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Angels and Men – C. Fox

July 27, 2015

AAMI have filed this under ‘church history’ because the protagonist is researching sects and under ‘spirituality’ because she is coming apart mentally and spiritually.

This is her first novel and was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelist of the Year.

The novel is set in a Durham college, next door to what in real life is called Cranmer Hall (Coverdale in the book.). I stayed in one of them and went to the other one for a conference and the views she describes are those that I remember.

(Is there a touch of autobiography seeing as the author was at Durham has a degree in English and a PhD in Theology? She used to describe her novels as ‘cassock rippers’ but said ‘it’s not just the institution; it’s the big themes of salvation, sin and forgiveness that absorb me.’)

It’s the late 1970s and early 80s and Mara, arrives to write her MA on women in historical religious sects, as part of her attempt to come to terms with the unspecified trauma of the last few years.  Accustomed to being aloof and isolated, she lets herself be drawn into friendship with two bouncy undergraduates, who introduce her to the men with whom Mara becomes romantically involved: Rupert, the son of an Evangelical bishop, and Johnny, an ex-womanizer who has sworn off sex until his ordination.

Some suggest that the title comes from 1 Corinthians 13: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal”. More likely it is from 1 Co 4:9: angels and men’. Even more likely, from Cranmer’s collect for the Feast of St. Michael and all Angels ‘ who has constituted the services of angels and men in a wonderful order.’ There are lots of scriptural allusions throughout.

I didn’t get into it as quickly as I did ‘Fight the Good Fight’ – maybe that was the author’s intention – to make them all inscrutable until you got to know them.

 Some reviewers reckon that all the men are awful. I’d say they were mostly naïve and I don’t think male students in the 1980s called women ‘Pet,’ ‘Princess,’ my beautiful’, ‘flower ‘and ‘Sweetie’.

The characters don’t conform to the sort of stereotypes that appear in Susan Howatch’s novels – we don get spiritual directors who have no self-knowledge and who, consequently, have mental breakdowns. Nor so we have autocratic anglo-catholic priests. But there is one passage, in a retreat house, that shows the power of absolution.

AAM2 A few niggles:

How convenient that it snowed at Christmas.

What sort of college has lectures at five o’ clock?

And wouldn’t a vicar’s wife know better than to bake a simnel cake for Easter? It should be for Mothering Sunday.

What Northerner uses “Ha’away”? What does it mean?

I wish she could spell ‘baptistery’ – not ‘baptistery’.

There aren’t many vicarages where you’d find ‘a stray biretta’


Was there no escaping the long arm and limp wrist of Anglicanism?

She had done as much frantic reading as she could over the summer, cantering briskly through centuries of church history, slowing to a trot over rocky doctrinal countryside, collapsing at last in despair in the vast trackless wastes of German liberal protestantism.

He was like the person who keeps raising points of information when other people want the meeting to finish.

Jemima Wilkinson had claimed she could walk on water. Mara had just been reading about her. She had gathered a circle of devotees around her in the eighteenth century, and at some stage had promised to demonstrate her high calling by a miracle. One night they gathered at the lake’s edge. ‘There she goes,’ the disciples would cry, watching the pale figure crossing the lake. ‘Praises be to the Most High! This is the One of whom the Scriptures prophesied — the woman clothed ‘With the sun with the moon under her feet!’ But it had not been like that. Jemima had brought them to the water’s edge and asked if they believed she had the power to walk on water. ‘Yes, yes!’ they chorused. In that case: she replied, ‘your faith has no need of a demonstration.’ Mara smiled.

A real fanatic would have plunged into the inky waters and drowned, believing to the last watery gasp that God would intervene and fulfil his promise.

AAM3 `I’m off to Leeds this weekend: someone was saying. ‘It sounds a bit charismatic, but I’ll have to look at it.’

`Hasn’t Simon already been there?’

`Yes, but he turned it down,’ said the bossy one. ‘His wife didn’t like the kitchen.’ Good God, thought Mara. Get your priorities sorted out. Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but Simon’s wife doesn’t like the kitchen.

. ‘But why? I have never been able to understand it. What makes an intelligent, and, if I may say so, attractive young woman like yourself become a feminist?’

`Pricks like you, mostly,’ she replied.

‘I suppose the world is divided into two types of people: the snails and the squirrels. The snails carry their all with them, while the squirrels hoard.

