Falling Angels

Falling Angels

by Tracy Chevalier


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New York Times bestseller

From the author of the international bestseller Girl With A Pearl Earring and At the Edge of the Orchard, Tracy Chevalier once again paints a distant age with a rich and provocative palette of characters.

Falling Angels follows the fortunes of two families in the emerging years of the twentieth century in England, while the Queen's death reverberates through a changing nation. Told through a variety of shifting perspectives—wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and their servants, and a gravedigger's son—Falling Angels is graced with the luminous imagery that distinguished Girl With a Pearl Earring, Falling Angels is another dazzling tour de force from this "master of voices" (The New York Times Book Review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452283206
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/24/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 426,061
Product dimensions: 7.72(w) x 4.96(h) x 0.86(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I’m still here.

"As a kid I’d often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing ‘real’ stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I’d written for it was published in a London-based magazine called Fiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered ‘big’ enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend’s name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he’s become a highly respected agent in the UK and I’ve gone along for the ride."

Tracy Chevalier is the New York Times bestselling author of six previous novels, including Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has been translated into thirty-nine languages and made into an Oscar-nominated film. Her latest novel is The Last Runaway. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she lives in London with her husband and son.


London, England

Date of Birth:

October 19, 1962

Place of Birth:

Washington, D.C.


B.A. in English, Oberlin College, 1984; M.A. in creative writing, University of East Anglia, 1994

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Kitty Coleman

    I woke this morning with a stranger in my bed. The head of blond hair beside me was decidedly not my husband's. I did not know whether to be shocked or amused.

    Well, I thought, here's a novel way to begin the new century.

    Then I remembered the evening before and felt rather sick. I wondered where Richard was in this huge house and how we were meant to swap back. Everyone else here—the man beside me included—was far more experienced in the mechanics of these matters than I. Than we. Much as Richard bluffed last night, he was just as much in the dark as me, though he was more keen. Much more keen. It made me wonder.

    I nudged the sleeper with my elbow, gently at first and then harder until at last he woke with a snort.

    "Out you go," I said. And he did, without a murmur. Thankfully he didn't try to kiss me. How I stood that beard last night I'll never remember—the claret helped, I suppose. My cheeks are red with scratches.

    When Richard came in a few minutes later, clutching his clothes in a bundle, I could barely look at him. I was embarrassed, and angry too—angry that I should feel embarrassed and yet not expect him to feel so as well. It was all the more infuriating that he simply kissed me, said, "Hello, darling," and began to dress, I could smell her perfume on his neck.

    Yet I could say nothing. As I myself have so often said, I am open minded—I pride myself on it. Those words bite now.

    I lay watching Richard dress, and found myself thinking of my brother. Harry always used to tease me for thinking too much—though he refused to concede that he was at all responsible for encouraging me. But all those evenings spent reviewing with me what his tutors had taught him in the morning—he said it was to help him remember it—what did that do but teach me to think and speak my mind? Perhaps he regretted it later. I shall never know now. I am only just out of mourning for him, but some days it feels as if I am still clutching that telegram.

    Harry would be mortified to see where his teaching has led. Not that one has to be clever for this sort of thing—most of them downstairs are stupid as buckets of coal, my blond beard among them. Not one could I have a proper conversation with—I had to resort to the wine.

    Frankly I'm relieved not to be of this set—to paddle in its shallows occasionally is quite enough for me. Richard I suspect feels differently, but he has married the wrong wife if he wanted that sort of life. Or perhaps it is I who chose badly—though I would never have thought so once, back when we were mad for each other.

    I think Richard has made me do this to show me he is not as conventional as I feared. But it has had the opposite effect on me. He has become everything I had not thought he would be when we married. He has become ordinary.

    I feel so flat this morning. Daddy and Harry would have laughed at me, but I secretly hoped that the change in the century would bring a change in us all; that England would miraculously slough off her shabby black coat to reveal something glittering and new. It is only eleven hours into the twentieth century, yet I know very well that nothing has changed but a number.

    Enough. They are to ride today, which is not for me—I shall escape with my coffee to the library. It will undoubtedly be empty.

Richard Coleman

    I thought being with another woman would bring Kitty back, that jealousy would open her bedroom door to me again. Yet two weeks later she has not let me in any more than before.

    I do not like to think that I am a desperate man, but I do not understand why my wife is being so difficult. I have provided a decent life for her and yet she is still unhappy, though she cannot—or will not—say why.

    It is enough to drive any man to change wives, if only for a night.

Maude Coleman

    When Daddy saw the angel on the grave next to ours he cried, "What the devil?"

    Mummy just laughed.

    I looked and looked until my neck ached. It hung above us, one foot forward, a hand pointing toward heaven. It was wearing a long robe with a square neck, and it had loose hair that flowed onto its wings. It was looking down toward me, but no matter how hard I stared it did not seem to see me.

    Mummy and Daddy began to argue. Daddy does not like the angel. I don't know if Mummy likes it or not—she didn't say. I think the urn Daddy has had put on our own grave bothers her more.

    I wanted to sit down but didn't dare. It was very cold, too cold to sit on stone, and besides, the Queen is dead, which I think means no one can sit down, or play, or do anything comfortable.

