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Observations placeholder

Godwin, Joscelyn - The Starlight years



Type of Spiritual Experience


As Kelsmcott’s first tenants after the Morris family, Joscelyn’s parents, Edward and Stephani rented the historic Oxfordshire house throughout the Second World War.

There they created an aesthetic and erotic paradise based on a fantasy land called ‘Thessyros’, and produced a body of figurative painting unique for its time. Much of this was done under the influence of a legally-obtained drug they called ‘Starlight’, making many of their paintings early examples of psychedelic art.

Neither their tenancy of Kelmscott nor their relationship was smooth, and sometimes the war most real to them was their own. What makes The Starlight Years more than just a period memoir is its remarkable honesty. The realities of the Second World War rarely intrude, giving their story an unusual intimacy. The ebb and flow of their relationship is mirrored in their letters and journals, which they wrote consciously as literary art, and which are explained by their younger son, Joscelyn Godwin.  He says:

"Both my parents loved to paint angels, with or without wings. I don't think they "saw" them as some visionaries do, but I do think that artists have a special organ of the Imagination in which such things can take shape. The way music can turn into other-sensory images may have to do with the same organ.

"Starlight" was an over the counter medicine – a pharmaceutical - which in the 1940s was sold in inhalers to clear the sinuses. Extracting the cottonwool and either swallowing it or squeezing out the contents apparently gave one several hours of vivid inspiration and, unlike most drugs, control of one's ability to paint or write. … In "The Starlight Years" it was part of the desperate effort to hang onto one's talent and ideals while the rest of the world was going mad. Nowadays there are other [safer] ways to do that."

A description of the experience

SG He came like a dream in the dawn of life (Shelley), 1938


The Starlight Years - A Painter Listens to Music

I got the best out of Calvert yesterday by hearing him play, lovely fluting pieces by Handel on the organ, which make one feel that one is lying under a fountain, being tickled in a hundred different places: I did indeed wish that you too could hear it.

Some pieces by Mozart, too, that made one think of everything brittle – venetian glass, sea-horses, frost flowers, stars, spun sugar.

And one by Bach, like ivory balls rolling about on a polished table in intricate patterns, but never, never, quite falling off, though often nearly over the edge.

And one like ping-pong balls balanced on fountain jets, always about to fall, yet always dancing in the air.

One has but to hear good music, well played, to remember how great it is, the value of beauty, and how little anything else, like patriotism, parenthood, philosophy, is worth in comparison to it.

How I did wish you were with me; and how curious it is, the way these comparatively ordinary people become like Angels when one can tap their art. Do we seem like that, I wonder, to those who cannot paint, but love painting?

Edward Godwin to Stephanie Godwin, May 1945


The source of the experience

Godwin, Joscelyn

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps




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EG Kissing Angels Venice, 1937