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The Virgin in the Garden (1978)

by A. S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Frederica Potter Quartet (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,759329,923 (3.7)115
In Yorkshire, the Potter family are preparing to celebrate Elizabeth II's arrival on the throne. Its three youngest members, however, are preoccupied with other matters. Stephanie has grown tired of their overbearing father and resolves to marry the local curate. Anxious teenager Marcus gains a new teacher and suffers increasingly disturbing visions. Then there is Frederica. On the brink of adulthood, a love affair with a young playwright may offer the freedom she desperately desires.The Virgin in the Garden is the first novel to feature Frederica Potter, and the beginning of a triumphant quartet of novels. Set in Yorkshire in 1952 as the inhabitants of the area set about celebrating the accession of a new Queen, this is the tale of a brilliant and eccentric family fatefully divided. The Virgin in the Garden is a wonderfully entertaining novel, in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and comedy intersect richly and unpredictably.… (more)
  1. 20
    A Whistling Woman by A.S. Byatt (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both novels feature Frederica Potter.
  2. 10
    Babel Tower by A.S. Byatt (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both novels feature Frederica Potter.
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» See also 115 mentions

English (30)  German (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
הכרך הראשון ברבעייה על פרדריקה. אם החלטתי לקרוא אותו סימן שארבעת הכוכבים שנתתי לכרך השלישי שקראתי ראשון מוצדקים מבחינתי. הוא גם עושה סדר בראש לגבי מה שקראתי בחלק השלישי גם אם למעשה היה ראוי לקרוא אותו שנית. מה שלא יהיה אני לכוד. פטפטמנית עד מוות אבל סופרת מיוחדת במינה. ( )
  amoskovacs | Aug 5, 2023 |
The play's the thing...
If Proust, George Eliot, and D. H. Lawrence met in a bar and struck up a conversation about art, love, nature, desire, religion, and literature, you would have something like A. S. Byatt’s work. As I said last summer in my review of The Children’s Book, I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to get to her work after a hazy memory of a bad experience with Possession in grad school. 



And after something like a month with The Virgin in the Garden, I’m ready to commit much of my upcoming summer to the rest of Byatt’s Frederica quartet. This book was such a pleasure to get lost in: filled with references to visual art, classical mythology, the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II, and the Golden Age of the first Elizabeth while a verse play about her reign is being staged on the heels of the accession. Astute readers may know some references, but hardly all: Byatt’s work—and I’m going off The Children’s Book here only, as it’s more freshly imprinted on my mind—will have everyone Googling at least something.

 For me, that was part of the fun of it—and also why it took so long to get through.

Which leads me to a gripe: the main criticism of this book, from what I’ve read, and perhaps of Byatt’s work in general, is that it’s too showy, it’s too snobbish, it revels too much in its own intellectual curiosities. But so what? These aren’t books aimed to be bestsellers; these are for those who read to learn, those who want to delve deeply into history, art, music, literature, and how these impact and influence our daily lives. If those don’t have any impact on or relevance to your daily life, then Byatt isn’t writing for you. It’s not her, it’s you.



I really enjoyed how all of the characters were fleshed out here, from major to minor; not only can Byatt make your head spin with her impressive knowledge, but she knows how to tell a story and she knows how to make her characters come alive, feel as real as people you know, and compel you to want more. From the playwright/teacher Alexander who stands in the midst of all of the pageantry and quite a great deal of sexual rivalry, to the sensitive, withdrawn, “visionary” Marcus, whose genius for geometry is tempered by a strange foray into metaphysical realms with a tutor who claims to have the wisdom to decipher things; from Stephanie, who rebels against her secular, tyrannical father while at Cambridge only to conform—on almost all levels—once she’s back in the fold, to Frederica, the emblem of the new age, and about whose journeys I look forward to reading in the remaining three books.

These are all flesh-and-blood characters, and Byatt shifts from one to another in sometimes expected and sometimes prescient ways: even when the book flags a bit, it still soars. It’s a true performance, in every sense of the word.