    I heard the bells ringing last night when I was in bed, and when Nanny came in this morning she told me the Queen died yesterday evening. I ate my porridge very slowly, to see if it tasted different from yesterday's, now that the Queen is gone. But it tasted just the same—too salty. Mrs. Baker always makes it that way.

    Everyone we saw on our way to the cemetery was dressed in black. I wore a gray wool dress and a white pinafore, which I might have worn anyway but which Nanny said was fine for a girl to wear when someone died. Girls don't have to wear black. Nanny helped me to dress. She let me wear my black-and-white plaid coat and matching hat, but she wasn't sure about my rabbit's-fur muff, and I had to ask Mummy, who said it didn't matter what I wore. Mummy wore a blue silk dress and wrap, which did not please Daddy.

    While they were arguing about the angel I buried my face in my muff. The fur is very soft. Then I heard a noise, like stone being tapped, and when I raised my head I saw a pair of blue eyes looking at me from over the headstone next to ours. I stared at them, and then the face of a boy appeared from behind the stone. His hair was full of mud, and his cheeks were dirty with it too. He winked at me, then disappeared behind the headstone.

    I looked at Mummy and Daddy, who had walked a little way up the path to view the angel from another place. They had not seen the boy. I walked backward between the graves, my eyes on them. When I was sure they were not looking I ducked behind the stone.

    The boy was leaning against it, sitting on his heels.

    "Why do you have mud in your hair?" I asked.

    "Been down a grave," he said.

    I looked at him closely. There was mud on him everywhere—on his jacket, on his knees, on his shoes. There were even bits of it in his eyelashes.

    "Can I touch the fur?" he asked.

    "It's a muff," I said. "My muff."

    "Can I touch it?"

    "No." Then I felt bad saying that, so I held out the muff.

    The boy spit on his fingers and wiped them on his jacket, then reached out and stroked the fur.

    "What were you doing down a grave?" I asked.

    "Helping our pa."

    "What does your father do?"

    "He digs the graves, of course. I helps him."

    Then we heard a sound, like a kitten mewing. We peeked over the headstone and a girl standing in the path looked straight into my eyes, just as I had with the boy. She was dressed all in black, and was very pretty, with bright brown eyes and long lashes and creamy skin. Her brown hair was long and curly and so much nicer than mine, which hangs flat like laundry and isn't one color or another. Grandmother calls mine ditch-water blond, which may be true but isn't very kind. Grandmother always speaks her mind.

    The girl reminded me of my favorite chocolates, whipped hazelnut creams, and I knew just from looking at her that I wanted her for my best friend. I don't have a best friend, and have been praying for one. I have often wondered, as I sit in St. Anne's getting colder and colder (why are churches always cold?), if prayers really work, but it seems this time God has answered them.

    "Use your handkerchief, Livy dear, there's a darling." The girl's mother was coming up the path, holding the hand of a younger girl. A tall man with a ginger beard followed them. The younger girl was not so pretty. Though she looked like the other girl, her chin was not so pointed, her hair not so curly, her lips not so big. Her eyes were hazel rather than brown, and she looked at everything as if nothing surprised her. She spotted the boy and me immediately.

    "Lavinia," the older girl said, shrugging her shoulders and tossing her head so that her curls bounced. "Mama, I want you and Papa to call me Lavinia, not Livy."

    I decided then and there that I would never call her Livy.

    "Don't be rude to your mother, Livy," the man said. "You're Livy to us and that's that. Livy is a fine name. When you're older we'll call you Lavinia."

    Lavinia frowned at the ground.

    "Now stop all this crying," he continued. "She was a good queen and she lived a long life, but there's no need for a girl of five to weep quite so much. Besides, you'll frighten Ivy May." He nodded at the sister.

    I looked at Lavinia again. As far as I could see she was not crying at all, though she was twisting a handkerchief around her fingers. I waved at her to come.

    Lavinia smiled. When her parents turned their backs she stepped off the path and behind the headstone.

    "I'm five as well," I said when she was standing next to us. "Though I'll be six in March."

    "Is that so?" Lavinia said. "I'll be six in February."

    "Why do you call your parents Mama and Papa? I call mine Mummy and Daddy."

    "Mama and Papa is much more elegant." Lavinia stared at the boy, who was kneeling by the headstone. "What is your name, please?"

    "Maude," I answered before I realized she was speaking to the boy.


    "You are a very dirty boy."

    "Stop," I said.

    Lavinia looked at me. "Stop what?"

    "He's a gravedigger, that's why he's muddy."

    Lavinia took a step backward.

    "An apprentice gravedigger," Simon said. "I was a mute for the undertakers first, but our pa took me on once I could use a spade."

    "There were three mutes at my grandmother's funeral," Lavinia said. "One of them was whipped for laughing."

    "My mother says there are not so many funerals like that anymore," I said. "She says they are too dear and the money should be spent on the living."

    "Our family always has mutes at its funerals. I shall have mutes at mine."

    "Are you dying, then?" Simon asked.

    "Of course not!"

    "Did you leave your nanny at home as well?" I asked, thinking we should talk about something else before Lavinia got upset and left.

    She flushed. "We don't have a nanny. Mama is perfectly able to look after us herself."

    I didn't know any children who didn't have a nanny.

    Lavinia was looking at my muff. "Do you like my angel, then?" she asked. "My father let me choose it."

