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.
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.
* 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.