Onward to Still Life. ( )
  proustitute | Apr 2, 2023 |
Engaging and interesting characters - I'm hooked and making my way through the remainder of the quartet. ( )
  brakketh | Dec 1, 2022 |
I am not rating this novel since I am abandoning it at page 64. Nothing in me could face any more of this...and, unfortunately I have the other three in this series on my shelf, so it amounts to ditching four books. Still, life is short and this could not be less engaging to me.

I LOVED [b:Possession|41219|Possession|A.S. Byatt|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1391124124s/41219.jpg|2246190] so much that I could not envision not liking something she had written. Sadly, this backfired on me this time.

Not putting the read dates in either, since I do not want it to count toward my yearly total.
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
see the notes on Reading Byatt's Fredricia Quartet, found with her fourth book, 'A Whistling Woman' ( )
  mykl-s | Aug 28, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
The virgin in the garden is set in North Yorkshire in 1952-3, Coronation Year. The plot concerns the Festival production of a play about Elizabeth I, allowing consideration of that period and of the problems of modern poetic language. The underlying theme is of metamorphosis, birth and death. There is social history as a record of the 1950s; treatment of one character involves the problems of the graduate housewife.
added by KayCliff | editThe Indexer, Hazel K. Bell (Nov 30, 1991)
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Byatt, A. S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCaddon, WandaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For my son
Charles Byatt
July 19th 1961 – July 22nd 1972
First words
In 1952 history took a grip on the world of Alexander Wedderburn's imagination.
She had invited Alexander, whether on the spur of the moment or with malice aforethought he did not know, to come and hear Flora Robson do Queen Elizabeth at the National Portrait Gallery. (Prologue)
Quotations
Susan darted to the cycle shed and eased her machine out of its concrete rut. Miss Potter [Stephanie] rode past, pedalling firmly, flowing gold and green. Susan mounted, shoved, swayed, set off. Stephanie descended into the declivity of the path that crossed the crater, in bumps and starts, braking. Into the crater from the other side, ponderously manoeuvring, came a large black figure on a massive black bicycle. As though, Stephanie thought, also braking, he had simply risen up from the sooty laurels the other side of the crater. ... He came heavily on, bore down on Miss Potter in a rut, clashed their handlebars, like horned beasts engaging each other. ... Stephanie hopped a few steps. entangled, caught her calf painfully on the edge of a pedal, stopped to rub it. Susan saw a long oily streak on the smooth stocking. ... Daniel, head down, manipulated handlebars and interlocked brakeblocks with ferocity. ... He had planned the encounter with his usual care ... he ground metal and rubber.
Alexander thought, surveying Thomas Cromwell and the mock-soldiers, about the nature of modern parody. It seemed to him who did not understand or like it, undirected and aimless: they imitated anything and everything out of an unmanageable combination of aesthetic curiosity, mocking destructiveness and affectionate nostalgia, the desire to be anything and anywhere other than here and now. Did these soldiers loathe or secretly desire warfare? Or did they not know? Was it all a considered Astatement@, as the painter would have said, about accommodated and unaccommodated man? Or was it just a hysterical continuation of childhood dressing-up?
He was aiming at a vigorous realism, and had great trouble with a natural warp in the work towards pastiche and parody.
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In Yorkshire, the Potter family are preparing to celebrate Elizabeth II's arrival on the throne. Its three youngest members, however, are preoccupied with other matters. Stephanie has grown tired of their overbearing father and resolves to marry the local curate. Anxious teenager Marcus gains a new teacher and suffers increasingly disturbing visions. Then there is Frederica. On the brink of adulthood, a love affair with a young playwright may offer the freedom she desperately desires.The Virgin in the Garden is the first novel to feature Frederica Potter, and the beginning of a triumphant quartet of novels. Set in Yorkshire in 1952 as the inhabitants of the area set about celebrating the accession of a new Queen, this is the tale of a brilliant and eccentric family fatefully divided. The Virgin in the Garden is a wonderfully entertaining novel, in which enlightenment and sexuality, Elizabethan drama and comedy intersect richly and unpredictably.

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