    "My father doesn't like it," I declared, though I knew I shouldn't repeat what Daddy had said. "He called it sentimental nonsense."

    Lavinia frowned. "Well, Papa hates your urn. Anyway, what's wrong with my angel?"

    "I like it," the boy said.

    "So do I," I lied.

    "I think it's lovely." Lavinia sighed. "When I go to heaven I want to be taken up by an angel just like that."

    "It's the nicest angel in the cemetery," the boy said. "And I know 'em all. There's thirty-one of 'em. D'you want me to show 'em to you?"

    "Thirty-one is a prime number," I said. "It isn't divisible by anything except one and itself." Daddy had just explained to me about prime numbers, though I hadn't understood it all.

    Simon took a piece of coal from his pocket and began to draw on the back of the headstone. Soon he had drawn a skull and crossbones—round eye-sockets, a black triangle for a nose, rows of square teeth, and a shadow scratched on one side of the face.

    "Don't do that," I said. He ignored me. "You can't do that."

    "I have. Lots. Look at the stones all round us."

    I looked at our family grave. At the very bottom of the plinth that held the urn, a tiny skull and crossbones had been scratched. Daddy would be furious if he knew it was there. I saw then that every stone around us had a skull and crossbones on it. I had never seen them before.

    "I'm going to draw one on every grave in the cemetery," he continued.

    "Why do you draw them?" I asked. "Why a skull and crossbones?"

    "Reminds you what's underneath, don't it? It's all bones down there, whatever you may put on the grave."

    "Naughty boy," Lavinia said.

    Simon stood up. "I'll draw one for you," he said. "I'll draw one on the back of your angel."

    "Don't you dare," Lavinia said.

    Simon immediately dropped the piece of coal.

    Lavinia looked around as if she were about to leave.

    "I know a poem," Simon said suddenly.

    "What poem? Tennyson?"

    "Dunno whose son. It's like this:

There was a young man at Nunhead
Who awoke in his coffin of lead;
'It is cosy enough,'
He remarked in a huff,
'But I wasn't aware I was dead.'"

    "Ugh! That's disgusting!" Lavinia cried. Simon and I laughed.

    "Our pa says lots of people've been buried alive," Simon said. "He says he's heard 'em, scrabbling inside their coffins as he's tossing dirt on 'em."

    "Really? Mummy's afraid of being buried alive," I said.

    "I can't bear to hear this," Lavinia cried, covering her ears. "I'm going back." She went through the graves toward her parents. I wanted to follow her but Simon began talking again.

    "Our granpa's buried here in the meadow."

    "He never was."

    "He is."

    "Show me his grave."

    Simon pointed at a row of wooden crosses over the path from us. Paupers' graves—Mummy had told me about them, explaining that land had been set aside for people who had no money to pay for a proper plot.

    "Which cross is his?" I asked.

    "He don't have one. Cross don't last. We planted a rosebush there, so we always know where he is. Stole it from one of the gardens down the bottom of the hill."

    I could see a stump of a bush, cut right back for the winter. We live at the bottom of the hill, and we have lots of roses at the front. Perhaps that rosebush was ours.

    "He worked here too," Simon said. "Same as our pa and me. Said it's the nicest cemetery in London. Wouldn't have wanted to be buried in any of t'others. He had stories to tell about t'others. Piles of bones everywhere. Bodies buried with just a sack of soil over 'em. Phew, the smell!" Simon waved his hand in front of his nose. "And men snatching bodies in the night. Here he were at least safe and sound, with the boundary wall being so high, and the spikes on top."

    "I have to go now," I said. I didn't want to look scared like Lavinia, but I didn't like hearing about the smell of bodies.

    Simon shrugged. "I could show you things."

    "Maybe another time." I ran to catch up with our families, who were walking along together. Lavinia took my hand and squeezed it and I was so pleased I kissed her.

    As we walked hand-in-hand up the hill I could see out of the corner of my eye a figure like a ghost jumping from stone to stone, following us and then running ahead. I wished we had not left him.

    I nudged Lavinia. "He's a funny boy, isn't he?" I said, nodding at his shadow as he went behind an obelisk.

    "I like him," Lavinia said, "even if he talks about awful things."

    "Don't you wish we could run off the way he does?"

    Lavinia smiled at me. "Shall we follow him?"

    I hadn't expected her to say that. I glanced at the others—only Lavinia's sister was looking at us. "Let's," I whispered.

    She squeezed my hand as we ran off to find him.

Kitty Coleman

    I don't dare tell anyone or I will be accused of treason, but I was terribly excited to hear the Queen is dead. The dullness I have felt since New Year's vanished, and I had to work very hard to appear appropriately sober. The turning of the century was merely a change in numbers, but now we shall have a true change in leadership, and I can't help but think Edward is more truly representative of us than his mother.

    For now, though, nothing has changed—we were expected to troop up to the cemetery and make a show of mourning, even though none of the Royal Family is buried there, nor is the Queen to be. Death is there, and that is enough, I suppose.

    That blasted cemetery. I have never liked it.

