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The Wonderful Visit

H.G. Wells

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    Ah. Wells . . . . One never knows what to expect from him. He is known best for his sci-fi fiction. Some of it is terrifying, for example, The War of the Worlds. The story goes that when Orson Welles did the radio dramatization of the book in 1938, even though it was stressed that it was not real, apparently people just tuning in thought it was and that we were being invaded by extraterrestrials, which caused a panic!
    Some are horror stories, such as The Island of Dr. Moreau. Then others, for instance The Invisible Man, are just goofy. I know there are people who review it that think Wells was serious, but when he writes conversations in country bumpkin dialects, you know he meant us to laugh. Whatever one might think of him, and I suspect he was a very strange man, he was certainly prolific and provided us with a huge output of books to enjoy and certainly to ponder. Or not. I have read quite a few of them and most I enjoyed very much. The previous one I read, The Sea Lady, was one of my least favorites. It was about a mermaid that masqueraded as a human by pretending to be a cripple and sitting in a chair with her tail covered. She also seduced the fiancé of another character.
     He also wrote utopian and futuristic novels and non-fiction. He was a socialist and expressed his beliefs in many of his writings.
    So when I realized, very early in the book that this was also about fantasy being, I sort of groaned. I should not have. This one is good! I have been saying lately that the books I choose to read next are choosing me, because for several in a row, they have turned out to be very timely and appropriate for the catastrophic situation we are in now, here on Planet Earth in 2023. And it does contain lots of humor. Including dialects. Wells enjoyed poking fun at the "less-civilized" segments of England! And several different dialects! But it also contains much to ponder. Here is his Bibliography page, where you may also access the page about him. The Good Readers at Goodreads had a lot of positive (though repetitious) comments about the book and lots of five-stars. And here is the Wikipedia page for the story, but it's not that great.
    The Wonderful Visit was inspired by John Ruskin's remark that an angel appearing on earth in Victorian England would be shot on sight. (And indeed, this one was, but for different reasons). I have always said that, too, about Christians that are awaiting the "second coming of Jesus." Anyways, this novel was actually Wells' close second novel, published in 1895, the same year as his very first novel, The Time Machine, which became way more popular, and overshadowed the former. That's too bad. Though they are vastly different, they both make interesting and pertinent statements. According to Wells' bibliography, he also published 14 short stories that year in periodicals. To read all my reviews on his works so far, and there are quite a few, please visit his Index Page.
    And now on to the novel, and it isn't very long. It has many chapters, but some are only a paragraph long. First some opening comments: One person at Goodreads made the remark that this was the first novel about parallel universes (or perhaps alternative realities). I dunno about "first," but certainly the rest of it applies. And though the being that unwittingly comes for a visit is an "angel," the author, who was not religious, points out that this is the "angel of art," not of heaven, comparing him to the painting Tobias and the Angel, (see below). Still his natural abode seems heavenly compared to the cruel, vulgar, ignorant, self-absorbed, judgmental . . . gosh, sounds like 2023. Here's a few quotes:

Let us be plain. The Angel of this story is the Angel of Art, not the Angel that one must be irreverent to touch—neither the Angel of religious feeling nor the Angel of popular belief.

But this Angel the Vicar shot is, we say, no such angel at all, but the Angel of Italian art, polychromatic and gay. He comes from the land of beautiful dreams and not from any holier place. At best he is a popish creature. Bear patiently, therefore, with his scattered remiges, and be not hasty with your charge of irreverence before the story is read.

    The story begins with the "The Night of the Strange Bird." Some saw a glare, or the waving of swords for a moment. And a few heard it.

She, too, was one of those who heard the sound. The others who heard the sound were Lumpy Durgan, the half-wit, and Amory's mother. They said it was a sound like children singing and a throbbing of harp strings, carried on a rush of notes like that which sometimes comes from an organ. It began and ended like the opening and shutting of a door, and before and after they heard nothing but the night wind howling over the moor and the noise of the caves under Sidderford cliff. Amory's mother said she wanted to cry when she heard it, but Lumpy was only sorry he could hear no more.

