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The Gate of Angels Paperback – 30 Jan 2014

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; New Ed edition (30 Jan. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000654360X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006543602
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 1.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 27,996 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Penelope Fitzgerald was one of the most elegant and distinctive voices in British fiction. Three of her novels, The Bookshop, The Beginning of Spring and The Gate of Angels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. She won the Prize in 1979 for Offshore. Her last novel, The Blue Flower, was the most admired novel of 1995, chosen no fewer than nineteen times in the press as the 'Book of the Year'. It won America's National Book Critics' Circle Award.
She died in April 2000, at the age of eighty three.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Penelope Fitzgerald wanted to call her 1990 novel "Mistakes Made by Scientists". On the other hand, she laughingly likened it to a Harlequin doctor-nurse romance. The truth about The Gate of Angels is somewhere in between. The doctor, Fred Fairly, is indeed a young Cambridge scientist, and the nurse, Daisy Saunders, has been ejected from a London hospital. If Fred is to win her love, he must make an appropriately melodramatic sacrifice--leaving the academic sanctum of St Angelicus, a college where all females, even pussycats, are banished ("though the starlings couldn't altogether be regulated").

Daisy, however, suffers from a very non-Harlequin malady, the sort found only in Fitzgerald: "All her life she had been at a great disadvantage in finding it so much more easy to give than to take. Hating to see anyone in want, she would part without a thought with money or possessions, but she could accept only with the caution of a half-tamed animal." Self- protection is certainly not this young woman's strong suit, but we admire her endurance. At one moment, Fred points out that "women like to live on their imagination". Daisy's response? "It's all they can afford, most of them."

Set in Cambridge and London in 1912, The Gate of Angels is a love story and a novel of ideas. Fred, a rector's son, has abandoned religion for observable truths, whereas the undereducated Daisy is a Christian for whom the truth is entirely relative. The novel's strengths lie in what we have come to expect from Fitzgerald: a blend of the hilarious, the out-of-kilter, and the intellectually and emotionally provocative. She confronts her characters with chaos (theoretical and magical), women's suffrage and seemingly impossible choices, and we can by no means be assured of a happy outcome. "They looked at each other in despair, and now there seemed to be another law or regulation by which they were obliged to say to each other what they did not mean and to attack what they wished to defend."

Fitzgerald's novel also records the onslaught of the modern on traditions and beliefs it will fail to obliterate entirely: women as second-class citizens and a class-ridden society in which the poor suffer deep financial and moral humiliation. The author sees the present pleasures--Cambridge jousts in which debaters must argue not what they believe but its exact opposite--and is often charmed by them. But under the light surface, she proffers an elegant meditation on body and soul, science and imagination, choice and chance. Her characters, as ever, are originals, and even the minor players are memorable: one of Fred's fellows, the deeply incompetent Skippey, is "loved for his anxiety", because he makes others feel comparatively calm.

Fitzgerald fills all of her period novels with odd, charming, and disturbing facts and descriptions. Some, like the catalogue of killing medicines Daisy administers, are strictly researched and wittily conveyed: "Over-prescriptions brought drama to the patients' tedious day. Too much antimony made them faint, too much quinine caused buzzing in the ears, too much salicylic acid brought on delirium…" Others are the product of microscopic observation, that is, imagination. Fred's family home is in hyperfertile Blow Halt, a place where no one thinks to buy vegetables, so free are they for the taking. But within this paradise, his mother and sisters are sewing banners for women's suffrage, and nature launches a quiet threat: "Twigs snapped and dropped from above, sticky threads drifted across from nowhere, there seemed to be something like an assassination, on a small scale, taking place in the tranquil heart of summer."


‘Reading a Penelope Fitzgerald novel is like being taken for a ride in a peculiar kind of car. Everything is of top quality – the engine, the coachwork and the interior all fill you with confidence. Then, after a mile or so, someone throws the steering-wheel out of the window.’ Sebastian Faulks

‘Wise and ironic, funny and humane, Fitzgerald is a wonderful, wonderful writer.’ David Nicholls

‘A book which delights, amuses, disturbs and provokes reflection, in equal measure. It is a triumph of craftmanship, intelligence and sensibility.’ Scotsman

‘Contains more wit, intelligence and feeling than many novels three times its length.’ Observer

‘Formidable… no writer is more engaging than Penelope Fitzgerald.’ Spectator

‘Penelope Fitzgerald writes books whose imaginative wholeness and whose sense of what language can suggest is magical. Whichever way you twist the lens of this kaleidoscopic book, you see fresh things freshly.’ Evening Standard

‘The book is short and full of activity. The story moves swiftly in unexpected directions. It is inspiring, funny and touching.’ LRB

‘Gilbert could have written this and Sullivan set it to music. It shows an Edwardian university at Cambridge at its eccentric best. There are so many characters that are a delight. So many foibles and so much fancifying. Fitzgerald is the only author I know who regularly gets reviews pleading her to write longer books.’ Daily Mail