    To be fair, it is not the fault of the place itself, which has a lugubrious charm, with its banks of graves stacked on top of one another—granite headstones, Egyptian obelisks, Gothic spires, plinths topped with columns, weeping ladies, angels, and of course, urns—winding up the hill to the glorious Lebanon cedar at the top. I am even willing to overlook some of the more preposterous monuments—ostentatious representations of a family's status. But the sentiments that the place encourages in mourners are too overblown for my taste. Moreover, it is the Colemans' cemetery, not my family's. I miss the little churchyard in Lincolnshire where Mummy and Daddy are buried and where there is now a stone for Harry, even if his body lies somewhere in southern Africa.

    The excess of it all—which our own ridiculous urn now contributes to—is too much. How utterly out of scale it is to its surroundings! If only Richard had consulted me first. It was unlike him—for all his faults he is a rational man, and must have seen that the urn was too big. I suspect the hand of his mother in the choosing. Her taste has always been formidable.

    It was amusing today to watch him splutter over the angel that has been erected on the grave next to the urn. (Far too close to it, as it happens—they look as if they may bash each other at any moment.) It was all I could do to keep a straight face.

    "How dare they inflict their taste on us!" he said. "The thought of having to look at this sentimental nonsense every time we visit turns my stomach."

    "It is sentimental, but harmless," I replied "At least the marble's Italian."

    "I don't give a hang about the marble! I don't want that angel next to our grave."

    "Have you thought that perhaps they're saying the same about the urn?"

    "There's nothing wrong with our urn!"

    "And they would say that there's nothing wrong with their angel."

    "The angel looks ridiculous next to the urn. It's far too close, for one thing."

    "Exactly," I said. "You didn't leave them room for anything."

    "Of course I did. Another urn would have looked fine. Perhaps a slightly smaller one."

    I raised my eyebrows the way I do when Maude has said something foolish. "Or even the same size," Richard conceded. "Yes, that could have looked quite impressive, a pair of urns. Instead we have this nonsense."

    And on and on we went. While I don't think much of the blank-faced angels dotted around the cemetery, they bother me less than the urns, which seem a peculiar thing to put on a grave when one thinks that they were used by the Romans as receptacles for human ashes. A pagan symbol for a Christian society. But then, so is all the Egyptian symbolism one sees here as well. When I pointed this out to Richard he huffed and puffed but had no response other than to say, "That urn adds dignity and grace to the Coleman grave."

    I don't know about that. Utter banality and misplaced symbolism are rather more like it. I had the sense not to say so.

    He was still going on about the angel when who should appear but its owners, dressed in full mourning. Albert and Gertrude Waterhouse—no relation to the painter, they admitted. (Just as well—I want to scream when I see his overripe paintings at the Tate. The Lady of Shalott in her boat looks as if she has just taken opium.) We had never met them before, though they have owned their grave for several years. They are rather nondescript—he a ginger-bearded, smiling type, she one of those short women whose waists have been ruined by children so that their dresses never fit properly. Her hair is crinkly rather than curly, and escapes its pins.

    Her elder daughter, Lavinia, who looks to be Maude's age, has lovely hair, glossy brown and curly. She's a bossy, spoiled little thing—apparently her father bought the angel at her insistence. Richard nearly choked where he heard this. And she was wearing a black dress trimmed with crepe—rather vulgar and unnecessary for a child that young.

    Of course Maude has taken an instant liking to the girl. When we all took a turn around the cemetery together Lavinia kept dabbing at her eyes with a black-edged handkerchief, weeping as we passed the grave of a little boy dead fifty years, I just hope Maude doesn't begin copying her. I can't bear such nonsense. Maude is very sensible but I could see how attracted she was to the girl's behavior. They disappeared off together—Lord knows what they got up to. They came back the best of friends.

    I think it highly unlikely Gertrude Waterhouse and I would ever be the best of friends. When she said yet again how sad it was about the Queen, I couldn't help but comment that Lavinia seemed to be enjoying her mourning tremendously.

    Gertrude Waterhouse said nothing for a moment, then remarked, "That's a lovely dress. Such an unusual shade of blue."

    Richard snorted. We'd had a fierce argument about my dress. In truth I was now rather embarrassed about my choice—not one adult I'd seen since leaving the house was wearing anything but black. My dress was dark blue, but still I stood out far more than I'd intended

—Reprinted from Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier by permission of Plume, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Tracy Chevalier. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Entirely successful: distinct, inhabited, vivid, and real." —The Washington Post Book World

"Chevalier's ringing prose is a radiantly efficient as well-tended silver." —Entertainment Weekly

"Chevalier not only authentically details the era's social mores, tensions, and contradictions, she writes the book we want to read." —New York Daily News

"I read Falling Angels in an afternoon. The next day, I sat down and read it again." —Janice P. Nimura, The New York Times Book Review

"Brilliant...a rich story that is true to the era." —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Chevalier's second novel confirms her place in the literary firmament...deeply affecting.... This is a beautiful novel, not soon forgotten." —Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Part of the secret of Chevalier's success is her uncanny ability to bring a lost world to life.... Just as Vermeer's work helps to explain his world in Chevalier's earlier novel, so the symbolic art of the graveyard illuminates Victorian culture in Falling Angels." —The Baltimore Sun

"Accomplished and powerful..." —Booklist


Reading Group Guide


Falling Angels chronicles the lives of two girls whose families own adjacent plots in a London cemetery—one decorated with a sentimental angel, the other with an elaborate urn. During a ceremonial stroll through the graveyard grounds, an act of mourning for the recently deceased Queen Victoria, Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse meet, forging a fast friendship.

