BOOK REVIEW – H. G. WELLS – ANSWER TO PRAYER. In THE MAN WITH A NOSE & OTHER UNCOLLECTED SHORT STORIES. 1984 The Athlone Press.
An obscure little gem of a very short story by H. G. Wells, in which a well-meaning and mild mannered Archbishop begins to suffer an inexplicable anxiety attack. He is convinced, for reasons not stated that his secretarial staffs are keeping secrets and correspondence from him. He has lived a charmed life, and never faced any personal distress before.
In his pastoral role he has offered advice to others in need and that advice has always been to pray to God for answers and salvation. Now, for the first time in his long life, the Archbishop feels the need to get down on his knee and pray to God for guidance himself.
He feels foolish, and his distress intensifies. He begins to wonder if there is even a God out in the void able or willing to hear his prayer. So when he hears god ask him directly what he wants, the Archbishop is so shocked that he dies of fright on the spot, and that is how his secretaries find his countenance when they come to find him.
It’s a lovely absurd piece, about a man of questionable faith who has lived a lifetime offering advice he doesn’t really believe in, and then discovering it to be true at which point his mind and body simply die of shock. There are no explanations or moral meanings given in the tale. It all just happens. Have his secretaries been hiding medical evidence of ill health? Has there been correspondence concerning his declining faith? Is he just being paranoid? Is God being cruel to him? Wells leaves us in the dark and the story works better for it.
It’s a shame so few other stories in the collection live up to the standard of this very short piece.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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