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The Virgin in the Garden

(The Frederica Quartet #1)

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  2,999 ratings  ·  243 reviews
The Virgin in the Garden is a wonderfully erudite entertainment in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and contemporary comedy, intersect richly and unpredictably.
Paperback, 428 pages
Published January 15th 1992 by Vintage (first published 1978)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  2,999 ratings  ·  243 reviews

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Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
May 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: BBC Radio Listeners

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
Aug 17, 2013 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 asid
Jun 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2015 marked it as abandoned
I am not rating this novel since I am abandoning it at page 64. Nothing in me could face any more of this...and, unfortunately I have the other three in this series on my shelf, so it amounts to ditching four books. Still, life is short and this could not be less engaging to me.

I LOVED Possession so much that I could not envision not liking something she had written. Sadly, this backfired on me this time.

Not putting the read dates in either, since I do not want it to count toward my yearly total
Feb 18, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Took a while to warm to this story but it managed to exceed my expectations. I do enjoy the style and delivery of this author, the multi layering of her novels.

This is the story of a young Frederica Potter and her very dysfunctional family. The novel is set in 1953 on the eve of the Queen's coronation. A great cast of characters on offer from the strong willed but quite selfish Frederica to Marcus, her fragile but gifted younger brother.

Enjoyed this as much as Possession.
Aug 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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.
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
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
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very English, quirky and witty, unromantic, more reference to Elizabeth 1st than her recently crowned namesake! Interesting to reflect on changes in British society during the Queen's reign, changes presumably reflected in the three sequels which are based around the clever but maladroit Frederica Potter, her eccentric family and dashing teacher turned playwright Alexander Wedderburn. I have ordered Still Life, the second in the series which moves us and the characters into the 60s. Did Frederic ...more
May 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
i can't believe a. s. byatt, one of my favourite authors, had to personally break into my house and force me to finish this at gunpoint ...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
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Karl Steel
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 23, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Feb 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 22, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Aug 26, 2014 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 ...more
Kiki Christie
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
One of my favourites; an homage to both Shakespeare and D.H. Lawerence.
Dec 09, 2020 rated it did not like it
I thought this book would be good because I enjoyed 'Possesion', but it has turned out to be bizarre and not really worth finishing - would not recommend. ...more
Dec 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Byatt is a great author, but, like many great authors, she is often hard work. The Virgin in the Garden is no exception.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that there are just so many things going on, there are several characters with a significant storyline, but nothing is really resolved by the end of the book.

For example, the prologue is actually something of an epilogue. Three of the main characters meet to attend a performance. At the time, we learn very little about the rel
Feb 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I recently read Still Life, which I picked up at a library book sale, not realizing until I was well into it that it was the second book in a quartet of novels. Still Life is easily readable without having read the book that preceded it, but since I enjoyed it and was willing to spend more time with these characters, I got the first book out of the library and read it. It’s more interested in theatricality and performance, in the burden of virginity and the hothouse sexuality of adolescence (and ...more
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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

Other books in the series

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

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