Despite their distinct personality differences, Maude being more precocious and contemplative and Lavinia leaning to the impulsive and dramatic, the girls are instantly drawn to each other to the dismay of their mothers. Despite being neighbors, Kitty Coleman and Gertrude Waterhouse occupy different positions in the British class system—the Waterhouses are lower-middle class, while the Colemans are upper-middle class, with a larger house and garden, and live-in servants. The women have little in common, and their views on the changing political climate fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. Kitty looks forward to a more modern society, while the Gertrude reveres the late Queen Victoria and clings to Victorian traditions.

The death of Queen Victoria marked the end of an era. Britain emerged from the shadows of oppressive Victorian values to a more liberal Edwardian lifestyle. With these relaxed social standards came other advances—one of which was the growing interest in the women's suffragist movement, a topic that divides Kitty and Gertrude, as it did many women of the era. As with most periods of political turmoil, the fight for the right of women to vote had its own victim of change, as felt by both families.

A poignant tale of two families brought reluctantly together, Falling Angels is an intimate story of childhood friendships, sexual awakening and human frailty. Yet its epic sweep takes in the changing of a nation, the fight for women's suffrage and the questioning of steadfast beliefs.



"I was born and grew up in Washington, DC. After getting a BA in English from Oberlin College (Ohio), I moved to London, England in 1984. I intended to stay 6 months; I'm still here.

"As a kid I'd often said I wanted to be a writer because I loved books and wanted to be associated with them. I wrote the odd story in high school, but it was only in my twenties that I started writing 'real' stories, at night and on weekends. Sometimes I wrote a story in a couple evenings; other times it took me a whole year to complete one.

"Once I took a night class in creative writing, and a story I'd written for it was published in a London-based magazine calledFiction. I was thrilled, even though the magazine folded 4 months later.

I worked as a reference book editor for several years until 1993 when I left my job and did a year-long MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia in Norwich (England). My tutors were the English novelists Malcolm Bradbury and Rose Tremain. For the first time in my life I was expected to write every day, and I found I liked it. I also finally had an idea I considered 'big' enough to fill a novel. I began The Virgin Blue during that year, and continued it once the course was over, juggling writing with freelance editing.

"An agent is essential to getting published. I found my agent Jonny Geller through dumb luck and good timing. A friend from the MA course had just signed on with him and I sent my manuscript of The Virgin Blue mentioning my friend's name. Jonny was just starting as an agent and needed me as much as I needed him. Since then he's become a highly respected agent in the UK and I've gone along for the ride."


"Entirely successful: distinct, inhabited, vivid and real."
—The Washington Post Book World

"Chevalier's ringing prose is as radiantly efficient as well-tended silver."
—Entertainment Weekly

"Evokes entire landscapes...A master of voices."
—The New York Times Book Review

"Chevalier not only authentically details the social mores, tensions, and contradictions, she writes the book we want to read."
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A highly accomplished work that brings to life a time of radically shifting social, sexual, and political paradigms."
—The Boston Globe



What inspired you to set Falling Angels in post-Victorian England? Is there something in particular about the Victorian era that interests you?

I set the book when I did because I am interested in periods of change, of shifting from one set of values to another, and the fall-out that results. More specifically though, I knew I wanted to set the book in Highgate Cemetery, a famous Victorian cemetery in north London. It was a magnificent, beautifully kept place, but is now crumbling and overgrown, and I was interested in when and why things changed there. It seemed to me that such a change in attitudes to death and mourning reflected a broader change in society. I pinpointed the time when the cemetery's fortunes began to shift to the first years of the twentieth century, and so I set the novel then.

What type of research was necessary to tell this story?

I spent several years doing volunteer work at the cemetery—helping with a gardening group and giving tours. Any readers who have been on a tour of the cemetery may have had me as their guide and not realized it! The rest of the book is set near by in the neighborhood I live in, so I got to know it's history as well. I also read a lot of books about Victorian mourning and rituals and the planning and maintenance of cemeteries, as well as histories of the suffragette movement, and of Victorian and Edwardian house styles.

Did you know how Falling Angels was going to end before you wrote the story, or did the ending become clear as you were writing?

I knew something of an ending—e.g. what would happen to Kitty—but not everything. It was only as I was writing that it became clear what would happen to Ivy May. Actually, I knew from the start some of what happens beyond the ending—originally the book was meant to go through 1918. I may have to write a sequel to get it out of my system!

Of Maude, Lavinia, Kitty, and Gertrude, with whom do you identify most?

Maude, I think. In most books, I tend to identify with the character who learns the most, and I think she does. Of the minor characters I have a soft spot for the cook, Dorothy Baker. She doesn't say much, but when she does, it's forceful.

What are you working on now?

I'm writing a novel about some medieval tapestries that hang in the Cluny museum in Paris called the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. It's set in fifteenth-century Paris and Brussels and is about why and how the tapestries were made, and the effect they had on everyone who worked on them.


