In Memoriam

‘The Conjugial Angel’ is the title of the second novella in A. S. Byatt’s diptych published as ‘Angels & Insects’ that I featured recently.

I finished reading this one today.

The link between the two shorter works is the treatment of Victorian obsessions. Using the medium of a dramatic séance ‘The Conjugial Angel’ takes us into the fantasy world invoked by Spiritualism; and the preoccupation with death, grief, and mourning. The Widow of Windsor, as some termed Queen Victoria herself, was the classic bereaved who dressed in weeds for the rest of her life after the death of her beloved consort, Albert.

With her usual richly descriptive language, Byatt evokes the tangible auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations experienced around the tricky tables in darkened drawing rooms. She catches the sexual electricity burning beneath the surface. One of the participants was the sister of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who loved and lost A. A. H., the subject of the poet’s ‘In Memoriam.’. For me, it is the quotations from that great elegy that more aptly enhance the text than some of the others that are woven into the pages. The author does, however, blend the earthly and the erudite in her style.

As with the first story, small vignettes enhance the text. I have chosen to include one of a raven, giving a nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s eponymous poem describing a visit to a distraught lover descending into madness.

Jackie and I sit side by side watching television in the evenings. Because we only have one arm on each side of the sofa, my current seating and rising performance has been excruciating for me and rather perturbing to witness. As is her wont, Mrs Knight has applied herself to the problem and provided me with a plastic prosthesis.

I availed myself of this while finishing the book.

This evening we dined on The Culinary Queen’s excellent chicken jalfrezi, vegetable samosas, and savoury rice.


  1. That’s very resourceful of her and you have a cushion table too. It is horrid to watch someone suffer. You didn’t explain what the brick is for, or if you did, I missed it.

  2. Mourning seems to me a silly way to spend an afternoon or evening.
    So now you are armed and ready for emergencies!
    Poe’s raven has been cropping up a bit lately, but not in the light he intended.

  3. Jackie is nothing if not inventively creative – and as I also note she has given over some of her half of the sofa – generous! I also wonder about the brick…….. again I shall refrain from making suggestions πŸ™‚

    1. Glad you noticed the brick, Pauline. There for when I need to rest the other foot. Jackie reminds me that at this stage last time I couldn’t bend the operated knee at all and she was forever having to get up and move the brick. Fortunately that has not been necessary this time round.

  4. Jackie is so clever (in so many ways). There was quite a cult of mourning in the 19th century, and so many who also were interested in the spirit world and seances. It also coincides with photography–all sorts of wonderfully weird stuff.

  5. You have offered rare insights into Byatt’s diptych, and the author’s ingenious mechanism to explore the Victorian ethos.

    I hope the winter of your orthopedic discontent passes away soon. Till then, Jackie’s methods should help lessen the pain.

  6. Mrs. Knight is a keeper! πŸ™‚ She is wise and wonderful…a Lady who keeps her Knight’s armour shining! I am glad she is taking such good care of you, Mr. Knight! πŸ™‚
    Thank you for sharing the novella.
    Oh, your mention of Mr. Poe! I’ve loved his writing since I discovered him as a teenager.
    Continued wishes for healing and recovery!
    I got good news at my oncologist appointment today and blogged about it. I am SO grateful!!! πŸ™‚
    HUGS to all! πŸ™‚

  7. Oh, I do like the idea of your temporary prosthesis. I find it impossible to sit on the left side of a sofa for any length of time. I have to fight the urge to ask others to swap places. My side has always been to the right, with legs curled up comfortably and my arm lazily leaning on the sofa arm! Your prosthesis would be perfect.

  8. Sounds like an interesting read Derrick. As for your recovery, you know how it goes from the last one. Before you know it all the discomfort will be behind you!

  9. So nice to be home and be able to sink into Byatt’s lovely descriptive dense prose. I too was glad to see the slippers. And Jackie! Well, clever, caring and a culinary queen! I’m glad she’s on hand for all the adaptations needed in your recovery.

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