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Penelope Fitzgerald


Book review by Anthony Campbell. The review is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

The story is set in 1912 and concerns two main characters: Fred, who is a junior Fellow in a very small (and imaginary) Cambridge college, and Daisy, a young London girl from a poor background. The two become acquainted when they are both involved in an accident while cycling at night in Cambridge. Fred falls in love with Daisy, who seems to be the first girl, apart from his sisters, he has ever encountered. He wants to marry her, though this will require him to give up his Fellowship and it is not clear what they are going to live on.

There is a considerable class difference between the two, and this contrast seems to be the main theme of the novel. Fred is middle-class and rather ineffectual. His father is a rector, but Fred, who is a physicist, has ceased to believe in the soul or Christianity and is preparing to give this news to his father. When he does so, however, the effect is minimal and the announcement anticlimactic.

Daisy, in contrast, is resourceful and self-reliant. She had managed to become a nurse probationer in London but had lost her job owing to an indiscretion about a patient whom she tried to help. She comes to Cambridge in the course of a brief and pointless affair with a man for whom she feels nothing and who feels nothing for her. She stays on in Cambridge after the affair as a skivvy at a private mental hospital.

The plot, such as it is, concerns the public revelation of Daisy's affair and Fred's reaction to it. He is not so much scandalized as furious with the seducer, whom he attacks physically, but Daisy reproves him and points out that she had no illusions when she embarked on the relationship. She then prepares to leave Cambridge but at the end she meets Fred again in the street and we are left to suppose that they will get married after all. It seems likely that Daisy may be the making of Fred.

The tone of the novel ranges from social criticism (Daisy's upbringing and experiences as a nurse probationer) to gentle comedy of manners (Daisy's introduction to Fred's mother and sisters). There is also a macabre ghost story, which seems a little out of place. Both the comedy and the love interest are treated in a low-key manner, and the general effect is muted and perhaps, in the end, rather unsatisfying.

%T The Gate of Angels
%A Fitzgerald, Penelope
%I Collins
%C London
%D 1990
%G ISBN 0-00-223527-7
%P 167 pp
%K fiction

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