  • Chevalier alternates the narrative point of view to reveal the layered complexities of characters, events, and issues. Which character's perspectives were the most revealing? Which characters do you relate to the most? How does having so many characters affect how you perceive the story?
  • The turn of the century found England in a state of transition. How did the death of Queen Victoria signify a new era, a more modern climate? How do the conflicting opinions on death and mourning define the characters? In what ways do these differing attitudes indicate the social changes to come?
  • When the Waterhouses and Colemans first meet in the cemetery, what do the characters' first impressions of each other—and of the other family's grave ornament—expose about themselves?
  • How do the issues the female characters face differ with those women are facing now, a century later? What obstacles still exist? How might this story differ if it were set now?
  • While the entries from the male characters are concise and limited in number, these narratives reveal a good deal about their impressions of their wives, their neighbors, and other individuals and events. Discuss the various excerpts "penned" by Albert Waterhouse, Richard Coleman, and Simon Field. Which of these characters relates best to his female counterparts? Do they all view women in a similar way?
  • The peripheral characters of Jenny Whitby, Simon Field, and Dorothy Baker play key roles in several events. How do these individuals affect the lives of the Colemans and the Waterhouses?
  • The cemetery is a curious place to set a novel. On the one hand, it mirrors the outside world, with rigid rules of conduct that mourners are expected to follow. On the other hand, both children and adults experience a degree of freedom there. How does the making and breaking of rules there reflect on and affect the characters?
  • Lavinia, Simon, and Maude appear to represent the past, present, and future respectively. Does this change at all throughout the novel? Do they learn from each other?
  • What is Ivy May Waterhouse's role in the book? Why does she meet such a fate?
  • They say and Englishman's home is his castle. How do Kitty's and Gertrude's houses reflect their characters and class differences?
  • Does this book have a heroine? If so, who is it?
  • None of the characters is perfect—all have their flaws and irritations. Does this help or hinder the narrative?

Suggested Reading

The Victorian Celebration of Death by James Stevens Curl (2001)

Death in the Victorian Family by Pat Jalland (1996)

The English Way of Death by Julian Litten (2002)

Emmeline Pankhurst by Jane Purvis (2002)

Edwardian House Style: An Architectural and Interior Design Source Book by Hilary Hockman (2002)

  • www.tchevalier.com—the section on Falling Angels—there is a lot of information there on suffragettes, Victorian mourning customs, etc...
  • www.highgate-cemetery.org—the official site for the Highgate Cemetery, where Falling Angels is set
  • www.myk.mcmail.com/london/highgate_cemetery/index.htm—an unofficial site, but very good photographs of Highgate Cemetery.

