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Archive for the ‘Flora Lewis’ Category

Tonight’s examination of the next factor in C. S. Lewis’ original falling away from the faith will be relatively short, for the simple reason that there really isn’t much to say about it–legitimately, at least.  So, I’ll have to clam up after the explanation part of the discussion.  It has to do with Jack’s pessimistic outlook and how he came about acquiring it.  It is covered on pages 63-64 of Surprised by Joy.

Lewis notes that already at the ripe age of thirteen or fourteen, he had become convinced that the world was predisposed to making things difficult for its inhabitants, and that his pessimism was “much more of intellect than of temper.”  In short, he had difficulty believing that there was any significant power in the universe that wished anyone any good.  He had trouble communicating the idea, as it appeared to him ridiculous as he looked back on it, but at the time it was quite weighty glory.  For all his apologizing, I think his approximation quite good:

Perhaps I had better call it a settled expectation that everything would do what you did not want it to do.  Whatever you wanted to remain straight, would bend; whatever you tried to bend would fly back to the straight; all knots which you wished to be firm would come untied; all knots you wanted to untie would remain firm.

And that line of thinking, of course, would make Christianity seem more absurd by the day.  What hope had a negative universe of producing a positive savior or of sustaining a loving God?

The point of his life that he had reached with the writing of Surprised by Joy had given him some perspective, and there is a notable tone of embarrassment to his explanation.  After all, he is explaining why a boy, well-fed, well-provided for by his father, living at a good school that gave him many advantages, could look around at the universe and complain that it was being “unfair.”  Certainly the Eton collars they all had to wear were something to complain about (he did so, after all, by implication in the opening to The Magician’s Nephew), but there was nothing particularly significant in that.  All Jack could do in Surprised by Joy was apologize and insist that the feelings were, in some manner, very real and very effective in changing his outlook on his faith.

In this section Jack describes two factors that he thinks led him toward such a pessimistic view of life.  First, and perhaps most obviously, there was the loss of his mother at such an early age.  She had loved and provided for him, and her loss shattered his world, removing the supports he had expected to last forever.  Even before than that, though, he references his problems with his thumbs that made him clumsy as both a child and an adult.  It added another layer of difficulty to everything he tried, and, it may be that contributed to an expectation that everything must be out to get him.

All of that, of course, sounds perfectly reasonable.  And there, for now, at least, I think I must leave that point.  The historian in me constrains further wanton speculation for the simple reason that this is an entirely internal matter, entirely inside Jack’s own head.  It isn’t even a larger question of abstract truth–he isn’t arguing that he had proof for his pessimism, only that he felt it.  Therefore, the only evidence we can rely on is Lewis’s own explanations.  Anything more is simply uncalled for.  We should make no claims to know a man better than he knows himself, especially when so much time has passed.

As I progress, I can come back to this as new data becomes available–I can weigh Jack’s own words against one another; I can weigh his words against his actions; I cannot allow myself to weigh Jack against my own biases or against what I would have wanted him to be.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” –Sherlock Holmes, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

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Wynyard School, domain of the insane Robert Capron

The Inklings have gone, and the house is quiet.  We had a few nice stories tonight, particularly a Civil War short story from Ronnie in which the dialog was excellent, and it brought on a good discussion.  Rachel read more of “Death’s Goddaughter,” and we sampled another chapter of Lisa’s book.  Washed it down with Monty Python.

On to a bit of Lewis.  Tonight I read through Jack’s arrival at Robert Capron’s Wynyard school, where he went with Warnie after his mother’s death, and his reactions to the very high church they attended while there.  For those unaware, Capron (called “Oldie” in Surprised by Joy) was an insane headmaster who ran a dwindling establishment with a paranoid, iron first.  Lewis later described some of the “punishments” that were inflicted on students for even the slightest perceived breech of the many written and (more often) unwritten rules as tantamount to torture.

In the opening letter (LP III: 140) written on 19? September 1908, Jack seems willing to give the place a fair chance.  Though he does call Capron “eccentric,” he things that he “will be able to get on” with him, and even states that he things he “shall like this place.”

