Brittini Smith's Reviews > Blue Angel

Blue Angel by Francine Prose
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Feb 15, 11


Blue Angel, Francine Prose, HarperCollins Publishers, 2000

Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel opens with Ted Swenson, an average professor of a creative writing class at Euston, a small college isolated in the Northeast Kingdom. Enter Angela Argo, a quiet, uniquely dressed girl with neon colors in her red hair and facial piercings covering most of her face. An unlikely match for a sexual harassment case, but nonetheless Prose has depicted Swenson’s character as the perfectly average professor, husband, colleague, and friend who still winds up with sexual desires for one of his students after becoming immensely transfixed by her writing style.

Prose’s major strength in this novel is how she depicts the main character Swenson. We’re reading from his point of view, which creates an atmosphere of uncertainty when reading into Swenson’s character. Prose continuously contradicts Swenson’s character; making it apparent that he loves his wife Sherrie and has never lied to her before, but he is seemingly attracted to every woman he comes in contact with in the novel. Magda, his best friend who he had a fling with once, Lauren, the leader of a Faculty-Student women’s group who he checks out at a dinner party, and of course Angela, the student he engages in sexual activity with.

This attraction to every woman was both vital and not vital to the novel because while it continued to show the kind of man Swenson was throughout, I feel like the fact that he would have relations with a student was apparent from the beginning when the meeting about sexual harassment foreshadowed his later actions.

While we get the sense that Angela is not attractive from Prose’s description of her, Swenson is solely attracted to her writing which makes him want her. Because he’s having writers block, her novel becomes appealing to him, which in turn leads him to pursue her.

The only woman in the novel whom Swenson does not have an attraction to is his daughter Ruby. Ruby has an underlying hatred for her father for breaking up her relationship. We know this from the beginning, and even see the distant relationship she has with her father vaguely when she visits for Thanksgiving. However, when Angela convicts Swenson of sexual harassment at the end of the novel with a recording of his confession, we learn from Ruby’s ex-boyfriend (Angela’s current) that Swenson molested Ruby as a child. This accusation is never confirmed, so the reader is left to interpret if it is true or not depending on how they view Swenson’s character.

While Prose wants us to have an uncertain view of Swenson, I tended to not sympathize with him. While we know he is a well-respected colleague who would not hurt his wife, he still has relations with his student! At the trial, he knows there is nothing he can do to redeem himself. “This is Swenson’s big chance to make his Dostoyevskian confession of sin, his impassioned, reckless plea for forgiveness and redemption. And in fact, Swenson is sorry.” He tries to justify it, tries to tell himself it was nothing, but in context, it is wrong. He’s not only committed adultery, he’s engaged in sex with a student of his which causes him to lose his job, his marriage, and his dignity.
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