Babel tower

by A. S. Byatt

Paper Book, 1996





New York : Random House, cop. 1996


At the heart of Babel Tower are two law cases, twin strands of the Establishment's web, that shape the story: a painful divorce and custody suit and the prosecution of an "obscene" book. Frederica, the independent young heroine, is involved in both. She startled her intellectual circle of friends by marrying a young country squire, whose violent streak has now been turned against her. Fleeing to London with their young son, she gets a teaching job in an art school, where she is thrown into the thick of the new decade. Poets and painters are denying the value of the past, fostering dreams of rebellion, which focus around a strange, charismatic figure -- the near-naked, unkempt and smelly Jude Mason, with his flowing gray hair, a hippie before his time. We feel the growing unease, the undertones of sex and cruelty. The tension erupts over his novel Babbletower, set in a past revolutionary era, where a band of people retire to a castle to found an ideal community. In this book, as in the courtrooms, as in the art school's haphazard classes and on the committee set up to study "the teaching of language," people function increasingly in groups. Many are obsessed with protecting the young, but the fashionable notion of children as innocent and free slowly comes to seem wishful, and perilous. Babel Tower is the third, following The Virgin in the Garden and Still Life, of a planned quartet of novels set in different mid-century time frames. The personal and legal crises of Frederica mirror those of the age. This is the decade of the Beatles, the Death of God, the birth of computer languages. In Byatt's vision, the presiding genius of the 1960s seems to be a blend of the Marquis de Sade and The Hobbit. The resulting confusion, charted with a brilliant imaginative sympathy, is as comic as it is threatening and bizarre.… (more)

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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