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 s√©ance ‘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.

A Surprising Revelation

Morpho Eugenia is one of a pair of novellas by A. S. Byatt published as

by Chatto & Windus in 1992. (Cover by Norman Adams)

I finished reading the first tale today. In just 160 pages Byatt has woven a work of philosophy, fable, scientific, and sociological study – all in powerful, delicate, elegantly descriptive prose – diaphanous, colourful and splendidly eloquent. Set in the mid-nineteenth century the Victorian obsession with naturalism is balanced with the Darwinian prompted debate between Creation and Evolution. The societies of insects such as bees and ants features alongside the wealthy family systems. There is a startlingly prophetic message for our over-developed societal organisations.

And this is not all. I didn’t foresee the surprising revelation at the end.

A few small vignettes decorate the pages.

This evening we dined once more on Jackie’s delicious steak, mushrooms and onions pie; served with roast potatoes, sweet potato, cauliflower, carrots, and cabbage.