Sarah Ryburn's Reviews > Angels and Insects

Angels and Insects by A.S. Byatt
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's review
Jul 18, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, contemporary-fiction
Read in August, 2008

actually comprises two novellas: morpho eugenia and the conjugial angel. good writing and set in byatt's signature landscape- victorian england. the second story may be a bit of a challenge for readers unfamiliar with or less enamored of victorian poetry (specifically tennyson) than byatt. entire chapters read much like expository writing on tennyson's verse which is far less off-putting than one might think. byatt's strength is her ability to place herself in the mind of the poet and to evoke the struggle of sensibilities, the strengths and frailties, the particular proclivities of the poet's internal life.

the conjugial angel takes as its starting point the real story behind "in memoriam, a.h.h.," arguably tennyson's greatest achievement. arthur henry hallam was the poet's best friend and the fiance of tennyson's sister, emily. arthur's tragic death at 22 launched tennyson on nearly two decades of struggle with love, death, grief, doubt, and acceptance. his struggle gave life to the poem, completed in 1849 and 17 years after hallam's death, and to byatt's piece. her writing is undeniably a work of fiction but one that is cleverly written and resonates soundly with the universal themes of love and death and the often self-imposed burden of grief. she writes with so much empathy and imagination that i am tempted to believe she knew alfred and arthur and emily- perhaps her writing is a way of knowing them and intimately, too, even if from a very great distance.

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