Two postmodern novellas with Victorian themes that have all the leaden scholarly pretension of that era--and none of the leavening irony that made Byatt's bestselling Possession (1990) so successful a mix of erudition and wit. Taking two intellectually incompatible ideas--Darwinism and spiritualism--of the period, Byatt then sets them up in their quintessential Victorian settings, where they are observed, illustrated, and dissected like the insect specimens of the first novella and found to signify not very much, despite quotes from the greats and the Bible. In ``Morpho Eugenia,'' impoverished naturalist William Adamson, homeward bound from insect-hunting in South America, is employed by a wealthy clergyman-scholar who's trying to write a book that will reconcile his religious beliefs with his scientific interests. Adamson soon falls in love with the clergyman's daughter, the beautiful Eugenia, whom he marries only to find that her behavior is eerily similar to that of some of the insects he's been studying with the help of governess Matty. With the proceeds from his book on ants, Adamson then heads off with Matty to South America, cheered by their sea captain's thought for the day: ``That is the main thing--to be alive.'' The widow of this same captain is one of the protagonists of ``The Conjugal Angel,'' in which a group holds weekly sÇances where she is medium. They meet in the home of Captain Jesse and his wife Emily, Alfred Tennyson's sister and once the fiancÇe of the beloved Arthur Hallam, to whom the poet dedicated that great Victorian icon ``In Memoriam.'' All of which means a great deal of poetry quoted, a great number of spirits consulted, and much speculation about just what Alfred really felt for Arthur--as well as an abrupt ending in which an angel teaches all those present a rather earthly lesson. Too much learning can be a dangerous thing for a novelist who needs to separate the learned monograph from the illuminating tale. Dull and forced.