The Englishman and the Butterfly Synopsis

The Englishman and the Butterfly by Ryan AsmussenOxford fellow and John Milton expert, Professor Henry Fell suffers from panic attacks and a gnawing fear that what he doubtfully refers to as his existence is much more out of his control than he realizes.

Newly arrived in Boston on an academic fellowship, Fell meets a variety of people who, in one way or another, expose him to true love, true death, and true poetry: the lovely and sharp-tongued Julia Collins, a Ph.D. candidate struggling to survive in a male-dominated world, fellow Brit Professor Geoffrey Hearne, one of the University’s most popular and colorful lecturers, and the rather less-than-popular, equally British, Professor Christopher Moberley, whose vast bulk contains the darkest of secrets.

A coming of middle-age story, a metaphysical parable, a glimpse into literature from the inside-out, The Englishman and the Butterfly is a tragicomic look at the differences between imagining a life, performing one, and becoming enlightened to the possibility that there is more to life than meets a reader’s eye.


The Englishman and the Butterfly was obviously a labour of love for Ryan Asmussen. The author’s passion for and experience in academia shines through in his haunting and evocative descriptions of setting and his studious character development.

The Englishman and the Butterfly is a mystery on many levels, but first and foremost the characters are mysteries, to each other and often even to themselves. The lead narrative is that of the very introspective Professor Henry Fell.

At home, a burden on his parents for reasons of higher intelligence and lower economy, he had lived in his cramped, stuffy room with an ever-growing pile of books, friends with which to weather the increasingly alien outside world. At Magdalen College, the story was much the same: Henry in his digs with the oak barred, studying for exams he knew he would pass with distinction, studiously avoiding other, more social, more penetrating, exams.

Henry Fell is not the most compelling character, a little too at the mercy of the world for me to strongly identify with, but his interactions with new Boston colleagues added the grittiness and complexity needed to keep me reading. This novel’s subject matter veers into darker psychological territory than you might expect.

There are times when Asmussen’s writing is elegant and poetic and presents unique and interesting perspectives – for example I quite enjoyed some of the academic banter between Fell and Hearne. But as the novel progressed it felt weighed down by literary references and frippery; the cleverness and many tangents began to neutralise some of the thrilling plot elements.

The Englishman and the Butterfly was, for me, ultimately as much of an enigma as it characters – like a great prize in the centre of a pass-the-parcel game created by someone over zealous with the sticky-tape.

BOOK RATING: The Story 2.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5

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BOOK DETAILS: The Englishman and the Butterfly by Ryan Asmussen ( Amazon )

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller, Romance

Author Information: Ryan Asmussen, writer and high school English teacher of AP English Literature & Composition for the past nine years, has been a Presenter at College Board’s AP Conference (“The Problem of ‘Meaning’ in Literature”) as well as a Reader for the AP English Literature & Composition Exam.

In addition to his writing and teaching, he plays drums, guitar, and piano, sometimes in semi-professional bands, and studies Zen Buddhism. Asmussen earned his Bachelor of Liberal Studies in English & American Literature and Master of Arts in Teaching in English from Boston University.

Originally from Newburyport, Massachusetts, he now lives and works in the Chicagoland area with wife Jenny, son Declan, and Boston Terrier Moe.

– Check out Ryan Asmussen’s website

Other reviews of The Englishman and the Butterfly: Word Vagabond; Fiction Books; The Indie Bookshelf

* My receiving this title free from the author did not impact my expression of my honest opinions in this review.