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Trevor Coote on 14 Mar. 2008
Format: Paperback
Penelope Fitzgerald gives a salutary lesson in how to write a novel: concise but never superficial, intelligent but not condescending, moving but not cloying, witty but not smug. It takes a writer of the highest quality (Iris Murdoch, A S Byatt) to succeed with a historical novel and this book is a success. Set in the musty, cloistered world of Edwardian academia Gate of the Angels addresses fundamental issues such as the class divide, religious doubt in the face of scientific advancement, and women's role in society, as well as specifically contemporary issues such as universal suffrage. That the author achieves this without the grating pomposity of so many English novelists who write in the same milieu is most satisfying.
Fred Fairly, a physics lecturer, is ensconced in a tiny Cambridge college in which women are not admitted and where the academics must remain unmarried and, by inference, celibate. But when Fred is involved in a mundane accident he falls in love with the other victim, a lonely and isolated young nurse who has made a well-meaning but unfortunate error of judgement in her life. Their lives are told in two separate stories which gradually merge. The authenticity is such that the reader is transported into the Edwardian world without the aid of clichéd signposts or forced language. Always absorbing, it is a love story delivered with the utmost facility in elegant and precise language, and with real but unsentimental emotion. My copy came with the somewhat disturbing claim: `Brought to you by Woman's Journal', but don't let that put you off.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Dec. 2000
Format: Paperback
The Gate of Angels was written by Penelope Fitzgerald. The prize-winning novel is about physicist Fred Fairly and nurse Daisy Saunders. It presents a myriad of intriguing characters and side stories. The novel, set in England in the year 1912, is essentially a love story between Daisy and Fred. Fred works at the College of St. Angelicus. He meets Daisy through a bike accident. He falls in love with her right away, and then pursues her. Fred undergoes trials and tribulations in trying to get Daisy to marry him. Unfortunately for him, he never does before the novel ends.
What separates this book from others with a similar theme is the way Fitzgerald's novel diverges into two separate stories, and then comes together at the end. It is a biography of both Fred and Daisy, but also a love story.
However, this format also made it confusing for me to read at times. The chapters constantly switch from the present to the past, and vice versa. I needed to go back, after reading the book, and actually put the events in chronological order for everything to make sense. This format is unlike any other novel I have ever read. Once everything made sense to me, I realized just how deep this book really is. It is complex, and presents basic dilemmas. Overall, it is well-deserving of the Booker Prize it won.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Lockwood on 2 Jan. 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Beautifully written, Penelope Fitzgerald's precise, taut prose tells a gentle story of two ordinary people who meet by chance in 1912 Cambridge. He is a fellow at a college of the University, the son of a country rector. She is a girl from a poor background, with nothing and no one in the world but her own determination and resourcefulness to guide her through life.

There is not a word superfluous to the text. The author's use of language is surprising at times, but always deliberate. The story is compelling and the characters real and likeable. I am always sorry to reach the end of a Penelope Fitzgerald novel or short story, knowing that there is a finite supply of them left for me to read!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Keen Reader TOP 50 REVIEWER on 13 April 2014
Format: Paperback
“… the strangely tall and narrow gate, as old as the college itself, in the south-west wall.”

This is a wonderful, exquisite book which gets inside your soul and takes you on a delightful journey. In 1912, Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at the College of St Angelicus at Cambridge University has come to the conclusion that science will provide all the answers that humankind could want. His father, a vicar takes Fred’s revelation calmly and advises Fred to find the answers he needs. When Fred is involved in a bicycle accident along with a young lady by the name of Daisy, Fred finds himself questioning quite what is important in life.

There is a lot to take in from this relatively short book, at just over 200 pages. Not one word the author has written is wasted; there is pathos, humour, wit, sorrow, and around it all the revolutions of lives in the last blissful and naïve years in the early twentieth century. Just a joy to read, this book offers insights into us all.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This a charming story of love at first sight, set in Cambridge in 1912. Fred and Daisy meet as the result of a bicycling accident. It happens on the outskirts of town when a horse and cart suddenly career out of a farm entrance and scatter three cyclists: Fred, Daisy (who had never met before) and a third party (known to Daisy)who was uninjured. Fred and Daisy are taken by the farmer's son to a nearby house where they are put to bed, more or less unconscious, by the kindly owners. When they wake up Fred at once decides that Daisy is the girl for him.

Fred is a physicist and Fellow of a College, St Angelicus, a strictly male establishment (like the Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece). Daisy comes from a poor background, a trainee nurse from Blackfriars Hospital in London, from which she has recently been unfairly dismissed, and has come to Cambridge looking for work in a local Hospital.

The story revolves around this mundane and somewhat mysterious event. Fred, who has come off worst is taken to a cottage hospital. Unfortunately Daisy has disappeared by the time he is up and about.

However there is much, much more to the story. It deals with the inevitable conflict between science and religious faith, democracy and universal suffrage and women's rights; and not least the absurd restrictions of life without women in St. Angelicus. (Nowhere however is there any hint of the impending European catastrophe 1914-18.)

In the end however Fred does catch up with Daisy, but only by chance! A truly 5* read.
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