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Angel Island by Inez Haynes Gillmore

Angel Island (1914)

by Inez Haynes Gillmore

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[Angel Island] by Inez Haynes Gilmore
It was the morning after the shipwreck. The five men lay where they had slept. The first couple of sentences plunges the reader immediately into Inez Haynes Gillmore’s extraordinary fantasy tale that lays the ground for a pitched battle of the sexes on a desert island in the middle of the Pacific. It is extraordinary because of the limpid prose that entrances from the very start and locked this reader into the mysteries of the angel women who fly enticingly over the island. There are five angels (beautiful women with wings) for the five men and in the first part of the book we see them through the men’s eyes. They appear in their dreams and then fleeting glimpses before a grand seduction gets under way. They stay tantalisingly out of reach at times just hovering above them and the men are affected collectively and individually.

The five men are stock characters, gentlemen to a fault but all of a certain type and this is how Gillmore describes some of them:

Ralph Adlington the least popular in the group was a man of wide experience, a careful and intelligent observer both of men and things, but he was a man scrupulously honourable in regard to his own sex and absolutely codeless in regard to the other................ Frank Merrill was a professor at a small university a typical academic product: on his moral side he was a typical reformer, a man of impeccable private character, solitary and a little austere, he had never married; he had never sought the company of women..................... Honey Smith possessed not a trace of genius, he had no mind to speak of and was an average person, but for one thing ‘personality’ The whole world of creatures felt its charm: as for women - his appearance among them was a signal for a noiseless social cataclysm: they slipped and slid in his direction as helplessly as if an inclined plane had opened under their feet.

Gilmore matches the angel women to the men and an allegory emerges that develops enticingly through the story.

Who are the women? where do they come from? What business do they have with the men apart from an obvious sexual attraction, but the first question to be resolved is; should the men attempt to capture them. They decide to do so and from then on the book changes direction and concerns itself with relationships between the two groups. The women's wings are clipped, they lose their freedom and settle down to a domestic life, children are born and the men go off to work on the island, ever more engrossed in building bigger and better facilities. Gilmore still manages to keep elements of mystery and suspense as we learn more about the women and the book subtly changes to their point of view.

Honey Smith’s thoughts on women; They’re amateurs at life. They’re a failure as a sex and an outworn convention. Billy Fairfax says: Our duty is to cherish and protect them. They’re females says Ralph Adlington “Our duty is to tame, subjugate, infatuate and control them.

The angel women have a mountain to climb to win back their freedom, but the thought of their children and their own independence stirs them to take action.

Inez Haynes Gillmore wrote over 40 books and was active in the suffragist movement in the early 1900’s. Angel Island was published in 1914 and it’s charm and fantasy elements make palatable a political and social message that ranks alongside H G Wells best achievements. A wonderfully satisfying read, I loved it and so 4 stars. ( )
3 vote baswood | Dec 15, 2015 |
pretty poor and boring. ( )
  carolynsuarez | Dec 3, 2015 |
Infinitely better than Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" both in terms of the lucidity of the feminist message and the quality of the writing. ( )
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0452262003, Paperback)

It was the morning after the shipwreck. The five men still lay where they had slept. A long time had passed since anybody had spoken. A long time had passed since anybody had moved. Indeed, it, looked almost as if they would never speak or move again.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:51 -0400)

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