In these breathtaking novellas, A S Byatt returns to the territory she explored in Possession: the landscape of Victorian England, where science and spiritualism are both popular manias, and domestic decorum coexists with brutality and perversion. Angels and Insects is ‘delicate and confidently ironic…. Byatt perfectly blends laughter and sympathy [with] extraordinary sensuality’ (San Francisco Examiner).
A S BYATT is a distinguished novelist. In 1990 she won the Booker for her novel, Possession. Combining romance with literary intrigue, the work is steeped in nineteenth-century culture and happens to contain several references to Swedenborg. Her latest publication, The Children’s Book, another work of historical fiction exploring artistic creation, was shortlisted for the Man Booker 2009. We were therefore extremely pleased when she accepted our invitation to speak in Swedenborg Hall. We had no trouble selling tickets; on 14 January a full house of over 100 people attended An Evening with A S Byatt.
Antonia gave a reading, with commentary, from her Swedenborgian novella, The Conjugial Angel. Forming one half of Angels and Insects (1992), the story explores dynamics within the Tennyson family, spiritualism and Swedenborgian ideas in the nineteenth century. She led a fascinating discussion about artistic vision and how Swedenborgian philosophy can inform literary style. Ultimately, it was a talk about what it is to be creative, to be visionary or simply to be human—and how these things are fundamentally connected. As Antonia welcomed questions from the floor, the scope of the discussion reflected the impressive diversity of her audience.