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The Virgin in the Garden
A.S. Byatt
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The Virgin in the Garden (The Frederica Quartet #1)

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  2,499 Ratings  ·  194 Reviews
A wonderfully erudite entertainment in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and contemporary comedy, intersect richly and unpredictably. This tale of a brilliant and eccentric family fatefully divided is sure to please the thousands of readers who made Possession a national bestseller.
Unknown Binding, 428 pages
Published January 1st 1979 by Random House (NY) (first published 1978)
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In 1950s Yorkshire, Frederica Potter, still living at home, senses that something exciting is beginning. Stars Hannah Watkins.

A wealthy theatre director is producing a play and Frederica Potter is desperate to secure a role.

Stephanie is increasingly worried about her brother, Marcus, and the influence a teacher is having on him.

Stephanie and Daniel declare their feelings for each other but her father reacts badly to the news.

In coronation year, Bill Pott
Apr 25, 2009 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If the test of a great novel is that you want to read it again, or pick up the next one (this is the first of a quartet) then this is a good novel. If Still Life—the next title in the quartet—had been right here on the shelf I'd have started it right after I reread the Prologue.

The present time of the novel is 1953, the year of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and, in the world of the novel, of a verse drama about the first Queen Elizabeth enacted on the grounds of an old and elegant estate
Jul 23, 2016 Jonfaith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this one in Chicago and was rather impressed with the juggling of perspectives and the sweeping use of the Jubilee and Elizabeth I throughout. Dovetailing erudion and emotional awkwardness made this a definite success.
Mar 07, 2015 Bloodorange rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk
This probably is the best book I will have read this year. This also is my first Byatt, and I love it.

This book is dense - so dense I picked up a few other books as I was reading it, just to convince myself I did not become a slow reader overnight. Byatt manages her subplots and first-person narratives exceedingly well; the only subplot that seems to belong elsewhere is nicely incorporated towards the end.

But the BIGGEST THING about it is how psychologically true it feels(the psycho-plot aside
Feb 16, 2012 Geoff rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let me get this out of the way: A.S. Byatt is a great writer. Her prose sparkles with learned intelligence, and her characters are sketched so well they feel like living, breathing people. She is unafraid to mix in literary allusions or linger for extended periods of time over one subject or another. Normally, these are qualities I admire in a novelist, and in a different book (this being my first Byatt), I can easily imagine these qualities working brilliantly in her favor.

However, file this o
I'm not sure what prompted me to re-read this but something did. The beauty in the novel is in the use of words and description. The characters, while not flat, have an otherworldly quality about them.

Which is pretty much how we see people in life when you think about it.
Aug 08, 2013 Virginia rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I read this, some time in the mid-1990s, plowed my way through it, wishing it were Possession or Angels and Insects, which it wasn't. The remaining pages got thinner and thinner, and I grew concerned about how things would possibly resolve.

I read the final line, and threw the book across the room.

In the mid-aughts, I read this, grumbling aloud the whole way through by how familiar it all seemed, how angry it made me, thought I couldn't remember why.

I read the final line.

I threw the book across t
Set in Yorkshire in 1952, The Virgin in the Garden tells the story of the Potter family and of those who surround them. The eldest daughter, Stephanie, is a brilliant Cambridge graduate who frustrated her family’s expectations of her by coming back to her home town to teach at a grammar school. She further disappoints her intolerant father by falling in love with the local vicar, Daniel Orton.

From BBC Radio 4 Extra - The Frederica Quartet:

1/30: In 1950s Yorkshire, Frederica Potter, still living
Jun 05, 2007 Siria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love revisiting Byatt's style, whether re-reading or reading new works for the first time, and The Virgin in the Garden doesn't disappoint. Her work is never light reading, but it is beautifully layered and textured, erudite without being overpowering, funny but never really light-hearted; it's language to lose yourself in.

