Babel tower

by A. S. Byatt

Hardcover, 1996





New York : Random House, cop. 1996


"In BABEL TOWER a cast of striking characters play out their personal dramas amid the clashing politics, passionate ideals and stirring languages of the early 1960s. Frederica (the heroine of VIRGIN IN THE GARDEN and STILL LIFE) now teaching English in an art college, is hiding herself and her son Leo from a violent husband; her urge towards freedom later leads to an angry, humiliating divorce case. Hers is not the only struggle- her friend Jude writes a novel, BABBELTOWER, which is tried for obscenity; her brother-in-law Daniel becomes involved in new movements for London's poor and distressed. Their crises mirror those of the age - abroad, this is the decade of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the death of Kennedy; at home it is the era of the LADY CHATTERLEY case, of the Beatles, of Mods and Rockers, art school riots, the Profumo scandal. Moving and absorbing and full of comedy as well as strife, this superb novel brings our own recent past to vivid, and disturbing life."… (more)

Media reviews

The Spectator
It is both a novel of daunting virtuosity and a statement of grand moral and historical force.... a forceful confrontation with the sacred monsters of the 1960s counter-culture, Blake, Sade and Tolkien.... It is devastating, and unanswerable, because it never caricatures what it despises.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Niecierpek
It is a novel of ideas. It was a pleasure to read, and I could go back to the beginning right away, start reading again and still find interesting issues to think about. It reflects and discusses issues which were topical in the 60s, like women's rights, new trends in education, changes in what was designated obscene and sexual revolution. It is also paradise for those who like literary analysis, and discussions in philosophy and ethics. It is dense with ideas on and from Nietzsche, Blake, Fourier, D. H. Lawrence, Kafka, Forster and the Marquis de Sade. Blake is quoted and referred to most extensively, and I find it not accidental. The book itself is an extended Song of Innocence into Song of Experience on many levels.
It's about the "innocence and experience" of Frederica, the main character, who finds out what is important in her life, and of a group of people who isolate themselves to practice sexual and social freedom. The idea of the society of `freedom' is tackled by a book within the book: _Babbletower_- a utopian/dystopian tale in which a group of nobles are trying to build a utopian society based on the premise that everyone should do what brings him pleasure. But, what if somebody finds cruelty bringing him pleasure?

The author of the book within the book is put on trial for obscenity. At the same time the main character of the novel, Frederica, finds herself in divorce and custody proceedings. Both trials borrow extensively from the real trials that took place in England at the time.
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LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
An amazing "book within a book" type book. After Possession I wondered where Byatt could go. Here she picks up the thread from Unicorn in the Garden and other earlier works, but brings them to fruitation.
LibraryThing member heidilove
Amazing follow up to possession, more a parallel novel than a sequel.
LibraryThing member dartmoor
An amazing novel- I cannot praise it too highly. This is in many ways a serious read, there is so much going on, so many allusions, so much intertextuality- yet it all seems to flow effortlessly. A novel to trurn to again and again :)
LibraryThing member karl.steel
You get:

* Charles Fourier vs. Sade (in the novel, babbletower, within a novel)
* An affectionate send-up of the medievalism and attractions to Apocalyptic Blake in 60s counterculture (and a perhaps less affectionate send up of the countercultural psychology of Laing and Marcuse)
* A wondering exploration of the 60s developments in pedagogy
* a harrowing feminist account of domestic violence
* TWO courtroom dramas (first divorce, and then an obscenity charge, during which Anthony Burgess (!) appears)
* the birth of environmentalism

Merits repeated rereadings.
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LibraryThing member nwhyte
Depressing book. Not recommended.
LibraryThing member jonfaith
One of my friends, who maintains amazing literary tastes, told me two years ago that Babel Tower was unreadable. I now agree. The familial and educational contexts of the first two novels are gone in this one. What is left is simply ugly. Byatt hopes to make sense of the 60s with a pastiche method and pair of court cases. I deign she fails.… (more)



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