imagination ... I am already a convinced admirer of the works of A. S. Byatt. ANGELS & INSECTS should win over many more enthusiasts" (Caroline Moore Daily Telegraph)

"Victorian and fun ... marvellous and maddening ... a display and a delight" (Nicci Gerrard Observer)

"Her best work to date" (Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

These two Victoriana novellas are both exquisite evocations of the period and magically timeless stories, full of the humour and poetry peculiar to A. S. Byatt's prose.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fly like an angel, sting like a bee 25 Mar 2004
A.S. Byatt is best known for her lush, time-spanning historical romance "Possession." In "Angels and Insects: Two Novellas," Byatt revisits the intellectuals of the Victorian era. She dips into Victorian interests in spiritualism, insects, poetry and love -- not to mention their darker sides as well.
"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.
Perhaps best of this collection is that Byatt has a fantastic grasp on period descriptions and dialogue -- it all sounds like a novel from the 19th centuy, with the polish of a modern book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy, languid novellas 3 Mar 2004
These novellas read a bit like Virginia Woolf, as multi-layered, but earthier.
The first in this collection was wonderful. The mood is languid and slightly melancholy, the plot ambles along amidst interesting characterisations and beautiful descriptions round off the narrative, with a subtle twist at the end.
The second, while beautifully written, was a triumph of style over plot. The forbidden undercurrents somewhat redeem the novella though, and Tennyson's personal history provides some of the structure in this otherwise overly slow tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant in parts 8 July 2009
I can only review the first of the novellas, "Morpho Eugenia".
Byatt is known for the large amount of research she does for each book... and a tendancy to want to put it all on display! Perhaps there is rather too much about insect names in here, irrelevant to the plot and somewhat tedious. However, there is also, fortunately, much to enjoy.
The plight of William the poor northern Naturalist was a credible enough premise, and I enjoyed the intellectual debates between him and his wealthy father-in-law. I was however puzzled why the old man needed Wiliam's help to set down his opinions, and why he felt such a failure over the results. The father's compositon set out in full here (incorporating Tennyson's poetry) was surely worthy of being printed in many a journal or magazine of the day.
I liked the analogy of the ant colony as a comparison with the workings of the house. The skullery maid and her daily duty of beetle collecting was a nicely Hardyesque touch, as was her tragic fate (like Fanny in Far From the Madding Crowd.)
The writing of William and Matty's ant book was well done, especially the ambitious, provocative coda which mused on freedom of action and predestination.
Best of all were the moments that poetically illustrated the emotions of the characters. The clouds of butterflies and moths, in the context of William and Eugenia's attraction, was a very powerful scene, again worthy of Hardy. Sadly, some of the rest of the story failed to come up to such a standard. Overall it was not the sum of its highly promising parts.
The plot twist featuring the brother had shock value, but was undone with the fatuous inclusion of the INSECT anagram in the following scene. It seemed too contrived, and I felt manipulated bythe author.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Watch the Old Butterflies Flutter 29 Jan 2001
By A Customer
The first novella, Morpho Eugenia, is an account told in the fashion of a Victorian novel and is set in that time. William Anderson is a natural scientist, survivor of a shipwreck returning from his journeys of scientific exploration in the Amazons. Son of Adam of the garden of Eden living in the time where Darwinism is overcoming a long history of fervent religiosity. He is devoted above all to his study of science but finds himself at the novella's start in financial destitution, but has lucked upon the Alabasters, the father of whom is an avid collector of insects and natural life. William is more or less employed by him and inevitably falls in love with his daughter. They marry and William wishes he had found his happy ending. This is where the traditional Victorian novel would have ended it seems; though the complexity of the affair would have been drawn out further. If this had been all there was to the novel, it would have been a great disappointment by only touching upon the novella's major subjects the struggle between religion & science, class conflicts and inhibited sexuality. But instead William finds himself unsatisfied with his happy ending life and dives deeply into the local insect world of ants alongside the withdrawn and mysterious Matty Crompton. Subsequently, each of the issues is explored much more deeply and their entire world is revealed to be some sort of perverse fable with which William becomes thoroughly disgusted yet he is incapable of leaving by his own will. Only by Miss Compton's strength is he able to extricate himself from the Alabaster's swamp. This seems to be a strong comment on many Victorian novels that allowed women to transcend their fated circumstances only through the assistance of a man. Read more ›
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