Tuesday, 1 January 1980

The Angel of Pain

Fiction ~ novel
Published 1906
142,500 words

[Benson]'s reputation [in 1906] was such that his next book, The Angel of Pain, sold 8,000 copies on the day of publication.
~Brian Masters in The Life of E. F. Benson, 1991

THE CRITICS (I confess I am not looking forward to this one)
Mr. Benson can write a good story, and he does. The Angel of Pain is a good story, and it is something more.
~The Independent, quoted in the endpapers of US edition of The House of Defence
Mr. E. F. Benson's new novel is a singular mingling of the attractive and the disappointing. It is in its plot and situations distressing, but in its pictures of English society it is extremely interesting, and there are several characters worth knowing and rather carefully worked out. It is a pity, we think, that Mr. Benson persists in dealing in his fiction with symbolism and occultism. In this he follows the lead of Mr. Hichens, but with much less success. In the present story, for instance, the man who returns to nature, lives in the woods, discovers that he can by mental sympathy call the birds to his hand, and enters into inexplicable intimacy with the forest creatures, in the end becomes ridiculous rather than impressive. He believes in the joy of nature, but half fears and half hopes that at some time the whole of nature—sorrow as well as joy—will be revealed to him, and this he calls seeing Pan. There is an ancient pagan myth that whoever sees Pan will not survive the sight, and Mr. Benson intimates that his hero's sudden death is of this kind, but makes the whole thing ludicrous by leaving the reader in doubt as to whether the man is killed by being butted to death by a real goat or dies because he sees Pan in his mythical goat-like shape.
~The Outlook (US), 24/02/1906
There is a wide gulf between the clever frivolity of Dodo and the wise quietness of The Angel of Pain; the two novels might almost, indeed, have been written by two different men, so far has Mr. Benson travelled from the tone and manner of his sensational first book. He has drawn nearer to actual life here, and one cannot do that and still remain simply an airy and irresponsible humorist;with one exception the people of the story are normal and wonderfully lifelike men and women. The exception is Tom Merivale, who lives solitary in the New Forest and is known as 'the Hermit.' He talks a ripe philosophy, he says some good things, but he is not real, and the fashion of his death is fantastically unconvincing. The three chief characters, Philip Home, a shrewd and successful city financier, with a gentler, less practical side to him that is revealed only to his intimates; Madge Ellington; and the buoyant and engaging young artist, Evelyn Dundas, are detailed subtly and with insight. Madge was to have married Philip, though she has no love for him; but meeting with Dundas she loves and marries him, and for awhile Philip hovers on the verge of madness, and in these days, when he is hating the woman who has turned from him, indirectly acquiesces in certain financial operations that involve her husband in rule [sic]; then, when the influences of 'the Hermit' have healed his sick spirit, comes news that Dundas has been blinded by a shooting accident, and ennobled by the discipline of suffering he is stricken with sympathy and hastens to befriend him. The story is beautifully imagined, and is told with a fine artistic reticence and charm of style.
~The Bookman (UK), 05/1906

The mass of English religious novels, to be candid, owe their importance to the fact of their numbers rather than to the intrinsic value of any one story. But there is significance in the mere fact of Mr. Benson's wit and skill being submerged by a weak and painful mysticism, as in The Angel of Pain, and in The House of Defense by a pitifully flat and obvious sermon upon Christian Science.
~The Atlantic Monthly, 01/1907
We have learnt to expect from Mr. Benson an admirably constructed story, brilliant character sketches, flashes of good talk, light-hearted nonsense, and of late also a touch of weirdness, a study of things occult. In The Angel of Pain we find all these things … but the conception of the whole is finer and more human than that of any other work. Mr. Benson also shows a strong and intimate feeling for nature … a remarkably clever book.
~The Guardian, quoted in endpapers to Juggernaut

Mr. E. F. Benson shows steadily maturing power. His new novel … is on a higher plane of literary achievement than any work he has yet done … Mr. Benson has drawn his characters admirably, with infinite understanding and sympathy.
~Westminster Gazette, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves
A bright and clever book, showing us life very much as it is from the cheerful side.
~Daily Telegraph, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves
Beautifully written, and the characters … are drawn with the author's extraordinary insight and completeness in depiction.
~The Gentlewoman, quoted in endpapers of Sheaves


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