Virgins in the Garden
Elena Andonova (South Western University, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria) [BIO]
In The Virgin in the Garden (1978), the first book in the Frederica Quartet, A.S. Byatt introduces the reader to the life of her heroine, Frederica Potter at 17. Intelligent, headstrong, self-confident and with her mind set on success, Frederica is also revealed as a girl struggling to get to grips with her emotions and sexuality. Her chase after aspiring playwright, Alexander Wedderburn, her determination to get rid of her virginity, an act that acquires for Frederica the significance of an act of bravery and self-assertion, is with mild irony rendered in the context of a play that is a glorifying historical reconstruction of the life of Elizabeth I and her court. Frederica, playing the part of the young Elizabeth, is made to recreate the particular moment in the queen’s life when she decided to renounce her sex, rendering this as a self-sacrificial gesture for the sake of her subjects and thus laying the foundation for what was to become a powerful cult. The lives of the two young women, Frederica and Elizabeth, as she appears in her theatrical reconstruction by Frederica, are thus made to illuminate each other.
The presentation will explore the implications of this juxtaposition for both the novel’s protagonist and the articulation of the historical figure of Elizabeth I. The presence in the novel of yet another historical Elizabeth, namely, Elizabeth II and her coronation, will also be considered with a view to their relevance to the life of the novel’s protagonist.