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Angels and Insects

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  5,384 ratings  ·  337 reviews
In these breathtaking novellas, A.S. Byatt returns to the territory she explored in Possession: the landscape of Victorian England, where science and spiritualism are both popular manias, and domestic decorum coexists with brutality and perversion. Angels and Insects is "delicate and confidently ironic.... Byatt perfectly blends laughter and sympathy [with] extraordinary s ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 29th 1994 by Vintage (first published October 19th 1992)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  5,384 ratings  ·  337 reviews

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Sep 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: victorian-novels
A S Byatt goes back again to the Victorian era she writes about so well and has put two novellas together. “Morpho Eugenia” and “The Conjugial Angel”. Both are well written and as always Byatt makes excellent use of poetry; especially Tennyson’s In Memoriam in the second novella.
Morpho Eugenia (the Latin name for a South American moth) is about William Adamson and Amazonian explorer who has returned and is consulting with Lord Alabaster, a cleric who is also obsessed with moths, butterflies, ins
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'My name', she said, 'is Matilda. Up here at night there is no Matty. Only Matilda. Look at Me.'

The above is dialogue from the book's first novella, Morpho Eugenia, and eerily echoes a recent read of mine, which eerily echoed another novel I read not too long ago. While an overall theme of Morpho Eugenia is the dichotomy between the male protagonist's present life with a Victorian English family and his past experiences in the Amazon, Matty/Matilda is revealed as a patient, reckoning forc
Aug 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: Teresa
As a fourth read from her, this helps confirm Byatt as among my favorite authors. All complex, rich, and mesmerizing. This pair of novellas was published together in 1992, soon after Booker Prize winner “Possession.” The blurb on the cover did a good job hooking me (and mystifying me with semi-spoilers in distorted compression):

The shipwrecked naturalist who is the protagonist of “Morpho Eugenia” is rescued by a family whose clandestine passions come to seem as inscrutable as the behavior of ins
May 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
Angels and Insects is comprised of two novellas. Morpho Eugenia is the first of such and within it, the hero states, "You may argue anything at all by analogy, Sir, and so consequently nothing." This deft piece had me cheering for Matty Crompton, a real badass, and pondering these lengthy explorations into entomology as a reflection for Victorian (or our own) folly. As noted, I saw the film almost 20 years ago and was prepared for the development which lists the plot akimbo. Such didn't leave th ...more
Jul 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neo-victorian
I quickly skimmed the first page of the other reader reviews of this book and discovered that my opinion in comparing the two novellas that comprise it is opposite of most readers. It seems most readers (from the top page, at least) prefer the first novella, "Morpho Eugenia" (the "Insects" section) to "The Conjugal Angel" (the "Angels" section).

For me, "Morpho Eugenia" was a little disappointing. I don't always need to be surprised by what I read, but the characters in this novella were a bit to
The Eleventh Hour
Hmmm. I'm really torn about this book. On the one hand, the writing was excellent. On the other, it was very bizarre. Lots of insect imagery and themes in the first story, Morpho Eugenia. I felt it was…too much, however.

Although the writing itself was exquisite, I just think I don’t like A.S. Byatt’s style very well. She has a way of telling stories that I find to be very off-putting. She’ll start the story - getting the narrative ball rolling and making me like all of the characters - and then
Apr 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
It took me a long, long time to read this. It was dense, and had characters that seemed flat and lifeless due to being secondary to the message the author was exploring. I get that the Insects were a metaphor for mankind, but exploring that took too long and just wasn't enough to hold my interests for an entire story.

This is two stories in one, the first I pushed through and read all of, the second I started and got lost from the very first sentence. They have wings. They're doing seances (my le
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
A.S. Byatt, with Angels & Insects, has created a rich and complex book comprised of two medium-length novellas set in the mid-1860s and 1870s, both of which address themes important to the people of the Victorian Era. The first novella, Morpho Eugenia focuses on the relationships between a family, its friends, servants, and the natural world around them in the English countryside. The tale pivots around the study of society and nature, and then there's the tension and struggle between theology a ...more
Moses Kilolo
Mar 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Life does get busy sometimes...