Frederica is the character who goes on to become central in the later books - hence why this forms the first part of the Frederica quartet - but here she's much more part of
Aug 04, 2007 Robin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who liked Possession
Shelves: cont-fiction
A dear friend recommended this to me since I liked Possession, and I fell for it at first blush. The first of a quartet about, hate to be trite here, but the making of a modern Englishwoman. The way each book treats different aspects of art (theater, painting, etc.) is engaging, as is following this cast of characters through -- what, over a decade? You will know these people inside and out and find yourself loving and yelling at them.
Jul 20, 2009 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading
I just re-read this first novel in the Frederica Potter series, and found it even deeper and more impressive than my first reading. It's hard to sum up, but essentially focuses on Frederica at 17, in 1954, the brash, book-loving daughter of a teacher-father with a domineering personality and very firm, progressive ideas. Cast as the young Elizabeth I in an epic drama staged to celebrate Elizabeth II's coronation, Frederica aims to set the world on fire and seduce the playwright, not necessarily ...more
May 28, 2015 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first in the Frederica quartet, and I read it out of order, after having first read #4. It is exquisite and could hardly put it down. Not the least of the fun was staging it during Queen Elizabeth's coronation, 1953, an event that was important to me as a young girl at the time. There is not a single character that is not sharply drawn, believable, and sympathetic--even the "bad" guys. You so understand what motivates these people to do as they do.I love her technique of putting a st ...more
Jun 09, 2015 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is Byatt's third of eleven novels to date, from 1978.

It takes place almost entirely in the early 50s, though with occasional jumps of a decade or two into the future to offer a smattering of the characters' future insights and to poke a hole or two in the fourth wall, referring once to when she actually wrote it, the fact that the ending is at a fairly arbitrary point and so on.

The milieu is a provincial northern town where an aspiring playwright and schoolmaster has the local cultural impr
Ubik 2.0
"La vergine del giardino" (1979), benchè edito in Italia solo nel 2002, è il primo libro di una quadrilogia ["Frederica", dal nome della protagonista] che comprende "Natura morta" (1985), "La torre di Babele" (1996) senza dubbio il migliore dei quattro e "Una donna che fischia" (2001).

Diciassette anni prima di "La Torre di Babele" (e dieci prima del suo capolavoro "Possession") la Byatt non sembra in questo "La vergine del giardino" avere ancora trovato un equilibrio fra la sua erudizione e pass
Jun 23, 2015 Kat rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
England, 1953. Small town Blesford in Yorkshire, private school for boys. Main characters of the novel are school teacher's children, two sisters and a brother. Narrative space: staging of a play about the Virgin Queen.

The village curate is in love with the older sister (who has a militant atheist for a father), both sisters are in love with a young teacher, and their younger brother sees the Divine Light and - out of the corner of his eye - the Eternity.

Wedgewood porcelain and painted vases, se
Dec 11, 2009 veronica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Only the very patient
The Virgin in the Garden was really painful at times. I seriously skipped entire chunks of pages, skimming quickly, and realizing I wasn't missing anything important. Byatt takes herself so. Damn. Seriously. Some authors, like Melville, are difficult without being a pain in the ass, but Byatt can't pull it off. The overindulgent "I'm so smart" allusions, the needlessly confusing action description... so tiresome. But, pieces of the plot were intriguing, and Byatt made a somewhat respectable atte ...more
Jun 20, 2011 Rowena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading A.S. Byatt is a revelation. While this may not be one of her better works, even a sub-par work from Byatt is a grillion times better than the works of other prominent fiction writers today. The Virgin in the Garden tells the story of the Potter family, in particular the youngest daughter Frederica, and a deeply thoughtful playwright who becomes awkwardly enmeshed in the family's affairs. Meanwhile, his play about Elizabeth I (who he seems to have a rather unhealthy obsession with) is bei ...more
Karl Steel
Apr 01, 2009 Karl Steel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2015 Charly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone.
This is my first read of Byatt and I found a wonderful mix of traits from some of my favorite authors in this work. The heroine, if you will, is Frederica, who is a shining star in an otherwise fair dysfunctional family. There are characters from the absurd, there is love, and misdirected romance and there is an ongoing under current of somewhat lounge in cheek humor.

