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The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald
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The Gate of Angels (original 1990; edition 1991)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

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5822416,969 (3.68)41
Member:LindenLarken
Title:The Gate of Angels
Authors:Penelope Fitzgerald
Info:Nan A. Talese (1991), Edition: First U.S., Hardcover, 167 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:British fiction, DJ

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The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald (1990)

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
'Surely if one doesn't find sex tiresome in life, it won't be tiresome in fiction,' said the Junior Dean. 'I do find it tiresome in life,' Dr. Matthews replied, 'Or rather, I find other people's concern with it tiresome. One is told about it and told and told!'

I quite agree. This is one of Fitzgerald's real winners. This book, along with The Blue Flower and The Beginning of Spring are my favorites. She writes so well of people who are products of their time and circumstances. These are ordinary people going about their business and it's somehow fascinating. A bonus - this book has a great ghost story too. ( )
  libbromus | Jul 13, 2016 |
A delicate little sketch of a young physicist in 1912 Cambridge whose rationalist convictions about the way the world should be are challenged on every side by the way it actually is: modern physics, the complexities of human emotions, feminism and the women's suffrage movement, M.R. James and his ghost stories, the European political situation, etc., etc. As you would expect from Fitzgerald, it's full of gloriously unexpected, subversive details and it's a delight to read, but perhaps she overdid her instinct for compression a bit: there are an awful lot of Big Ideas lurking around on the fringes of this book, but they rely very heavily on the reader to fill in the blanks.

As in The blue flower, we are expected to notice how the men keep themselves busy theorising and analysing whilst the women are solving real-world problems. St Angelicus College, which manages to function entirely without female assistance, is shown to be an absurdity that has never contributed anything useful to the world except as a model of bloody-minded reaction.

When she talks about external historical events, there is obviously a bit of simplification and time-compression going on (e.g. with Marsden and Geiger's visit to Cambridge in the last chapter: what they presented probably didn't come as such a surprise to Cambridge scientists as Fitzgerald implies, given that Rutherford had published his model of the atom a year earlier). It's not a super-realistic historical novel, and it's clearly not intended to be, but it gives a plausible feel to the pre-war Cambridge that it describes, without any intrusive anachronisms. ( )
  thorold | Jul 11, 2016 |
The Gate of Angels is a novel by Penelope Fitzgerald, set in 1912, but the novel utterly fails to capture the spirit of that time. Besides, by setting the story at a fictional college, all recognition of the cityscape of Cambridge is removed. Thus, the setting of the novel is bleak and devoid of couleur locale.

The novels of Penelope Fitzgerald are often inspired by very simple ideas, or seemingly no ideas at all. Boy meets girl by accident is apparently inspiring to the author, but is essentially very commonplace and banal, about as banal as cows frolicking in a pasture. To conclude that these are instances of the imagination ruling over reason, is a quantum leap requiring more than all the reason of Oxford and Cambridge combined.

The Gate of Angels is a very boring book. ( )
  edwinbcn | Oct 26, 2015 |
Penelope Fitzgerald wrote such rare small gems,and there just are not enough of them, so I spread them out. This time I chose The Gate of Angels, a novel set in turn of the century Cambridge. The plot is slender,a simple love story,but it is the comic backdrop of a pre-war Cambridge with its silly clubs, long worn out traditions and eccentric personalities that makes this book something to cherish. Fred Fairly's college is having a remarkably difficult time crossing the bridge from the 19th to the 20th century, no women are admitted on the premises, not even tabby cats, "but the starlings were more difficult to regulate." Throw into this mix a very literal working class girl on a bike...and magic happens. Maybe real magic. No one is real sure why some of the things happen that happen. Angels? Fun book, easy one long sitting or day and half broken up reading. The Gate of Angels was a perfect comfit of a story ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
Penelope Fitzgerald wrote such rare small gems,and there just are not enough of them, so I spread them out. This time I chose The Gate of Angels, a novel set in turn of the century Cambridge. The plot is slender,a simple love story,but it is the comic backdrop of a pre-war Cambridge with its silly clubs, long worn out traditions and eccentric personalities that makes this book something to cherish. Fred Fairly's college is having a remarkably difficult time crossing the bridge from the 19th to the 20th century, no women are admitted on the premises, not even tabby cats, "but the starlings were more difficult to regulate." Throw into this mix a very literal working class girl on a bike...and magic happens. Maybe real magic. No one is real sure why some of the things happen that happen. Angels? Fun book, easy one long sitting or day and half broken up reading. The Gate of Angels was a perfect comfit of a story ( )
  lucybrown | Sep 27, 2015 |
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It is 1912, and at Cambridge University the modern age is knocking at the gate. In lecture halls and laboratories, the model of a universe governed by the Mind of God is at last giving way to something wholly rational, a universe governed by the Laws of Physics. To Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at the College of St. Angelics, this comes as a great comfort. Science, he is certain, will soon explain everything. Mystery will be routed by reason, and the demands of the soul will be seen for what they are - a distraction and an illusion. Into Fred's orderly life comes Daisy, with a bang - literally. One moment the two are perfect strangers, fellow cyclists on a dark country road; the next, they are casualties of a freakish accident, occupants of the same warm bed. Fred has never been so close to a women before, surely none so pretty, so plainspoken, and yet so-mysterious. Who is this Daisy Saunders? he wonders. Why have I met her? Is this a manifestation of Chaos, or is it a sign of another kind of Order? As the smitten Fred pursues these questions, Penelope Fitzgerald suggests that scientists can still be mistaken-and that soul must still be answered-even in this age of the atom. (9780395848388)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0395848385, Paperback)