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Falling Angels 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The sample of this book was 1 sentence. One of the reasons I "Love my Nook",is that I can sample a book in the comfort of my home,before, I decide if I would like to purchase it or not. Samples of the books has been a wonderful tool for me, but some samples( like this one) are so frustrating. I realize I can get in the car,and run to the book store, but my choice was the Nook. And,I would not write this if it were the first time the sample has been so short. Please, B&N make the samples worthwhile. Does anyone else agree? MC
GabrielRE More than 1 year ago
A bewitching tale told thru the eyes of two turn-of-the century London families. Tracy Chevalier makes you feel like you are observing them from the outside under a glass yet at the same time she makes you feel like you are taking sides and routing for one or the other family members. She tells this story through a variety of shifting perspectives of wives and husbands, friends and lovers, masters and servants and she manages to keep each character superbly under prospective...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read every one of Tracy Chaevalier's books (except Virgin Blue, which I plan start in a few days) and I have to say this is probably my least favorite. It was good, but I never felt that 'can't put it down' feeling I had with ' The Girl with the Pearl Earring' and 'The Lady and the Unicorn'. But like I said it's a good book in it's own standing, I just felt compared to her other works it was the weakest.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Beautiful, ingenious writing and totally unpredictable. Simply unforgettable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book had me from the very beginning. I couldn't put it down. I felt as if I was right there with the main character(s) the entire time
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It was slightly slow to begin, but once you got into it, it was very interesting. I enjoyed the different views of each character. You almost came to become personal with them. My only complaint is that the ending wasn't an ending. It left unanswered questions and felt as though the development of the characters could have been extended to some point.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I struggled to stick with this book at first, but after I finished it, I was glad I did. Just enough detail, strong symbolism, and hints of greater truths.
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was not as captivating as 'the lady and the unicorn' bu tdefinatly a good read.
ImpudentAngel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a pretty good book with historical insight into post-Victorian England and the early days of the Women's Suffrage Movement. Interesting, multi-dimensional characters with depth, intrigue, secrets, and human imperfections who grow and change over time, for better and for worse.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The story is set in Edwardian London between 1901 and 1910 and follows the interconnected worlds of two families. The Waterhouses are a conventional middle-class family and the Colemans are from a more privileged class. The two daughters from these families, Lavinia Waterhouse and Maude Coleman, become friends despite their differences. Maude's mother Kitty sits at the heart of the novel. She's dissatisfied with her life and eventually gets involved with the Suffragette movement.Chevalier rotates the narrative between the many characters, giving the reader a chance to see how everyone is affected by the decisions of others. Though the plot sounds simple enough, it's the characters I became attached to. Through their eyes we learn about the power of friendship, love, class distinctions, neglectful parenting, and so much more. It's by far my favorite from Chevalier.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two families come together through their daughters whose families own adjoining plots in a cemetery. Great look at the class differences also- one family is lower-middle and one family is upper-middle. It takes on changes in the nation, women's sufferage, and the importance of beliefs.
meyben on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Changes are happing at the turn of the century, 1900. Might be a little depressing.
stacyinthecity on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Victorians were obsessed with death and sex. This book opens with the death of Queen Victoria, and ends with the death of King Edward, placing it squarely in Edwardian times, but the Victorian obsessions of death and sex are the two themes of this novel, pushing and pulling each other forward to modern times or back towards the Victorian age.The book follows two rival families sharing adjacent cemetery plots and who eventually become next door neighbors. The two little girls become friends, the fathers play cricket and go to pubs together, but the mothers are constantly comparing themselves to the other in every way.Through the point of view of all of the different family members, servants, and the gravedigger's son, the nature of the families' friendship and rivalry is uncovered. This style of shifting 1st person narration was very effective for this book. With headings indicate who was writing, it was never confusing, and the plot unfolded itself slowly and beautifully as motivations for past actions others observed became clear.Death surrounded these families. The girls were just old enough to understand death when Queen Victoria died. They live next door to the cemetery and visit their family plots. They learn how to mourn. They live in the shadow of death every day.Sex was ever present as well: the wife that turned her husband away; the husband that went to wife swapping parties; sexual escapades with men who work at the graveyard, and the consequences of those actions. Sexual roles were explored as well, as men are told to handle their woman as one handles a horse, and an accidental encounter with a leading suffragette leads one of the wives deep into that movement.Eventually, the families become too entangled with each other and with the Suffragette movement so that even the smallest things that these rivals and friends do will have unintended and drastic consequences.This was an excellent novel.
damsel58 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The word that best describes this book is lovely. There is a grace and melancholy air about the entire thing that evoked the time period and the sense of change and gradual loss of innocence that the two main characters were going through.I'm not sure how much of that sense was created by the narrative style. I am not a fan of the back and forth, multiple point of veiw narratives that interrupt the development of interest in and affection for a single character, but in this case, I think it added to the almost airy feel of the book - like we're more just lightly touching down in these people's lives that suppsed to empathize with them.
susiesharp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of 2 girls growing up in the early 1900¿s in London. Maude Coleman and Lavinia Waterhouse are unlikely friends they meet in a London cemetery, where their family plots are next to each other. Their families really have nothing in common and after their first meeting they don¿t see each other for awhile till they become neighbors and renew their friendship. Maude and her mother don¿t always see eye to eye on things sinceher mother has discovered the suffragette movement and ends up in jail to the embarrassment of her entire family.Lavinia and her mother get along well although they seem to look down at others especially Maude¿s mother Kitty. Kitty and her ¿radical¿ friends are preparing for the march to Hyde Park to promote a woman¿s right to vote and so much goes horribly wrong that day that changes both families and the girls¿ friendship forever.I always enjoy stories about suffragettes and this was no exception. I did listen to this on audio and there was one thing that bothered me about the audio version of this book is that it is set in England and the narrator did not have an English accent, but that doesn¿t have anything to do with my enjoyment of the writing/storyline of this book.This was a well written story with fully fleshed out characters, there are a lot more stories going on than just the story of these two girls there is Simon the gravedigger, Jenny the maid and of course the mothers of these two girls.I enjoyed this story and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, suffragettes, and stories about friendship.