Byatt at times is descriptive of setting to a degree close to distracting but she weaves a wonderful story of personal developmen
Sep 25, 2014 Gail rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel has forced me to pace myself. Like the other Byatt novels I've read, it demands your full attention. Aspects of it - like the Marcus/Lucas storyline - disturbed, irked, and thrilled me in equal measure. At points I felt Byatt was getting just too clever for her own good, only to be jerked back into complete awe by the adroit way in which she weaves seemingly superficially inconsequential with the deeply profound. What starts off feeling tangential soon becomes integral
Kiki Christie
Apr 29, 2014 Kiki Christie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favourites; an homage to both Shakespeare and D.H. Lawerence.
Jan 28, 2015 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book many years ago, and I remember feeling befuddled and disappointed after having thoroughly enjoyed the author's then-recent Possession. I was surprised by what I took to be overly-pedantic literariness, and a lack of compelling plot. I guess I'm closer to Byatt's ideal reader now, since I've become more familiar with most of the authors she repeatedly alludes to--Shakespeare, Spenser, Milton, Jonson, Herbert, Donne, Browning, and Eliot. And maybe just the second time through is e ...more
I embrace Byatt's works like familiar friends every single occasion following my vastly memorable reading of Possession. Her stories are splendid and deliberate, woven with inter-textual references, a tapestry on which the jewels of English language and history glimmer on show. Her every word is sensitive to its poetic inheritance and potential. The Virgin in the Garden is no exception. What I look forward to most in Byatt's work is the way in which a text grows the reader in knowledge and visio ...more
Kara Donnelly
Jan 05, 2015 Kara Donnelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to read The Virgin in the Garden to better understand A.S. Byatt since I'm writing a dissertation chapter on Possession. I some similarities were striking -- Alexander from Virgin wants to live in an empty white room that evokes the fantasies Roland and Maud share in Possession, and this empty space is paralleled by the novels' shared obsession with stuff. If anything, Virgin has more things -- from the vast array of consumer goods Frederica wanders through in the department store the ...more
Apr 22, 2012 Coleen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
5/26/08 - Phew! Difficult read for me, this one was. I haven't read anything quite this "heavy" in a long time. Having not previously read anything else by Byatt (I have Possesion on Mt. TBR), I guess I wasn't quite prepared for the writing style. Indeed -- long, descriptive sentences that went on and on and on. I appreciate good descriptive writing -- I do, but I can only take so much at a time, and thus it took me much longer than expected to get through this book. I found myself skimming thro ...more
Courtney Johnston
Oh my gawd y'all - I just downgraded A.S. Byatt by two stars.

I'm a big Byatt fan. 'Possession' and 'The Biographer's Tale' would probably both make my Top 25 list, if I ever drew it up. But I think my love for some of her books perhaps clouded my retrospective judgement.

Today, 'The Virgin in the Garden' feels over-worked and a bit clunky (the obvious bits of authorial voice most particularly). And the plot around Marcus Potter and Lucas Simmonds just bored me this time round; the denouement is s
Susan Levin
I had loved A.S. Byatt's Possession so apparently, I had purchased this book in 1996 and recently, in a longing to purge out books I probably would never read, I came across this book. I decided to read it. Well, I found that although I love the writing style of the author, the style was so dense that I struggled to keep track of what was happening as I was so distracted by the use of language and how it all held together.

I did read the reviews here at Goodreads and have concluded that I wasn't
Dec 22, 2009 Kristy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did not enjoy this book. The symbolism of Elizabeth/Frederica was unbelievably heavy handed and though I liked her character and the relationship between her and Alexander I thought her brother and sister were incredibly uninteresting. I barely skimmed the sections about Lucas and Marcus--it was so obvious where it was going and really hard to care. I wanted to like this more because it had a lot of what I loved about Possession, namely the exegesis of a written work of art as a character reve ...more
Oct 10, 2010 Nitya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The characters enjoyable, the story good, but... there is so much static in this book. Which might be great for English lit grads, who can pick up on these nuances or enjoy the critiques and arguments, but not for people like me whose love of books is restricted (more or less) to more modern-day, contemporary classics and have never formally studied literature. And the long, tedious descriptions of mere physical objects; her propensity for lists! Gah. I think this might be the last Byatt I read.
Oct 27, 2009 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel, the first in the "Frederica quartet," was much less compelling than Byatt's "Possession." "The Virgin in the Garden" was a novel with some interesting ideas, but it lacked narrative drive. The main drama seemed to involve the question of whether Frederica would lose her virginity with Alexander, which for me was just about as compelling as watching the QVC shopping channel for an hour. Or two.
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UK Amazon Kindle ...: A.S. Byatt 8 29 Jan 31, 2013 09:16AM  
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A.S. Byatt (Antonia Susan Byatt) is internationally known for her novels and short stories. Her novels include the Booker Prize winner Possession, The Biographer’s Tale and the quartet, The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, Babel Tower and A Whistling Woman, and her highly acclaimed collections of short stories include Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Ey ...more
More about A.S. Byatt...

Other Books in the Series

The Frederica Quartet (4 books)
  • Still Life
  • Babel Tower
  • A Whistling Woman

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