The Gate of Angels (1990)

by Penelope Fitzgerald

In Penelope Fitzgerald's The Gate of Angels, Fred Fairly, a rector's son studying science at Cambridge University, no longer believes in anything that can't be observed. For him there's no mystery; everything will be explained once science is able to describe it. Then Daisy Saunders crosses his path — literally, they are in a bicycle accident — and the unexplainable happens: Even though he knows nothing about Daisy, Fred knows right away that he wants to marry her. Summing up the central issue of the book, Fred tells himself, "There is no God, no spiritual authority, no design, there are no causes and no effects — there is no purpose in the universe, but if there were, it could be shown that there was an intention, throughout recorded and unrecorded time, to give me Daisy."

Fred doesn't become more rational as he spends time with Daisy. She's of the wrong class; he'll have to sacrifice a secure academic future at a celibate college; but he still wants her. So, is this a love trumps all story? Fitzgerald's conclusion only hints that Fred and Daisy may end up together. Even if they marry, there's no guarantee of happily ever after for a couple that has so little in common.

The outcome of the romance might not be the big question to ponder about this novel anyhow. Fred's story is the vehicle for Fitzgerald to explore philosophical ideas about mystery versus rationality. Even in a world where science is thought to have all the answers, it can't explain everything about human beings. Just ask Fred.


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