Wednesday, April 04, 2007
I adored these two novellas. Morpho Eugenia tells the tale of a destitute young naturalist, shipwrecked after a decade in the Amazon. He's lost his samples and his notebooks, but has been invited by a wealthy patron to catalog a private collection of decaying insects bought from other adventurers. Of course William is besotted by the virginal oldest daughter of his patron, but without means marrying her will prove complicated. He writes a book with the help of a governess in the house about ant colonies, and his book and the governess's quaint romantic vision of the insect world are both sampled in the text. Quite saucy, those nineteenth century Romantics! Until its tawdry end I'd have ranked Morpho Eugenia one of the greatest novellas I've read.
The second novella is The Conjugial Angel, which was less interesting but still quite good. The action centers around a young medium named Sophy, whose ability to channel spirits gets her invited to the home of Emily. In her youth Emily was engaged to Arthur Hallam, a dear friend (and perhaps more than friend) to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. There are long quotes of letters and poems, there are restless spirits and besotted Swedenborgians. There is lots of barely repressed lust.
Byatt writes delicious prose. Her very sensuous characters are authentic to their age, and would be at home in a novel by Forster or James. I took my time luxuriating in this one, which I've had on the shelves for years and never picked up.
Hey, I watched a book and read a movie--perhaps we're settling in at last!