His next letter (LPIII:  147) on 29 September is quite different in tone.  He tells his father about Capron accusing Warnie of breaking a rule that no one had ever heard of (he failed to bring his jam to tea) and Jack almost pleads for them to be allowed to return home early.  “We simply cannot wait in this hole till the end of term.” (emphasis in the original)

Jack’s response to the church they were required to attend is interesting to me, not least because I am, like him, a low churchman who only later was exposed to a high liturgy.  I grew up United Methodist and Baptist, and we now attend an Anglican (Reformed Episcopal) Church that uses the 1928 prayer book and much of the serious liturgy.

In his letter to his father marked 3 October (LP III 149), Jack is wary, disgusted, and indignant at being forced to attend “so frightfully high [a] church that it might as well be Roman Catholic.”  In Walter Hooper’s editorial comments that follow, he excerpts from a small diary Lewis kept at the time where he expressed his feelings in no uncertain terms.  He called it a “kind of church abhorred by respectful Irish Protestants.”  Those around him were “Romish hypocrites and English liars.”

Later, in Surprised by Joy, he remembered it more kindly.  Though he understood that he clearly responded very negatively on the surface, he also credits that church for introducing him first to the real doctrines of Christianity “taught by men who obviously believed them.”  In that sense, that small, church filled with “hypocrites” and “liars” became the original basis of Jack’s faith.  I wonder if any thoughts connected to it crossed his mind years later, as he was being dragged back to faith, kicking and screaming, in Warnie’s sidecar on the way to the Whipsnade Zoo?

More to do tomorrow than I have hours in the day for, so I probably won’t be able to pick this back up until Monday.

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Flora Lewis, Jack's mother

For today’s reading, I decided to take another small bite:  A few letters from 1906 to 1908.  These are the last few that were written while Jack’s mother, Flora, was still alive.  It is a logical place to stop anyway, since the next in the series are sent from Wynyard School, and that marks a notable change in his life experience.

These letters include LP III: 79, 80, 82, and 105.  79, 80, and 105 are to Warnie (his brother) and 82 is to his father, Albert.

In 79, which was written on 18 May 1907, I’m immediately struck by the significant increase in spelling and punctuation errors I see.  Whereas two years before, his letter was very well and clearly composed, this one abounds with errors that one might well expect from a younger writer:  “onley” (only); “seteled” (settled); “wont” (won’t); “adia” (idea); “wight” (white); etc.

It is also notable that he mentions to Warnie that he is already composing his first play.

80 is notable for a brief history of “Mouse-land” in which Lewis gives Warnie a time-line breakdown of that country’s ages and kings from 55 BC until the ascendancy of King Bunny in 1377.  Again, an interesting level of detail.  At this point I wonder if Lewis ever considered studying history.  I know that my own interest in “real” history was spurred on by the “creative” history I read as a child.  I’ll keep an eye out for hints that might provide some evidence as opposed to mere speculation.

82 is a brief postcard that Jack sent Albert while he was away on holiday, and I notice that by 105 (Jack telling Warnie of his visit to “chains memorial” lighthouse in Larne Harbor) that Jack’s grammar and spelling have improved again and are back close to what I saw in the letter from 1905.  He also mentions the illness that eventually kills his mother for the first time.

Of course, these few letters are hardly grounds to form absolute opinions, but I think there might be two likely causes for the fluctuation in Jack’s spelling and grammar:

  • He had help on  the 1905 letter.  Perhaps it implies that Flora or his governess was working with him, maybe even using the letter to Warnie as a writing project.  The later letters may not have benefited from their ministrations.
  • He took more care with that letter than he did with the others for some reason.  Perhaps he wanted to impress Warnie with his first letter and later got sloppier when it didn’t seem to matter as much.
I also note that Lewis was homeschooled in the classical method during this whole period.  Food for thought.
Not sure if I’ll be able to blog again before Monday.  We have our own Inklings writers group tomorrow and a busy Saturday.  I have to find time to put more wood up for the winter too.  Sundays I don’t intend to blog.  Hopefully an opportunity will present itself.

Lewis, C. S. The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis Walter Hooper, ed.(San Francisco:  Harper San Francisco, 2004), 3-5.

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