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Bristling with Diligence

October 1, 2009

by James Wood
from the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS

There is what seems an interesting slip early in A.S. Byatt’s new novel. It is 1895. A young working-class man, Philip Warren, has been adopted by a liberal upper-class family, the Wellwoods. At the Kentish country home of Olive and Humphry Wellwood, a glorious Midsummer Party is in preparation. Humphry is a banker (though he will soon switch to journalism), and Olive is a famous children’s writer. Lucky Wellwood children, Tom, Dorothy, Phyllis and Hedda, are making paper lanterns. Philip reflects that, in his former life, he had to beg for scraps of paper to draw on; but these generous people throw away paper with unconcern. Byatt comments: ‘He looked up and had the disconcerting sense that Dorothy was reading his mind.’ There is a section break, and Byatt continues: ‘Dorothy had indeed, more or less accurately, followed Philip’s thoughts. She did not know how she had done that. She was a clever, careful child, who liked to think of herself as unhappy.’ more

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