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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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477None21,618 (3.68)28
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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I never quite got hold of this one. It has something of the deftly whimsical quality that I liked in The Bookshop but seemed kind of scattered to me, like fragments of a bigger novel of ideas (ideas about spiritual and material interpretations of human phenomena) that never took form. I liked the Daisy parts, and many individual phrases and comments--there's something in Fitzgerald's voice, I guess, that I enjoy, a quirk but slightly acerbic quality.
  rmaitzen | Feb 7, 2014 |
A slight, yet intricately complicated story. Fred Fairly in pre-WW I Cambridge accidentally meets young Daisy Saunders when they are both involved in a bicycle accident. He becomes obsessed with finding her, and then does, almost by chance. She turns out to be morally unsuitable, but by the end, it appears that they will be together. The period detail is charming and convincing. What keeps this from being only a slight RomCom is the precise observations (both human and natural) and the watchmakerly plot construction, each detail falling into place at exactly the right time. ( )
  sjnorquist | Jan 21, 2014 |
This could easily have turned into a fairly silly 'positivist-scientist comes to see that there's at least one thing that he can't explain positivistically, viz., love' kind of tale, which I'd be fine with under other circumstances, but I expect more from Fitzgerald. And she delivers more, much more--emotionally compelling, intellectually riveting, and told with her usual cold, charming narrator's voice. But most importantly she avoids the romantic-comedy category by making it very clear that Fred's love for Daisy is nowhere near as important as the many, many other things in life that aren't susceptible to a 'scientific' analysis, such as, say, morality, mystery, and history. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Of Penelope Fitzgerald's work, I've read Offshore and The Bookshop. Both were very good and I want to read the rest. The Gate of Angels was also very good. You can usually say of her books: short, sad, sweet, funny, interesting.well-written. ( )
  jklavanian | Sep 1, 2013 |
When I wake up tomorrow I will probably no longer think this is the best book I have ever read, so I will review it now.

I do not understand how Penelope Fitzgerald so consistently managed to pack so much into her very short novels. This one is both an unsurpassably charming romantic comedy and a meditation on tradition and revolutionary change.

Half the novel is centered around a (fictional) Cambridge college that still clings to the rules imposed on it by a (not-fictional) medieval pope -- Faculty members are forbidden to marry, and no female animal is allowed within the walls. But those same faculty members are participating in the great discoveries of atomic physics.

The other half is an unsparing narrative of the trials and lack of opportunities that beset a poor girl growing up in London. As a counterpoint to this, the scholar-hero goes home to his conservative clerical family and finds that his mother and two sisters have abruptly turned into ardent campaigners for women's suffrage.

The book is set in 1912, which means that if the male protagonist had been real, he would have had less than an even chance of being alive and unscarred six years later. No hints are dropped, however, although the author does not neglect to remind is of what is just over the horizon: "There was a vacancy in the College, not through death, but through a lecturer in Propellant Explosives being suddenly recalled to Germany."

[As a sidelight: One of the characters, "Dr. Matthews, the Provost of St. James'", is transparently based on M.R. James, the great writer of ghost stories (collected as Ghost Stories of an Antiquary). Fitzgerald even produces a convincing though condensed pastiche of a James story!]
  sonofcarc | Feb 28, 2013 |
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Book description
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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:49 -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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