    But Sandy Bright, who was returning home drunk, saw a huge black bird among the cedars that he thought was coming at him so he ran, but fell. Then he tried to pray but couldn't remember The Lord's Prayer. After that, he stopped drinking and was a changed man. At sunrise the solicitor's clerk saw it, and it was like a bright flame and precious stones. The ploughman saw it, too. Enough people saw it that the Vicar of Siddermorton concluded that, since the locals were not very imaginative, it must be real and he thought it was a rare flamingo. Since he was an ornithologist with a collection of stuffed birds, he was determined to have this one. (Oh, my!) He knew there were a couple others who would try for it, and he wanted to be the victor. Plus, he had two entries in Saunders' British Birds, and doubted if any collector had three, so he had reason to sneak out at 2 pm, rather than rest as usual, and he knew his housekeeper would fume if she saw him, as she didn't approve of his gun expeditions. Plus, the curate's wife and her two daughters carrying tennis rackets were advancing toward him. "His curate's wife was a young woman of immense will, who used to play tennis on his lawn, and cut his roses, differ from him on doctrinal points, and criticize his personal behaviour all over the parish. He went in abject fear of her, was always trying to propitiate her." She becomes a big problem later, as do many others.
    And here is the beginnings of Wells' sarcasm expressed in this novel.

If it were not for collectors England would be full, so to speak, of rare birds and wonderful butterflies, strange flowers and a thousand interesting things. But happily the collector prevents all that, either killing with his own hands or, by buying extravagantly, procuring people of the lower classes to kill such eccentricities as appear.

    And so . . . what luck! He sees it. It flutters up and he shoots. It screams and strikes the ground. Oops. It's not a bird at all. It's an . . . Angel. And so begins the plight of a poor being who ends up in the wrong world. And as Ruskin mused, shot on sight.

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, across whose pinions great waves of colour, flushes of purple and crimson, golden green and intense blue, pursued one another as he writhed in his agony. Never had the Vicar seen such gorgeous floods of colour, not stained glass windows, not the wings of butterflies, not even the glories of crystals seen between prisms, no colours on earth could compare with them. Twice the Angel raised himself, only to fall over sideways again. Then the beating of the wings diminished, the terrified face grew pale, the floods of colour abated, and suddenly with a sob he lay prone, and the changing hues of the broken wings faded swiftly into one uniform dull grey hue.

"Oh! what has happened to me?" cried the Angel (for such it was), shuddering violently, hands outstretched and clutching the ground, and then lying still.

"Dear me!" said the Vicar. "I had no idea." He came forward cautiously. "Excuse me," he said, "I am afraid I have shot you."

    The Angel finally notices him and realizes he is looking at a man. And he knows he has entered the Land of Dreams. However, the Vicar thinks he has just come out of it. But first things first. The Vicar has passed ambulance classes, so he knows how to bind the wounded wing. The Angel feels a new sensation that he doesn't like at all, and the Vicar explains it is pain. Then begins the fun conversation!
    In the Angel's reality, men were mere myths, as were those knobby things called "cows." And horses were unicorns without horns,. All of them, of course, appeared only in the imaginative works of artists. And so, the Angel is certain he is dreaming. The Vicar begins to "get it." He asks the Angel to describe the animals of his world—the real world.

"Real animals!" said the Angel smiling. "Why—there's Griffins and Dragons—and Jabberwocks—and Cherubim—and Sphinxes—and the Hippogriff—and Mermaids—and Satyrs—and...."

The Vicar explains that these are the Dream Creatures of his world.

"Dream Creatures!" said the Angel. "How singular! This is a very curious dream. A kind of topsy-turvey one. You call men real and angels a 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.

"Lying somewhere close together, and yet scarcely suspecting . . . . "

"As near as page to page of a book."

"Penetrating each other, living each its own life. This is really a delicious dream!"

"And never dreaming of each other."

"Except when people go a dreaming!"

