- Paperback: 576 pages
- Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (1 Dec. 1994)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0099478013
- ISBN-13: 978-0099478010
- Product Dimensions: 12.8 x 3.5 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 237,628 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Virgin In The Garden Paperback – 1 Dec 1994
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"Large, complex, ambitious, humming with energy and ideas... A remarkable achievement" (Iris Murdoch)
"Comic, well plotted, immensely touching... Gaudy excitement and splendour" (The Times)
"One to be reckoned with. It cannot be glibly praised or readily dismissed; it is, massively, there, and demands serious consideration" (Financial Times)
"An ambitious novel [whose] narrative everywhere displays knowledge and intelligence" (Times Literary Supplement)
Enlightenment and sexuality intersect in this novel from the Booker Prize winning author of Possession and The Children's BookSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Don't be put off, though: this is a great read; often funny, occasionally shockingly dark, and featuring a main character who is very much a heroine to cheer for (all the more so since Byatt goes out of her way to make her seem obnoxious). Frederica Potter is a marvellous creation: freakishly intelligent and hardened to unpopularity at school, she combines an overwhelming confidence in her own abilities with late adolescent gawkiness - a very winning combination for the reader, if not for the other characters ("that awful girl"). The main plot strand concerns Frederica's often comic attempts to lose her virginity while starring in a verse drama about the Virgin Queen, which is being put on for the coronation of the second Elizabeth. Set against this is the (terrifying) mental breakdown and folie a deux of Frederica's brother Marcus and his biology teacher; and their sister Stephanie's choice of marriage and domesticity over an academic career.
All of Byatt's usual themes are here: ways of "seeing" (Marcus' visionary experiences are frightening glimpses into another universe, terrifically well written); the dangers (particularly for women) of "not being seen"; the hazards of family life. The backdrop of the Fifties is beautifully conjured, and the characters are complex and fascinating. Not always an easy read; but it turns out to be something of a page-turner having got over that difficult first step of actually opening it and starting it. Highly recommended.
With a combination like this, there is always a tension. Do you whip through to find out what happens? Or do you control yourself and give the book, as art, as philosophy, as psychology, the attention it deserves? A friend, who normally has no time for Eng Lit, solved this by skipping all the poetry in "Possession" and promising herself a revisit - not a bad compromise. I've read "The Virgin" twice, slowly, listened to at least two radio adaptations and will be going back for more later.
"The Virgin" is the first of the "Frederica Quartet", the rest being "Still Life", "Babel Tower" and "A Whistling Woman". I wouldn't term Frederica a heroine, indeed, the characters are all so true to life, such a mixture of good and bad, that the notion of heroism is inappropriate, but at seventeen she is certainly purposeful. She is desperate to loose her virginity, play a leading role in a verse drama written by the man she's besotted with and do well in her A-levels. She is also tough, able to withstand her mercurial father and her unpopularity at school, fierce and full of energy.
As a somewhat androgynous redhead, she is partner to that other virgin, Elizabeth 1, who is the subject of the verse drama, which is to be performed in the gardens of a local country house as part of the celebration of the coronation of the second Elizabeth.Read more ›
It doesn't sound like a recipe for a great reading experience but we are soon pulled into the narrative. Will Alexander's pageant be a success or a dramatic disaster? Surely Stephanie the atheist won't marry Daniel (the somewhat dull church minister)? And to whom will the precocious and dislikeable Frederica lose her virginity?
The Virgin in the Garden is a challenging read in parts with many references to classical mythology. She writes with a terrifying mix of comic and cringe-worthy episodes - such as the descent into madness of Lucas and the attempted seduction of Frederica by Ed the travelling salesman.
A tough read in parts but it is worth the effort and I look forward to reading the next three books.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Overall score 5.9/10
Choice comments: “Story actually interesting but hard to read. Too many irrelevant boring long passages that were completely meaningless to me. Read more
This is not an easy book. Sometimes, especially in the first quarter, descriptive passages are grossly overwritten. Read morePublished on 9 Dec. 2012 by mr blue
A verse drama celebrating the life of Queen Elizabeth I is performed in 1953, at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Read morePublished on 17 Jan. 2012 by William Jordan
I actually read Still Life first which is the sequel to this and i'm rather glad I did as I therefore needed no introduction to the characters here and certain scenes were far more... Read morePublished on 19 Jun. 2010 by Loupop
An unbelievably pretentious book. It was as if A. S. Byatt had swallowed a thesaurus and needed to get every word from it into this book. Read morePublished on 9 May 2010 by K. O'Brien
Seriously, one of the most boring books I have ever read. I expected a lot after reading (and loving) Possession, but was bitterly disappointed. Read morePublished on 8 May 2010 by S. Meissler
This large and ambitious novel of ideas is the first in A S Byatt's `Frederica Quartet'. It is a beautiful and intelligent recreation of provincial Yorkshire life in the year of... Read morePublished on 29 Jan. 2009 by Trevor Coote