Winner of the 1989 Whitbread Prize for Fiction, The Chymical Wedding is a complex text notable for its blend of contemporary and historical realism and fantasy. In many ways, it resembles the work of John Fowles, but with a more magical inspiration.
Lindsay Clarke’s characterization is superb. Both Michael and Edward initially are rather alienating beings, and Edward remains so for some time. Both Edwin and Louisa at first seem merely stereotypes, and Laura a cipher. Gradually, their characters come alive and form the motivating forces for the narrative.
The fantasy element is essential for the story but is blended subtly. Having seemed distinct, the two narrative lines blur, interact, and parallel each other. Information about alchemy adds to the pleasure offered by the text and is central to the plot. Where the plot lines intersect and the alchemy enters is the relationship between men and women.
None of the characters has a successful relationship when the story begins. Louisa and Henry are too close to be healthy, though his dominance is intellectual rather than pederastic. Michael has driven away his wife and is unable to relate to any woman. Edward appears the most selfish and exploits Ralph’s nostalgia about their youthful homosexual relationship. A fully developed literary bête noire, he is capable of colossal rudeness and uses Laura ruthlessly. His comeuppance is not the product of sexual jealousy, however, and he is pleased with both Laura’s self-realization and Michael’s growth.
The development of the plot has important personal ramifications for the participants, but there is a philosophical core. The most significant occasion in Louisa’s history is the Vatican Council, at which, even at the height of Renaissance humanism, Aristotle was chosen as the cornerstone of Christian philosophy over Hermes Trismegistus....
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