    They are both excited to discuss this incredible occurrence. The Angel has obviously dropped into a different world. The Vicar takes it further.

"It is confusing," said the Vicar. "It almost makes one think there may be (ahem) Four Dimensions after all. In which case, of course," he went on hurriedly—for he loved geometrical speculations and took a certain pride in his knowledge of them—"there may be any number of three dimensional universes packed side by side, and all dimly dreaming of one another. There may be world upon world, universe upon universe. It's perfectly possible. There's nothing so incredible as the absolutely possible. But I wonder how you came to fall out of your world into mine. . . . "

    But the joy and wonder of this event is soon to be darkened by the closed-mindedness and utter blindness of the locals. Little does the Vicar suspect that what he has so easily understood, and the truth of the situation that he finds so believable, will be scorned, insulted and ultimately judged as insane and even criminal. It begins when they arrive at the vicarage, where the curate's wife and daughter and friend, Mrs. Jehoram, are playing tennis. They are horror struck at the Angel's rather scanty apparel. Because he has such a pretty youthful face, the curate's wife thinks the Vicar has brought home a disreputable female. Their troubles are only beginning. The Vicar explains to the Angel that those are "ladies."
    Meanwhile, there is a whole slew of human things the Angel must learn. The sensation he is feeling is hunger, so he must be taught how to eat. The Vicar dresses him in some of his clothes, tearing one of his shirts to accommodate his wings. The Angel sees the stuffed birds in the Vicar's room and understands death, and what the Vicar wanted to do to him. The Vicar sends for the doctor and again, cannot fathom the stubborn blindness he will encounter.
    Hmm. Now the story really begins to remind one of our present reality. Like the people that can't understand that the "vaccines" are what is making people sick and killing them, and weather warfare is what is causing one disaster after another and that the government and military are not our friends and helpers. Totally oblivious to the truth before their very eyes.
    In any case, the Vicar assumes that because Doctor Crump is a doctor, he will recognize that the Angel is not a regular human being. This is his assessment of the Angel's wounded wing.

"Spinal curvature?" muttered Doctor Crump quite audibly, walking round behind the Angel. "No! abnormal growth. Hullo! This is odd!" He clutched the left wing. "Curious," he said. "Reduplication of the anterior limb—bifid coracoid. Possible, of course, but I've never seen it before." The angel winced under his hands. "Humerus. Radius and Ulna. All there. Congenital, of course. Humerus broken. Curious integumentary simulation of feathers. Dear me. Almost avian. Probably of considerable interest in comparative anatomy. I never did!—How did this gunshot happen, Mr. Angel?"

    The Doctor suggests sawing off the "deformities," and the Angel is amused that he thinks he is a man and begins to laugh, calling the Doctor a "funny creature," which did not amuse the Doctor. The Vicar leads him to the door and whispers to him, explaining that he really is an Angel. Now the Doctor is beginning to think Vicar Hilyer is a little nutty. He asks him again the circumstances in which he found "Mr. Angel." Of course, he finds a "logical" reason for everything, like the Liars at The Weather Channel find reasons for all the completely anomalous weather events being orchestrated by the climate engineers. Again, as I read through this intriguing novel, I was amazed at the equivalents I see in humanity's behavior today. This is the Doctor's response when the Vicar tells him he went out after lunch instead of resting, then attempts to cause Hilyer to doubt his own mind!

"You go out," he said, "on a hot lunch and on a hot afternoon. Probably over eighty. Your mind, what there is of it, is whirling with avian expectations. I say, 'what there is of it,' because most of your nervous energy is down there, digesting your dinner. A man who has been lying in the bracken stands up before you and you blaze away. Over he goes—and as it happens—as it happens—he has reduplicate fore-limbs, one pair being not unlike wings. It's a coincidence certainly. And as for his iridescent colours and so forth—. Have you never had patches of colour swim before your eyes before, on a brilliant sunlight day? . . . Are you sure they were confined to the wings? Think."