Johnny laughed. `”By, listen to our John. He’s gone posh.”‘ Tut it’s a middle-class profession. You can’t escape that.’ `I know. It’s a disaster: replied Johnny. ‘I mean, you

church and someone puts a one-thousand-page service in your hand. The person up the front has an educated southern accent.

What kind of message does that give off? I’ll tell you -Unless you’re a middle-class professional, forget it. It’s not your church.”‘.

Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. This time I really mean it.

‘How often do you pray?’

‘How often do you masturbate?’

There was something overpowering about large numbers of clergy in a confined space — like fifteen prima donnas in a stuck lift.

`Well, Andrew,’ said Johnny formally. ‘I think we decided that God doesn’t blame you for being homosexual. We couldn’t agree on whether it’s nature or nurture, I’m afraid; but whatever the cause, God still loves you. God really loves you, but you must never, neva have sex.’ Mara saw Hugh colour angrily at this parody.

Andrew laughed. ‘It’s all right for you, you bastard,’ he said. ‘Your preferences are catered for.’

`No they’re not,’ said Johnny. ‘My preference is for screwing all women in the world. We all have to exercise some restraint’

`Yes, but you can walk down the aisle with the woman you 1ove and the Church will bless your union. What does the Church offer me?’

Well, that we were supposed to be in the middle of a ser series on Jeremiah; that it wasn’t a sermon, as such, more of a stare comedy routine; and that some of his conclusions were theology dodgy.’ She glanced at Rupert, and saw him struggling not to `And finally, that nowhere in the Bible does the Prodigal say, this — I’m off home.”‘ Mara bit her lips. If only I’d been there.

‘How will he survive in a polite middle-class profession?’ she wondered out loud, remembering her father’s words at Christmas.

He wants to be an industrial chaplain.’ Did he? Yes, that made sense.

-But he’ll have to do a curacy?

-Yes. If he can survive three years of parish ministry, he’ll be all right:

Will he?’

`Survive? God alone knows. Not unless he learns to control his temper. He’s got a good bishop, though

`What about you, Mara?’ said Rupert, turning to her unexpectedly. She felt herself blushing slightly. ‘What kind of man couldn’t marry?’

`A clergyman.’

As she sat in the quiet kitchen at home she felt again the nasty which this reply had given to the conversation. She had spoilt flippant mood by answering seriously. It had been Andrew who broken the silence.

‘A clergyman? Thy exquisite reason?’

`Because I’d want my husband to be married to me, not to and twelve thousand bloody parishioners’

There was another jagged pause, then Johnny whistled. ‘That came from the heart’ He laughed and the tension broke.

`I could marry a clergyman if he was well endowed,’ said

In every sense of the word, of course’

she had even behaved herself when they had got on to women ordination, and the cabinet minister had suggested — arf-arf — that the neatest solution was to delay having women priests until the women themselves could reach a unanimous decision on what to wear church. She had opened her mouth, but then seen Rupert’s anxious eyes on her, and managed not to say, ‘I thought bitching about vestmrnts was an exclusively male preserve.’

This is what it would be like if I married him, she thought: anxious glances across the dinner table preventing me from speaking, at last one day I explode, taking out half the vicarage dining with me. Eventually the last guests murmured and brayed their way to the front door and drove off.

Joanna was no longer trying to climb into Johnny’s trousers blish the Kingdom of God there.

`I wonder what kind of degree I’ll get,’ May said.

`A nice girly Lower Second. You’re only moderately bright, and you do bugger all.’

`Smack his face,’ ordered Maddy.

`What if I worked really hard for the next two years?’ persisted May. He shrugged. ‘What if you had brains? Who knows?’

May flushed, but she carried on with her daisy chain nonchalantly `Well, who cares?’ she said. Joanna might be right. The Second Comine could’ve happened by then

you don’t pamper yourself, either, mother.You only pamper everyone else. The front of the queue, the top of the milk.You spend your whole time plumping up this world’s cushions for other people

`Yeah, yeah. Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’

`Love means I get to treat you like shit and you always forgive me.’

‘I’ve always been one for having my cake and eating it. I mean, what’s the point of having a cake and not eating it?’

and made wine from water.”

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One Comment
  1. Catherine Fox – is a close friend of mine – we were in the same class throughout school – her name then was Cathy Humphries. I loved these books – sad they went out of print.
    Small world that you have review of her book on here.

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