THE ANGEL AND THE IDIOT: A STORY OF THE NEXT CENTURY. London: David Stott, 1890. Small octavo, pp. [1-3] 4-158 [159-160: blank] [note: last leaf is a blank], marbled boards. First edition. "Short utopian tale of the future and, incidentally, a future war story. The narrator, a young English aristocrat named Godfrey, drowns while trying to rescue a drunken acquaintance (who also happens to be a romantic rival for the beautiful Dolores). Godfrey comes to in a disembodied place, the Neutral Land, as he is made to understand via voiceless communication with an angel. The authorities aren't sure what to do with him. He has been a little more thoughtful than the usual specimen of his breed. He asks if it is possible for disembodied spirits like himself to go back to Earth. Only by inhabiting temporarily the body of an idiot, says the angel. This is arranged and Godfrey wakes up in bed at his home, surrounded by strangers who apparently are his mother, his sister, and his doctor, who credits the idiot's awakening to an electrical procedure he has just performed. The idiot makes rapid progress, learning to speak and converse intelligently, though some of his attitudes and expressions strike his listeners as oddly old-fashioned. In conversation with his mother and others he learns about his new surroundings. A hundred years have passed. Dolores married his brother, and therefore is his great grandmother. His home is now owned by the state and used as a kind of hospital. England has become a eutopia: communist, pacifist, feminist, vegetarian, hygienic and vaguely spiritual, with both advanced technology and a revival of artisan skills. Everyone must work. Money cannot be inherited but is turned over to the state, as is control of property, education, and practically all other important activities. The army has been abolished. Europe is united and therefore at peace (no mention being made of the rest of the world) Everything is powered by electricity (no mention being made of the fuel used to generate it). Marriage has been abandoned. Individuals take "companions" in a process that seems to give them more freedom than marriage, but these arrangements are supervised by the government. The only religion is a vague amalgam of Buddhism, Spiritualism and Mesmerism, a state religion without priests or liturgy or dogma, just beautiful churches with mysterious music and, now and then, stimulating lectures. There are no taxes; all revenue is raised through lotteries. Criminals are sent to islands (one island for each type of crime) and left to fend for themselves. These radical reforms were made possible indirectly by the conquest of England by France in a war around the turn of the century. The country was later liberated by an idealistic autocrat. After driving the French out, one of his first actions was to round up all drunkards, lunatics, hereditary paupers, prostitutes and those with incurable diseases and have them killed. He was hanged as a result but nonetheless revered by all afterwards as "the Deliverer." London, mostly destroyed in the war with the French, has been rebuilt as a model city, spacious and green and restful. On his visit there, Godfrey meets a woman, Iris Noel, whom he comes to love. She doesn't seem to fit in, finding her work boring, and the company of others tiresome. She craves solitude and her happiest time was a holiday in the Sahara Desert. Godfrey tells his mother that he wants to propose "companionship" to her. Instantly the scene fades out and he comes to in the Neutral Land. The angel explains that active intervention in the world by a visitor such as himself is forbidden. He is relieved to be rid of his body again and is waved on to his next destination (heaven, presumably). "An unusual and rather interesting utopia, told with greater narrative skill than most such stories, cleverly embedded in a frame narrative about the afterlife, its apparently optimistic tone is complicated by several subtle counter-forces: the dissatisfaction of Iris, the ruthlessness of the state, the vague Oedipal anxieties surrounding the hero, and the religious context which, while avoiding the usual pious sentimentality, establishes a scale of time and gravity that diminishes the activities on Earth. The story moves along briskly and the explanation of the new culture is woven gracefully into the overall story. Aside from the specific content of its imagined reforms, THE ANGEL AND THE IDIOT contributes some tonal innovations to the genre: it is neither openly dystopian in the manner of BRAVE NEW WORLD or 1984, nor wholeheartedly eutopian in the manner of LOOKING BACKWARD or NEWS FROM NOWHERE, both of which had just been published. According to fantasy fiction specialist George Locke, the book 'has acquired something of a legendary status ever since it had first appeared as an entry in the original Bleiler "Checklist of Fantastic Literature," presumably from a note in the "English Catalogue." No copies had been recorded in any checklist or book catalogue until I was sold a rebound specimen in the very early 1980s by Martin Stone. The present copy [in original pictorial wraps] was kindly sold to me … in 1982' (A Spectrum of Fantasy Volume II, p. 4). For the record, Bleiler probably examined the copy owned by collector John Nitka of New York, now in the Nitka Collection at UCLA. Nitka's annotated copy of the Bleiler Checklist (owned by the cataloguer) has it checked off. Nitka's collection was one of the seven on which the first Checklist was largely based. A rare book, to be sure." - Robert Eldridge. Clarke, Tale of the Future (1978), p, 15 (not seen). Suvin, Victorian Science Fiction in the UK, p. 121 (not seen). Sargent, British and American Utopian Literature, 1516-1985, p. 83 (recording his personal copy only). Not in Negley or Lewis. Bleiler (1978), p. 5. Reginald 00342. Two copies located in American libraries (UCLA and UC Riverside's Eaton Collection), none in British libraries. Rebound in boards without the original paper wrappers, inked stamps of a German library on title page and front free endpaper, an otherwise fine, clean copy. An uncommon book. (#153369).
No statement of printing.