Il Paradiso by Dante Guided by Beatrice, Dante ascends to the Primum Mobile, where the angels dwell. Beatrice explains the nine orders of angels, hierarchically arranged: Seraphim (the closest to God), Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels, and Angels.
“Aire and Angels” by John Donne In amorous enthusiasm, Donne takes literally the notion that his beloved is an “angel”. She is as pure as a heavenly being, but has had to take bodily form, “For, nor in nothing, nor in things / Extreme, and scatt’ring bright, can love inhere.” When an angel appears it takes “face, and wings / Of aire”.
Dr Faustus by Christopher Marlowe Good and Evil Angels appear in the play as a double act. “O, Faustus, lay that damned book aside, / And gaze not on it, lest it tempt thy soul,” says the Good Angel. But the Evil Angel’s counsel – “Go forward Faustus in the famous art” – is more welcome. Finally the Good Angel exits and the Evil Angel gleefully invites Faustus to the “vast perpetual torture-house” that is hell.
Paradise Lost by John Milton Milton’s angels don’t just fly around doing good (or ill), they eat, drink (fruit juice only) and chat. Adam asks the visiting angel Raphael whether angels have sex, “To whom the Angel, with a smile that glowed / Celestial rosy red, Love’s proper hue, / Answered, ‘Let it suffice thee that thou knowest / Us happy, and without love no happiness’.” Yes they do.
“The Angel” by William Blake The poet dreams of hiding his “heart’s delight” from his guardian angel, who flees from him. The poet resentfully arms himself against his angel’s kindness. “Soon my Angel came again: / I was arm’d, he came in vain; / For the time of youth was fled, / And grey hairs were on my head.”
Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy “I don’t believe in anything supernatural,” says Tess, but she gets an angel for a suitor. Angel Clare even plays a harp. This human angel (“more spiritual than animal”) wants a “pure” woman and is too high-minded to be able to understand Tess’s corporeal nature.
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald Fred Fairly is a scientist, an academic at St Angelicus (“Angel’s”) College, who can’t help thinking of angels. “Fairly perhaps sees a bird flying over the fens, and he looks attentively at a young woman, and he combines the two of them, and imagines an angel. That is how the imagination works.” He falls in love with Daisy, who is a kind of angel (a nurse, anyway).
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie Bollywood film star Gibreel Farishta has an angelic screen name (Farishta means “angel” in Urdu) and after his plane is blown up over the English Channel he is magically transformed into the very angel Gibreel. He alights in England and we find he has acquired a halo. But is he a force for good, or a deluded soul?
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman Pullman has derived more than his title from Milton’s Paradise Lost, though his interpretation is Blakean: we find out that there was indeed a war in heaven once, but the rebel angels fought for freedom against “those who want us to obey and be humble and submit”. Will and Lyra enter the world of angelic conflict and acquire their own guardian angel called Balthamos.
Skellig by David Almond Another Blakean children’s tale, in which Michael finds a mysterious winged man called Skellig living in the garage of his parents’ dilapidated new house. He looks like a tramp and eats spiders. Michael and his new hippy friend Mina care for this being who has fallen to earth, who becomes more and more angelic and finally helps save the life of Michael’s baby sister.