Thursday, 9 May 2019

JRR Tolkien's marriage problems of 1945-6

The marital problems between Ronald and Edith were probably linked to Tolkien's nervous breakdown of late 1945 and early 1946 (mostly due to over-work), when he took time off his Professorial duties and lived in a pub with Christopher to seek a better frame of mind.

He was also, at this point, suffering writers' block with Lord of the Rings, and was instead exploring psychological and spiritual issues via the The Notion Club Papers - a projected novel of time travel, loosely based on The Inklings.

I discuss these matters over at the Notion Club Papers blog - also requesting further information from scholars with knowledge of unpublished material.


Lucinda said...

I was thinking about the connection between surviving marital problems and surviving Christianity problems, as you referenced in your previous post "If you think you are good - you are probably evil; if you know your own evil - you are probably good"

Particularly, you said, "It is even possible that such a chaotic and badly-behaved person may learn more, in a spiritual sense, from his mortal life; than does one who is (apparently) blessed with steadiness of purpose and absence of temptation."

This is part of why I think married life is more ideal than celibate life, because of the inherent difficulty in taming the procreative desire (with its spiritual aspects) rather than completely subduing it. There is something very relevant in "how genuine Christianity is attacked so viciously, and in ways that are hard to resist - probably because there are important lessons for us to learn from overcoming such attacks" as applied to one's marriage.

So the modern situation for both marriage and Christianity is that they are, and must be, aggressively voluntary. Resolution of our faith crises and marital problems must have root in ourselves, rather than by appeal to social structures (as much as my conservative impulse misses those by-gone days).

When I was younger, I had the impression that lines between man and woman blurred with age, such as women losing the capacity to give birth, and men becoming less physically violent. But I've changed my mind and now believe that men and women become even less 'compatible' over time into eternity (the giving birth and physical violence are part of a biologically unifying project). I believe this reflects a relationship with Christ that is voluntary but still freeing. When we choose Christ, we have the chance to become more ourselves rather than being subsumed.

When hell breaks loose into our lives it is a chance to make the choice again. Do we want Christ, do we want our marriage? And with each iteration, though it can feel like we aren't making the kind of solid progress we might wish, there does seem to be something that might build up over a very long time to something like the non-flimsiness necessary to eternal life in Christ and eternal voluntary marriage.

I find the idea daunting. And I guess that's why I thought of it in relation to this post. It helps to see signs of Tolkien's survival of a spiritual attack.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Lucinda - I don't find my life 'building'. I can only see a structure (of sorts) when looking back, never forward. I think this may be due to the basic nature of mortal life - so long as we are alive, we are being presented with situations that it would be good to learn-from - and these are inevitably somewhat different from our past.