‘The Man Who Saw Through Heaven’ by Wilbur Daniel Steele

The Man Who Saw Through Heaven by Wilbur Daniel Steele, 1925

The magic trick:

Outlining the emotional stakes and conclusion in the opening paragraph

I must admit I was disappointed by this story. I so thoroughly enjoyed my first taste of Steele’s work – “How Beautiful With Shoes” – but I’m not such a fan of “The Man Who Saw Through Heaven.” It’s not a bad story by any stretch; just not my favorite.

Steele does something odd at the outset. He has his narrator basically lay out the entire emotional aftermath for the reader. He explains his guilt, his feeling of responsibility – incidental as his role may have been – for Hubert Diana’s existential crisis. It is a dramatic and attention-grabbing introduction, to be sure. The problem is – I found nothing left to hold my interest. The reader knows not only how the story will wind up but how the narrator will feel about this conclusion. What else is there to learn?

Not the most effective format for the plot, I’d argue. But it’s an interesting one, if nothing else, to note. And that’s quite a trick on Steele’s part.

The selection:

People have wondered (there being obviously no question of romance involved) how I could ever have allowed myself to be let in for the East Africa adventure of Mrs. Diana in search of her husband. There were several reasons. To begin with, the time and effort and money weren’t mine: they were the property of the wheel of which I was but a cog, the Society through which Diana’s life had been insured, along with the rest of that job-lot of missionaries. The “letting in” was the firm’s. In the second place, the wonderers have not counted on Mrs. Diana’s capacity for getting things done for her. Meek and helpless, yes, but God was on her side. Too meek, too helpless to move mountains herself, if those who happened to be handy didn’t move them for her then her God would know the reason why. Having dedicated her all to making straight the Way, why should her neighbor cavil at giving a little? The writer for one, a colonial governor-general for another, railway magnates, insurance managers, safari leaders, the ostrich farmer of Ndua, all these and a dozen others in their turns have felt the hundred-ton weight of her thin-lipped meekness—have seen her in metaphor sitting grimly on the doorsteps of their souls.

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