But in the midst of it all to curl up with a book like Angels and Insects is a pure delight. I must confess that A.S. Byatt is a favorite of mine, and I came in these novellas expecting a lot, of sensuousness in words, of depth in insight and mystery in story telling. I got more - in fact, about possibly everything, death, life, love and betrayal, and the afterlife, and so much more. Which all made me pause in awe, what a fine mind this lady has...

The first novella
I picked up Angels & Insects mainly for its second novella, which is about spiritualism and a seance, and as such interests me greatly. All I knew about the first novella was that it had something to do with insects and the Victorian era, and I'd give it a shot.
Well, that first novella blew me out of the freaking water. 5/5 stars for sure. The twists! The prose! The unadulterated yearning! The talk about insects, which I thought would be somewhat boring, rendered incredibly interesting! That end
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
This is a beautifully written book. The first story concerns a man who, shipwrecked, finds a new home with a collector of specimens from such places as the Amazon; the man becomes entangled in the family, inevitably uncovering some dirty secrets, all the while trying to find his purpose. There's some philosophical musing, and several long digressions on ants, as well as extensive excerpts from contemporary literature, religious works etc. I would have preferred fewer excerpts and more original t ...more
Jul 14, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2013
There are very few authors in my mind that even come close to having the command of language Byatt has and, rarer still, she is an author that credits her reader with as much intelligence as she herself possesses.

That being said, "Angels and Insects" just didn't deliver for me. It's wonderfully written (of course) but it didn't quite enrapture me the way Byatt's other novels and short stories, in particular, have.

There are two novellas within the book which explore, in turn, the Victorian fascin
Jan 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
I read the first half, Morpho Eugenia, and found it predictable and pretentious. The author digresses into lengthy descriptions of insect life and inserts pseudo fairy tales, which are extremely symbolic but don't forward the plot at all. In the end it seems these passages were shoehorned into the story, which would have kept movement and flow had they been taken out. Some of the prose is gorgeous, and the characters are convincingly Victorian, but I couldn't bring myself to read the second half ...more
Well. This is it. My first review written since the Electoral College decided the will of the people didn't mean shit. Am I scared? Yes. Am I angry? Yes. Will this interfere with my reading? Rate-wise, probably. Make-up wise, however, I've been practicing my avoidance of white male authored lit for so long that I can't make as much of a dramatic shift in reading habits as I could have a year or two ago. I could start dedicating successive reads to authors whose people are going to have even bigg ...more
Althea Ann
Jun 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Angels and Insects - A.S. Byatt
(Morpho Eugenia and The Conjugial Angel)

This is really two books in one, joined only by the most tenuous of
The first, Morpho Eugenia, is the story that the 1995 movie 'Angels &
Insects' tells. The film follows the plot of the book faithfully, which
definitely influenced my reading of the book. A shipwrecked naturalist,
William Adamson, is befriended by a wealthy Victorian gentleman, who
invites him to stay at his estate. The naturalist falls in
These are two novellas in one volume. The first one Morpho Eugenia, was made into an esthetically stunning I thought Angels and Insects movie in 1995. I was really fond of the movie when it came out but haven't seen it since. The book was a nice review of it, plus. Really nicely written, clever novel of ideas, very skillfully woven to be satisfying at both intellectual and emotional levels.
On the other hand, I couldn't get into the second novella at all. Like the first one, it's also set in Vi
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Very impressed. Byatt has clearly sold her soul to the devil. That said, it must be conceded that these stories are not for the impatient. Not everyone is going to be charmed by endless descriptions of ant activity, Tennyson's poetry, Swedenborgian theology, and a somewhat unremarkable fable "written" by one of the characters, but everything comes together so neatly, you finally have to stand up and applaud. Best of all, both stories conclude with happy, dare I say exuberant, endings. This writi ...more
May 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
loved this so with all I've read of her so far, worth the work. ...more
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-for-fun
The first, "Morpho Eugenia", was... interesting. Byatt was playing, quite heavy-handedly, with notions of whiteness, civilisation, and purity. It's very obvious that she was doing it on purpose - the rich English countryfolk whom Our Hero falls in with are the family of Lord and Lady Alabaster. You don't pull that trick accidentally. And she did manage to write a story about a Victorian-era explorer of the Amazon who's fixated on the whiteness of his whitepeople hosts without, so far as I could ...more
Morpho Eugenia is an amazing piece of literary craftsmanship. It reads straight through as a great romance story and family drama. In hindsight everything shifts into another register. Byatt composed extensive passages of scientific and ethical dialogues that read like quotations from the Victorian period. They're preoccupied with Victorian concerns but Byatt uses them to construct a very contemporary post-modern dialogue on the limitations of analogy and anthropocentrism. And they do triple dut ...more
I'd seen the film, 'Angels & Insects' a few years ago and really liked it and so when I saw the book in a secondhand bookshop a little while ago I picked it up and thought I'd read it instead of watching the film again.