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved "Girl with a Pearl Earring," so I felt compelled to read this one, now that it had sat on my shelf for a few years untouched. To think that such a treasure has been in my possession without me knowing it!"Falling Angels" is the story of two families in Victorian England, who live next door to each other. Both rivalry and friendship are involved in the Coleman and the Waterhouse's relationship, and the reader watches the members of the families age and grow up over a number of years. At first, this book was merely average in my eyes.I loved how the author wrote from different character's points of view, and I felt that it really filled out the story and made the people of her book more lifelike.However, not very much happened. Mrs. Waterhouse worries about Mrs. Coleman's home decor being superior to hers, a feisty in-law tries to take over care of the household, two young girls develop a friendship. Not the most riveting of events.And, the book seemed to wander along with the carefree ease of two of its main characters - silly, sheltered girls.But about halfway through, I was suddenly unable to put the book down. I had fallen in love with the characters, and felt as if they were my longtime friends.I realized that Tracy Chevalier had pulled a very clever trick.In the midst of my searching in vain for an exciting plot-line, I had missed what she had been building up the entire time: a story of people. A story of life (and death), and a group of people trying to make their way through the two. "Falling Angels" is gracefully beautiful, and powerful - but not the knock-you-off-your-feet sort of powerful. It doesn't need to be. This book is simply stunning, and certainly gets better and better as it goes.I found the slightly Gothic feel to this book a curious, and memorable aspect. The book opens with Queen Victoria's death, and ends with King Edwards. A prominent scene in the book is a graveyard. Instead of playing tea parties and doll houses, the two young girls in this book (Livy and Maude) play at the graveyard all day. Their best friend is a young gravedigger, and instead of looking through books of ponies and kittens, they enjoy perusing tombstones.I loved the character development of Maude's mother, Kitty Coleman. We see her introduced as a lively, beautiful young woman and slide into selfishness and neglect of her daughter. A skillful twist of this side of her is that her selfishness involves a just cause - the Suffragette movement, which provides the author with a complex, fine lined sub-plot that she pulls off flawlessly.Even more minor characters, such as the cook, or Maude's snooty grandmother, are realistic and personable.I love how all of the characters in this book came to life.I didn't think that I would be able to say this, but, "Falling Angels" definitely bests "Girl with a Pearl Earring" easily.I am so glad that I read it! An amazing book.
briannad84 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A favorite even though it's been awhile since I read it. I love the part about cemeteries being more for the living than the dead! I'd never looked at it that way before reading this book.
mintuscany on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that I read 5 or 6 years ago, but the story stayed with me. I can still remember parts like I read them yesterday. The subject matter isn't great or noteworthy. But the way that it is written is very haunting.
julie10reads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Falling Angels was another LibraryThing generated recommendation. I had tried Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring and not finished it. This book describes a new Edwardian England with enough detail to assume a lot of research into women's prisons, suffragettes, funeral and mourning customs, and sexual mores was undertaken by the author. It is an interesting story but I feel that it was not well served by narrating it through each character's perspective. I found that switching from character to character (cued by the person's name at the top of the page)prevented me from sinking into the story and was a distraction, a constant reminder that I was "reading". I am guessing that Chevalier had a lot more raw material she could have used and the story might have been more satisfying if it were longer.
ruthseeley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the few works of fiction I've ever read that makes use of multiple POV narrators to tell a story in linear time. This one's a tour de force.
kingsportlibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Falling Angels is a historical fiction which takes place in Victorian England. Because the main character is a child, the explanations for Victorian burial and mourning customs make sense. This also allows the reader to "see" more as a child. A child can get into places and overhear conversations that an adult would be hard pressed to accomplish. Falling Angels also includes information about the women's suffrage movement in England which is quiet different from the light portrayal in Mary Poppins.
Dorritt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ostensibly a work of historical fiction, period has little to do with this tale of how one woman's selfishness destroys everyone around her. Could as well have been set in present day (substitute Darfur for women's sufferage) as in past. Alas, human selfishness is eternal. Gimmick of switching narrators provides for readers the diversion of inferring each character's faults through the evidence of their own thoughts, perceptions, and self-justifications, which was enough fun to keep me reading. Unfortunately, however, the author makes little/no effort to provide psychological foundation or cause for the flaws and faults that define them - a fatal flaw since this keeps the reader from being able to connect with any of the characters. As a result, when all the angels began to fall (eventually so many of them that I stopped counting), I had a hard time mourning their passing. I understood why they "had" to fall (which flaws destroyed them, and why it was thematically necessary for them to fall) - but I just didn't care. In summary, couldn't help but feel that this author let herself be trapped by her gimmick and her story's title/theme into telling a story that was much smaller and shallower than it might otherwise have been.
DubaiReader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Review for the Abridged Audio Book.This is probably my favourite Tracy Chevallier book and I had read it in book form before listening to the abridged audiobook several years later. It was beautifully narrated by Isla Blair and Jamie Glover and did not feel at all like an abridged version. Their two voices worked particularly well as the story is written in split narrative form and all the characters have a chance to speak, however briefly.Centering around Maud and Lavinia, who meet on the day of Queen Victoria's death, we meet both families and households. Although there is a well depicted class difference between the families, the girls become best-friends. Much of the action takes place in the cemetery, where Simon, the grave digger's lad and his father work. There are vivid descriptions of the cemetery, and death features largely as we move from mourning Queen Victoria to the death of her son and heir, Edward VII.As the girls mature with the changing times, Maude's mother becomes involved with the Suffragettes and this is viewed from the many viewpoints of Chevalier's wonderful characters.A wonderful book and brilliant audio CD. Recommended.
sarahfrierson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Falling Angels is Tracy Chevalier's (author of Girl With a Pearl Earring) glimpse into a changing English society during the decade between the deaths of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII. Through the lens of turn-of-the-century funerary tradition, she tells the stories of two neighboring families during this decade in which both progress and changing morals and values caused much controversy.The Coleman family and the Waterhouse family have adjacent cemetery plots and the reader quickly learns the differences between the two groups. The well-to-do, free-thinking Colemans have placed an elegant urn over their plot while the conventional Waterhouses have chosen a more sentimental angel. Although the families are quite different, they quickly find themselves true neighbors and their daughters, Maude Coleman and Lavinia (Livy) Waterhouse, become best friends.Chevalier has a knack for intimating the voices of her characters. The story is told in a chronological fashion by each of the characters, including at times the cook, maid and gravedigger. Change and grief are explored, but more interesting are the resulting attitudes and desires that arise.At its core, this is a novel about women, young and old. Some deal with change by grasping at tradition while others embrace new movements, such as women's suffrage. Despite their different characteristics and approaches, all eventually must travel the through the same turmoil and despair to get to the other side of the decade.
tangledthread on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Another great piece of historical fiction from Tracy Chevalier. This one deals with the social changes in the first decade of the 1900's in Edwardian England. Maude and Lavinia, about 5 years old, become "best friends" when they meet at the cemetary where their families have adjacent plots. Kitty, Maude's mother is an educated, restless, and suppressed woman until a string of circumstances lead her to the women's suffrage movement. The cemetary and the library play supporting roles in this novel populated with people that are somewhat Dickensian. It's an engaging well written story.