Penelope Fitzgerald wanted to call her 1990 novel Mistakes Made by Scientists. On the other hand, she laughingly likened it to a Harlequin doctor-nurse romance. The truth about The Gate of Angels is somewhere in between. The doctor, Fred Fairly, is indeed a young Cambridge scientist, and the nurse, Daisy Saunders, has been ejected from a London hospital. If Fred is to win her love, he must make an appropriately melodramatic sacrifice--leaving the academic sanctum of St. Angelicus, a college where all females, even pussycats, are banished ("though the starlings couldn't altogether be regulated").

Daisy, however, suffers from a very non-Harlequin malady, the sort found only in Fitzgerald: "All her life she had been at a great disadvantage in finding it so much more easy to give than to take. Hating to see anyone in want, she would part without a thought with money or possessions, but she could accept only with the caution of a half-tamed animal." Self-protection is certainly not this young woman's strong suit, but we admire her endurance. At one moment, Fred points out that "women like to live on their imagination." Daisy's response? "It's all they can afford, most of them."

Set in Cambridge and London in 1912, The Gate of Angels, then, is a love story and a novel of ideas. Fred, a rector's son, has abandoned religion for observable truths, whereas the undereducated Daisy is a Christian for whom the truth is entirely relative. The novel's strengths lie in what we have come to expect from Fitzgerald: a blend of the hilarious, the out-of-kilter, and the intellectually and emotionally provocative. She confronts her characters with chaos (theoretical and magical), women's suffrage, and seemingly impossible choices, and we can by no means be assured of a happy outcome. "They looked at each other in despair, and now there seemed to be another law or regulation by which they were obliged to say to each other what they did not mean and to attack what they wished to defend."

Fitzgerald's novel also records the onslaught of the modern on traditions and beliefs it will fail to obliterate entirely: women as second-class citizens and a class-ridden society in which the poor suffer deep financial and moral humiliation. The author sees the present pleasures--Cambridge jousts in which debaters must argue not what they believe but its exact opposite--and is often charmed by them. But under the light surface, she proffers an elegant meditation on body and soul, science and imagination, choice and chance. Her characters, as ever, are originals, and even the minor players are memorable: one of Fred's fellows, the deeply incompetent Skippey, is "loved for his anxiety," because he makes others feel comparatively calm.

Fitzgerald fills all of her period novels with odd, charming, and disturbing facts and descriptions. Some, like the catalog of killing medicines Daisy administers, are strictly researched and wittily conveyed: "Over-prescriptions brought drama to the patients' tedious day. Too much antimony made them faint, too much quinine caused buzzing in the ears, too much salicylic acid brought on delirium..." Others are the product of microscopic observation, that is, imagination. Fred's family home is in hyperfertile Blow Halt, a place where no one thinks to buy vegetables, so free are they for the taking. But within this paradise, his mother and sisters are sewing banners for women's suffrage, and nature launches a quiet threat: "Twigs snapped and dropped from above, sticky threads drifted across from nowhere, there seemed to be something like an assassination, on a small scale, taking place in the tranquil heart of summer." --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:20 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Young Fred Fairly, a junior fellow at St. Angelicus College in 1912 Cambridge, falls in love with the dangerously mysterious Daisy, whom he awakens next to one morning after a freak accident.

(summary from another edition)

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