The first thing is that the book is actually two novellas, the insects novella is first, 'Morpho Eugenia' and the angels novella is next, 'The Conjugial Angel'. The film is based on the first novella.

I would've given the film 4/5 but 'Morpho Eugenia' only 3/5. A.S. Byatt seems to
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book contains two novellas, "Morpho Eugenia" and "The Conjugal Angel." The first is a suspenseful and shocking Gothic tale of a young man's gradual enlightenment about the depths of depravity in his wife's family. The second is a comic and whimsical story of Alfred Lord Tennyson's sister Emily at a seance (which was an extremely popular thing to do in the 19th century) meeting up with the spirit of Arthur Henry Hallam, the person her brother mourned in his famous poem, "In Memoriam."

The jo
Pip  Tlaskal
I read this in French and for a very literary author it was surprisingly easy to read. Could be the translation, or more likely the wonderfully clear, limpid writing that holds you spellbound. It is set in late Victorian times and deals with one of the passions of the age; collecting specimens of the natural world and classifying them as meticulously as their own society was ordered. Unfortunately for the hero William, he is pinned by poverty upon the whims of the wealthy Alabaster family who sn ...more
Jan 19, 2016 rated it liked it
The rating and review only pertain to the first novella, Morpho Eugenia I was interested to read Morpho Eugenia because I watched the film adaptation "Angels and Insects". The film was a very faithful adaptation of the novella, meaning that reading the book after seeing the movie took away any suspense and intrigue their might have been. The writing style is enjoyable and very evocative of the Victorian setting, but the pacing is strange. The narrative is often interrupted by poems or texts (fic ...more
May 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Must be completely honest - I've read "Angels & Insects" halfway - just can't get through "The Conjugal Angel" it's just brutally weird. My eyes read the words but my brain goes "Aggh! Can't compute - the names, the plot, the details, aggh- they just don't work!" I do love the first story - the characters of William and Amy and Matty come through clear as a bell. Just rip the book in half, place the first half on your must-read-again shelf and the last on the maybe-on-a-long-weekend-and-there-is ...more
Feb 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
NOT A REVIEW: I am floored. This is writing of the highest caliber. I love the way Byatt builds a plot. The elements and events combine in such a natural way that, when the crisis comes, I think, "That is perfect." I do so love an author who draws so greedily from Tennyson and Dante. Tennyson is indeed a character in the latter novella of this pair, his friends and relations being main characters. Brava! ...more
Sep 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautiful! I love the coherence between this book and Possession. I love how A.S. Byatt's writing fuses poetry and prose. I love the times in which her stories take place. That's all I have to say. ...more
Jul 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Everyone else seems more impressed by the title story, but I love "The Conjugal Angel" best. ...more
Aug 31, 2018 rated it liked it
3.25 A sharp divide between the two novellas for me. The first was everything I love about Byatt, the second was everything that rubs me the wrong way.

Morpho Eugenia - 4.5
There is a deep sense of mystery built in the opening 25 pages. There is so much that Byatt does not tell us that I wanted to know. Who is this family? What are they like? We only get the smallest snippets, and it builds a wonderful undercurrent of anticipation. And, at the end, the mystery is revealed. (I guessed correctly)

Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I only had time to finish the first story of the book, that which focused on the insects.

Byatt´s writing is beautiful. Her storytelling is mesmerizing.

I am glad I finally took the time to read her books because I am in love with her stories, the way she conveys her worlds, describes the people, their feelings and actions. I really enjoyed the frame narrative of the first story - how the experiments and discoveries in the characters´ real life were interlaced into a wonderful little fairy tail fu
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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

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