Sunday, 4 October 2015

Review of the new Charles Williams biography by Grevel Lindop


  1. A very strange man, indeed, with his Christianity at war with his poetry. How much of this conflict did his fellow inkings know or suspect?

  2. @Leo "How much of this conflict did his fellow Inklings know or suspect?" - essentially nothing.

    As Lindop confirms, Tolkien was very good friends with Williams and liked him a lot, but became hostile to Williams memory in letters and interview some fifteen years after Williams death, after the first publication of biographical material (his involvement in ritual magic, as well as the hints of marital infidelity), which would undoubtedly have been very shocking to him - Tolkien may also have known more than was then published through local Oxford people.

    This change of heart seems very natural and understandable from Tolkien, in the sense that he must have felt betrayed and misled.

    We don't know what Lewis thought about these revelations of the late 1950s - he certainly would have known of them. But in 1947 Lewis wrote (in Essays Presented to Charles Williams) - "He was extremely attractive to young women and (what is rare) none of his male friends ever wondered why; nor did it ever do a young woman anything but good to be attracted by Charles Williams."

    Lewis never gave any sign of imagining that Williams's well known relationships with many young women had a sexual element. Perhaps it was the peculiar petty sadism of these relationships that hid them in plain sight - if Williams had been having sex with multiple young women, then surely this would have rapidly become obvious and notorious - but these strange quasi-magical rituals and games of petty corporal punishments and 'bullying' and the fact that they were done 'for the poetry' rather than any kind of sexual consummation ... well, it is a kind of sexual pleasure/ compulsion that (I believe) is alien to most men, and was therefore undetected, and indeed deniable.

  3. Bruce,

    Strange behavior. Offensive not only against chastity, but also against charity, exploiting one's own students. I cannot imagine that Tolkien or Lewis would have approved had they known. And to do it for the poetry. It is his (unfortunately sacrificed) Christianity, not his poetry, that was the better part of him.

  4. @Leo - I agree. CW wanted to be 'a poet' - but was not (or was not a particularly good one) so he tried to manufacture great poetry, by whatever means. Ultimately, he failed - since the consensus of the poetry-reading public is that he did not achieve any significant work. But the cost of trying may have been extreme...