    He then suggests that "Mr. Angel" has escaped from a mental institution (ah, yes, like we're all "conspiracy theorists" and mentally unstable when we speak the truth), and believes he will be apprehended soon, or his family will seek him. How insulting!!
    Distraught, the Vicar returns to the Angel and realizes no one is going to believe them, so he suggests the Angel play along and pretend to be a man. Bad choice for a number of reasons. Most importantly, he cannot be what he is not, especially to please the ignorant public. He has no idea how to behave in human society. (Many of us have that problem today.) The more the Vicar attempts to "normalize" him, the worse his blunders become, and the more violent society becomes, not only toward the Angel, but toward the Vicar, who begins to find himself in more hot water, starting with his curate. But perhaps the saddest consequence is that his injured wing, rather than healing has atrophied, or both wings, actually. Though there are many very humorous moments in this novel, they become more poignant as the story progresses to the end.
    In my notes, I had so many quotes to share, but I obviously can't include them all. So here's a bit more of what happens (without giving away the ending), and a few of the most appropriate quotes. Before I continue with the horrible reactions from the public, let me first emphasize that while the closed-minded and prejudiced locals were really the losers, because they were unable to see what a gift, what a "wonderful visit" had taken place in their midst, a great change is progressing within the Vicar. He begins to come to terms with the sad fact that he does not believe what he preaches, and finds himself slipping more into the Angel's world. All the earthly "realities" that too many take for granted now seem foreign and unsuitable for him. The self-righteous and intolerant curate and his wife become the real hypocrites. And the other tender element of the story is that the only other person to recognize the magnificence of the Angel is the young servant girl, Delia, who falls in love with him. Soon the Angel recognizes this emotion, too.
    After dinner they sit at the table, cracking nuts and chatting. The Angel asks the Vicar about his life.

"This life of ours is so insistent," said the Vicar. "It, and its petty needs, its temporary pleasures (Crack) swathe our souls about. While I am preaching to these people of mine of another life, some are ministering to one appetite and eating sweets, others—the old men—are slumbering, the youths glance at the maidens, the grown men protrude white waistcoats and gold chains, pomp and vanity on a substratum of carnal substance, their wives flaunt garish bonnets at one another. And I go on droning away of the things unseen and unrealised—'Eye hath not seen,' I read, 'nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the imagination of man to conceive,' and I look up to catch an adult male immortal admiring the fit of a pair of three and sixpenny gloves. It is damping year after year. When I was ailing in my youth I felt almost the assurance of vision that beneath this temporary phantasm world was the real world—the enduring world of the Life Everlasting. But now—"

    Hilyer shows the Angel his bedroom and explains the need for sleep. The Angel is fascinated with the candle and promptly starts the curtain on fire. The next morning after breakfast, they go into the study, where there is a violin. The Angel takes it and begins to play.

The Vicar tried to follow the music. The air reminded him of a flame, it rushed up, shone, flickered and danced, passed and reappeared. No!—it did not reappear! Another air—like it and unlike it, shot up after it, wavered, vanished. Then another, the same and not the same. It reminded him of the flaring tongues that palpitate and change above a newly lit fire. There are two airs—or motifs, which is it?—thought the Vicar. He knew remarkably little of musical technique. They go dancing up, one pursuing the other, out of the fire of the incantation, pursuing, fluctuating, turning, up into the sky. There below was the fire burning, a flame without fuel upon a level space, and there two flirting butterflies of sound, dancing away from it, up, one over another, swift, abrupt, uncertain.

    The Vicar becomes lost in the music, and finds himself in the Angel's world.

The study and the realities of life suddenly faded out of the Vicar's eyes, grew thinner and thinner like a mist that dissolves into air, and he and the Angel stood together on a pinnacle of wrought music, about which glittering melodies circled, and vanished, and reappeared. He was in the land of Beauty, and once more the glory of heaven was upon the Angel's face, and the glowing delights of colour pulsated in his wings. Himself the Vicar could not see. But I cannot tell you of the vision of that great and spacious land, of its incredible openness, and height, and nobility. For there is no space there like ours, no time as we know it; one must needs speak by bungling metaphors and own in bitterness after all that one has failed. And it was only a vision. The wonderful creatures flying through the æther saw them not as they stood there, flew through them as one might pass through a whisp of mist. The Vicar lost all sense of duration, all sense of necessity.

