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.