Aziraphale by Linn StandalThe angel of the Eastern Gate put his wings over his head to shield himself from the first drops.

“I’m sorry,” he said politely. “What was it you were saying?”

“I said, that one went down like a lead balloon,” said the serpent.

“Oh. Yes,” said the angel, whose name was Aziraphale.

“I think it was a bit of an over-reaction, to be honest,” said the serpent. “I mean, first offence and everything. I can’t see what’s so bad about knowing the difference between good and evil, anyway.”

“It must be bad,” reasoned Aziraphale, in the slightly concerned tones of one who can’t see it either, and is worrying about it, “otherwise you wouldn’t have been involved.”

“They just said, Get up there and make some trouble,” said the serpent, whose name was Crawly although he was thinking of changing it now. Crawly, he had decided, was not him.

“Yes, but you’re a demon. I’m not sure if it’s actually possible for you to do good,” said Aziraphale. “It’s down to your basic, you know, nature. Nothing personal, you understand.”

— p. vii

In contrast to his demonic counterpart, Aziraphale is very hesitant to question the general state of cosmic affairs — although that doesn’t mean he isn’t possessed of the urge to do so, as that characteristic manifests itself as early as the Edenic example above. While Aziraphale did not Fall, he has Sauntered Vaguely Downwards in the sense that he has managed to earn himself the job of being stationed on Earth as Crowley’s opposite number. And, while the job should probably seem unenviable to any angel, it seems to suit Aziraphale just fine.

Aziraphale, it would seem, has been in human form (or something like it) since the beginning. However, his present-day appearance is the one we’re given in the fullest detail, except for the fact that it’s not as specific as Crowley’s:

Aziraphale spread his elegantly-manicured hands. (25)

Aziraphale straightened his tie. (32)

[Aziraphale’s] magician’s coat had been a little dusty, but it felt good once it was on. (43, also a “battered old top hat” later on the page, and on 45 the coat is referred to specifically as a “frock coat”)

“Tartan is stylish.” (57)

Angels had certain moral standards to maintain and so, unlike Crowley, he preferred to buy his clothes rather than wish them into being from raw firmament. And the shirt had been quite expensive. (63)

Many people, meeting Aziraphale for the first time, formed three impressions: that he was English, that he was intelligent, and that he was gayer than a tree full of monkeys on nitrous oxide. (103)

Aziraphale by Julie DillonAside from this disparate handful of references, there is no place in the book that gives a single coherent picture of his appearance. It seems likely that Aziraphale is somewhat heavier than Crowley, though, as his hands are described as “plump” (63) and he seems to take mild offense at Crowley’s Compline/slimming aid joke (58) — but it’s difficult to tell exactly on whose behalf he’s more offended, his own or the nuns’.

Aziraphale’s home life, unlike Crowley’s, seems to consist more of his workplace than an actual place of residence. We see Aziraphale spend enormous amounts of time sitting in the back room of his Soho bookshop poring over Agnes Nutter‘s Nife and Accurate Prophecies, and the only conclusion that can be drawn from this is that he’s reasonably comfortable with only a kitchenette for making tea and hot cocoa and a desk and/or table for sitting. The bookshop has a second floor — it collapses on Crowley’s head when the building is burning (172) — but we are never given a clear picture as to how many and what sort of rooms comprise it, not even after Adam has restored everything to its former state. However, we do know that Aziraphale keeps his bookshop in much the same condition as most used-book sellers keep their shops: dusty, musty, and ill-lit. He also owns a “cheap, slow, plasticky” computer that is “ideal for the small businessman,” which he uses for doing his accounts (103).

As angels go, Aziraphale is almost always amiable and courteous, but not necessarily nice. One gets the impression that he oozes over helping Anathema out of the ditch more to the purpose of keeping up appearances in front of Crowley than out of severe genuine concern (55). While he cares about humanity and all living creatures (especially Crowley, to his repeated and agitated internal admission), he can be surprisingly careless, as in the case of the dove he lets perish in his coat sleeve (45-6). Aziraphale gets easily wrapped up in his thoughts and affairs, often to the point that he becomes blind to the painfully apparent need of others (72). In spite of his faults, Aziraphale’s most admirable trait is his sense of loyalty — to both his superiors and to Crowley (156).

In fact, the “old serpent” himself happens to be Aziraphale’s only friend, as well as his enemy. They appear to have first met, or at least got to know each other, in the Garden — and it’s been a curious combination of uphill and downhill ever since. Once they discovered that, in the process of thwarting each other and just generally getting under each other’s feet, they actually have quite a lot in common, they came to a sort of Arrangement around the year 1020 (19). The terms are “very simple”:

…so simple, in fact, that it didn’t really deserve the capital letter, which it had got for simply being in existence for so long. It was the sort of sensible arrangement that many isolated agents, working in awkward conditions a long way from their superiors, reach with their opposite number when they realize that they have far more in common with their immediate opponents than their remote allies. It meant a tacit non-interference in certain of each other’s activities. It made certain that while neither really won, also neither really lost, and both were able to demonstrate to their masters the great strides they were making against a cunning and well-informed adversary. (23)

Due to the fact that they are both “of angel stock,” they even find covering for each other on occasion a reasonable thing to do (although Aziraphale occasionally feels guilty [23]).

The Arrangement also seems to have come, over time, to define not only their working lives, but their social lives as well. Dining at the Ritz is a frequent and favorite activity for this unlikely pair (26), as is keeping the back room of Aziraphale’s bookshop well stocked with wine for the purpose of getting utterly smashed when things don’t go according to plan (29-34). While the amount of time that they’ve spent solidly in each other’s company for the past few centuries is unclear, we do know that they’ve seen each other regularly enough to have built up a reasonably close friendship, much to their chagrin, which becomes steadily more apparent as the novel progresses. Near the end of the novel, Aziraphale begins to find his feet in matters of letting Crowley know that his presence, too, is appreciated — and even needed (249-50).

Aziraphale may not be able to dance anything more complicated than the gavotte (168), but he is, as the dust jacket says, a “genuine angel.”

Edition referenced in this article: UK Gollancz hardcover (1990)
Written by Adrienne