    After that, the Vicar said he would never play again, and gave the violin to the Angel. Next, the Vicar (using poor judgment), allows the Angel to explore the village alone. The first person he meets is a little boy who gives him a bunch of honeysuckles he had been picking, after which his encounters go downhill. He hears an old woman cussing out her granddaughter, and I must include part of this because Wells was so good at writing dialect and so hysterical.

He heard Mother Gustick scolding that granddaughter of hers as he passed the door. "You Brazen Faggit—you!" said Mother Gustick. "You Trumpery Baggage!"

The Angel stopped, startled at the strange sounds of Mother Gustick's voice. "Put yer best clo'es on, and yer feather in yer 'at, and off you goes to meet en, fal lal, and me at 'ome slaving for ye. 'Tis a Fancy Lady you'll be wantin' to be, my gal, a walkin' Touch and Go, with yer idleness and finery—"

    The Angel isn't aware of most things yet, so he doesn't realize she saw him and now accuses him of eavesdropping.

"But if ye didn't want me to hear, why did you cry out so loud? I thought. . . ."

"You thought! Softie—that's what you are! You silly girt staring Gaby, what don't know any better than to come holding yer girt mouth wide open for all that you can catch holt on? And then off up there to tell! You great Fat-Faced, Tale-Bearin' Silly-Billy! I'd be ashamed to come poking and peering round quiet people's houses. . . ."

    He doesn't know enough to shut up and walk away, but fortunately he does leave, because she comes out with a pot of boiling cabbage-water. He is perplexed. He encounters more of the same, including a drunk, and lots of other dialects and schoolboys who pelt him with beech-nut husks. The Angel is fascinated with each one, and doesn't know how to deal with them, or that he should deal with them at all. Fortunately (or not) Doctor Crump comes along and stops the boys, plus he had an appointment to re-examine the Angel's "wing."
    Next we meet Lady Hammergallow, who

lives, chiefly upon Burgundy and the little scandals of the village, a dear old lady with a ropy neck, a ruddled countenance and spasmodic gusts of odd temper, whose three remedies for all human trouble among her dependents are, a bottle of gin, a pair of charity blankets, or a new crown piece. The House is a mile-and-a-half out of Siddermorton. Almost all the village is hers, saving a fringe to the south which belongs to Sir John Gotch, and she rules it with an autocratic rule, refreshing in these days of divided government. She orders and forbids marriages, drives objectionable people out of the village by the simple expedient of raising their rent, dismisses labourers, obliges heretics to go to church, and made Susan Dangett, who wanted to call her little girl 'Euphemia,' have the infant christened 'Mary-Anne.' She is a sturdy Broad Protestant and disapproves of the Vicar's going bald like a tonsure. She is on the Village Council, which obsequiously trudges up the hill and over the moor to her, and (as she is a trifle deaf) speaks all its speeches into her speaking trumpet instead of a rostrum. She takes no interest now in politics, but until last year she was an active enemy of "that Gladstone." She has parlour maids instead of footmen to do her waiting, because of Hockley, the American stockbroker, and his four Titans in plush.

    Through the local gossips, which include the curate's wife, Mrs. Mendham, her friend, Mrs. Jehoram, Crump, plus the post-mistress, Bessy Flump and the dressmaker, Miss Finch, she knew "all about" the Angel. She visits the Vicar and questions him about his houseguest, coming to the conclusion that he is really the Vicar's illegitimate son!

"I thought so. Don't think I would blame you, Mr. Hilyer." She gave a corrupt laugh that she delighted in. "The world is the world, and men are men. And the poor boy's a cripple, eh? A kind of judgment. In mourning, I noticed. It reminds me of the Scarlet Letter. The mother's dead, I suppose. It's just as well. Really—I'm not a narrow woman—I respect you for having him. Really I do."

