… the wonderful visit …

I loathe most talk of angels since they became best-selling brands, but the synchronicity of Annie Lennox wearing wings and singing to an angel at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and the discovery of a rare book among my shelves, brought angels up close.

H G Wells (1866-1946) has been referred to as the Father of Science Fiction. A neglected story, The Wonderful Visit, published shortly after The Time Machine, was regarded as a mocking reflection on attitudes, beliefs and the social structure of a typical English village in Victorian times. I read the social commentary as ornamentation, the comical human attempt to stay the same, round a more essential theme, the conflict that can accompany awakening.

The edition below is from 1922 and has an illustration by Conrad Heighton Leigh. The line under it is from chapter 5 – ‘He fired out of pure surprise and habit.’

A strange bird was sighted.

Ornithology being a passion of the Vicar of Siddermorton, Rev. K. Hilyer, he was going to outdo his rivals and hunt the strange bird. So it came to be that on the 4th of August 1895 he shot down an angel.

… He saw what it was, his heart was in his mouth, and he fired out of pure surprise and habit. There was a scream of superhuman agony, the wings beat the air twice, and the victim came slanting swiftly downward and struck the ground – a struggling heap of writhing body, broken wing and flying blood-stained plumes … the Vicar stood aghast, with his smoking gun in his hand. It was no bird at all, but a youth with an extremely beautiful face, clad in a robe of saffron and with iridescent wings … never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour …

‘A man,’ said the Angel, clasping his forehead … ‘then I was not deceived, I am indeed in the Land of Dreams.’ The vicar tells him that men are real and angels are myth … ‘It almost makes one think that in some odd way there must be two worlds as it were …’

‘At least two,’ said the Vicar, and goes on ponderinghe loved geometrical speculations, ‘there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly aware of each other.’

They met half way, where reality is loosely defined, and truth has no hold. And they shared the nature of their worlds. Eat, pain, and die were among the new terms the strange visitor had to come to grips with.

‘Pain is the warp and the waft of this life,’ said the Vicar. Riddled with remorse over having maimed the Angel’s wing he decides to looks after him. But to adjust to the Vicar’s world, the Angel must eat and accept pain, and learn all manner of things very fast indeed … Starting to read, during a phase of now legendary sunshine, I settled in my garden with a glass of red, and consequently spilled the wine on my wild strawberry blossoms due to sudden bursts of laughter.

‘What a strange life!’ said the Angel.

‘Yes,’ said the Vicar. ‘What a strange life! But the thing that makes it strange to me is new. I had taken it as a matter of course until you came into my life.’

Mr Angel is nothing like the pure and white angel of popular belief, more like the angel of Italian art, polychromatic, a musical genius with the violin. Listening … the Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity … The reactions of the villagers oscillate across a hair-thin-divide between comedy and tragedy, while the bone of the story is psychological, and spiritual. Indirectly, the Vicar encounters his anima (his inner female) through the Angel’s love for Delia, the maid servant of the house. There is no escape. Things get intense. The Angel, over the span of a short week, is tainted by the wickedness of the world, and it crushes him. And the Vicar’s awakening from his narrow prison brings him into tragic conflict with his community.

*    *    *

Not much has changed. The world is crowded with wounded angels seeking compassion, and since our daily vocabulary offers little more than clichés for other realities, awakening rarely convinces, unless it is embodied and conveyed through atmosphere. Look out for the artist… the musician, painter, writer, animator, filmmaker … and the children.