    Though the Vicar protests vehemently, it is to no avail, plus the fact that Lady Hammergallow is half deaf and uses an ear-trumpet. Anyways, she has heard about the Angel's marvelous violin playing and has determined to arrange a private concert for him at her home. Oh, my. A disaster in the making. How many ways can we say faux pas?
    Though the Vicar has tried to train him in the ways of humans, the Angel isn't human and is bewildered by human rules of society. Especially Pain. (Yes, there are many of us here today, also pretending to be human, who cannot grasp this either!)

"Then the animals. A dog to-day behaved most disagreeably—. And these boys, and the way in which people speak—. Everyone seems anxious—willing at any rate—to give this Pain. Everyone seems busy giving pain—"

"Or avoiding it," said the Vicar, pushing his dinner away before him. "Yes—of course. It's fighting everywhere. The whole living world is a battlefield—the whole world. We are driven by Pain. Here. How it lies on the surface! This Angel sees it in a day!"

"But why does everyone—everything—want to give pain?" asked the Angel.

"It is not so in the Angelic Land?" said the Vicar.

"No," said the Angel. "Why is it so here?"

The Vicar wiped his lips with his napkin slowly. "It is so," he said. "Pain," said he still more slowly, "is the warp and the woof of this life. Do you know," he said, after a pause, "it is almost impossible for me to imagine . . . a world without pain. . . . And yet, as you played this morning—

—"But this world is different. It is the very reverse of an Angelic world. Indeed, a number of people—excellent religious people—have been so impressed by the universality of pain that they think, after death, things will be even worse for a great many of us. It seems to me an excessive view. But it's a deep question. Almost beyond one's power of discussion—"

    Anyways, the day of the Angel's musical debut arrives, and of course, everyone forms an opinion the moment they set eyes on him, all based on their own personal filters and biases. However, Mrs. Jehoram, the curate's wife's friend, who had heard him play the violin and was moved by it, begins to take an (unfortunate) liking to the Angel.
    When he began to play, some were affected as the Vicar had been, but others continued to judge, or had their mind on something else and weren't paying attention or were talking during the performance. Lady Hammergallow exclaimed "De—licious!" when it was over, even though she didn't hear a note, and there was vigorous clapping. But it is when Lady Hammergallow suggests a duet with the pianist Mr. Wilmerdings, the Curate from Iping Hanger, that they discover the Angel cannot read a note of music. Suddenly the sweetness turns very sour.
    So while Mr. Wilmerdings plays a solo, Mrs. Jehoram goes aside with the Angel, to, eh, flirt. Of course, the Angel is clueless, and they begin to speak rather intimately about feeling out of place in this world. And while she is thinking his expression of finding that "someone" who has shown him sympathy refers to her, she is outraged to find that he is speaking of Hilyer's servant Delia! Then he commits an even more colossal blunder, and it is here that I will end.
    Since this review began with a quote by John Ruskin, I will close with another one I found on this page of his quotes. It is equally appropriate for the story.

We shall be remembered in history as the most cruel, and therefore the most unwise, generation of men that ever yet troubled the earth:—the most cruel in proportion to their sensibility,—the most unwise in proportion to their science. No people, understanding pain, ever inflicted so much: no people, understanding facts, ever acted on them so little.

    HA! He should be alive today!
    If you have never read Wells, please start with this one. There is so much in this novel that should make all humans take a closer look at their behavior, bigotry and screwed-up belief systems. It is not what most people would consider "typical" Wells, but, for anyone who has explored the gamut of his works, he wasn't typical of anything, and should not be pegged so. It is a humorous, heartwarming and bittersweet tale, suitable for children, too, with lessons to be learned. Very highly recommended!
     Below is the painting referred to in the story, found at the National Gallery. It is by Andrea del Verrocchio: Tobias and the Angel, dated 1470-1480.

Tobias and the Angel

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