‘If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.’
― William BlakeThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The painting heading this post is by the Finnish symbolist painter Hugo Simberg.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “… the wonderful visit …

  1. Being scrupulously honest I have to sat that Annie Lennox – entertainer that she is without a doubt, may have been better without the feathering!! On the subject of Angels though, I ponder the whole thing very often, I am a spiritualist (if I had to name my beliefs) and do I do believe that we are surrounded by the loving spirits at all times, do they have wings, are they beautiful well I can’t think of any reason why they should not be, but equally they could be the gentle kiss of a breeze or that lovely little thrill of pleasure that comes from nowhere for no apparent reasons and just leaves you feeling loved. I enjoyed this post thank you – Diane

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    • Thanks, Diane. Yes, curious, the stiff wings Annie Lennox donned for the occasion. I’m with you so – in tune with ourselves, loving presences feel welcome. People perceive them in many different ways, and shapes. I notice them in my garden, and some people comment on a peaceful atmosphere in my house. I’m just not too keen about some of the hyped up books on the subject. I like how you put it … the gentle kiss of a breeze or that lovely little thrill of pleasure that comes from nowhere for no apparent reasons and just leaves you feeling loved …

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  2. Another great post, Ashen. For myself, I am an atheist but not an aggressive one! I am though, a deeply spiritual person. Although I don’t subscribe to the whole heaven/hell/angels/demons thing, I can certainly understand the draw such creatures generate and I certainly believe in the presence of good, perhaps nature spirits, dryad as they used to be called. Afterall, not all things in life should be explained, that would ruin the magic and mystery of life. The feeling and warmth of love and being loved is just one of life’s infinite mysteries…

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    • Thanks for visiting, Sophie. Existence is a magical mystery tour, indeed, and everyone connects to deities of one kind or another, according to their inner world, coloured by culture, experience, creativity, imagination … it’s busy in the many spheres … 🙂

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  3. Ashen: Your post prompted me to go looking for a suitable version of Rilke’s First Elegy, which begins with an angel. I wasn’t satisfied with any I found, so I wrote my own, secular version:

    I memo an angel
    Perched high on a wire
    Of flow chart bureaucracy,
    But her beauty ignores me;
    It’s just as well,
    For the beauty of her reply
    Would replace me.

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    • I like you memo, which made me look at the First Elegy, Stephen Mitchell’s translation, which I like, though I should read Rilke in German. During childhood I was once sent on a tangent to different realities by a golden angel appearing to me in a dream, opening doors. Yet walls dissolve and doors become mere relics, what then? I had an image of this angel you see perched on a high wire of flowchart bureaucracy – I imagine its x-ray eyes piecing right through us, illuminating our very bones. Best she looks the other way. There are less and less cosy dark places to hide.

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      • Yes, the Rilke seems to be suggesting that an angel, compared to the human, is like a light bulb to the moth. The moth is drawn to the heat and light by some desire to fly out of the shadows of its nightly existence, but is consumed by the giant bulb. And Rilke calls this being consumed by the object of one’s desire, “beauty,” which is why he says “terrible beauty,” which is why the angel is terrifying.
        You’ve a wonderful poem beginning in the middle of your comment:
        “walls dissolve
        doors mere relics,
        what then”

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  4. … consumed by the object of one’s desire … terrible, awesome beauty, and how life renews itself 🙂
    And thanks, Joe, for marking my lines, the spark for a poem.

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  5. Pingback: On Angels | The Coming of the Toads

  6. Alethea Eason

    I haven’t had much time for blog exploring lately, but as in all of your posts that I have read I have truly enjoyed this one. If you can, find some of Bruce McAllister’s later stories. Very similar in energy and theme.

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    • I’ve heard of Bruce McAllister but never looked up his work. Will read one of his stories later, Kin. That you like my posts gives me a warm buzz 🙂

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      • Alethea Eason

        Kin is an older story. He’s been writing about angel’s and demons lately. A good friend and my mentor for decades. I was his student long, long ago. He is not only a great writer, but one of the best writing coaches around.

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  7. Interesting idea about angels being from an alternate reality. Such a special book! 🙂

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  8. Not a typical angel either, but a confused one, struggling to come to terms with this odd world.
    Must explore your writing. And I discovered your beautiful scrapbooks, love the idea. I did create photo albums during the time my son grew up. He loves them. There are diaries as well. I wished I had your talent and patience in creating beautiful scrapbooks from all the material. A lovely idea for a workshop.

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  9. Pingback: How do I read? | Course of Mirrors

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