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Happy Birthday Joy! A Talk on Joy Davidman Lewis

19 April 2015no comments Uncategorized

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  Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of Joy Davidman’s birth. Joy was the inimitable wife of C.S. Lewis. It was a privilege to speak on Joy for the Inklings Fellowship Retreat held at Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. The Fellowship is organized by two prodigious scholars: Dr. Harry (Hal) Poe of Union University and Dr. Don King of Montreat College. Both Poe and King have published extensively on the Inklings.

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis

Dr. Crystal Hurd

Given on April 18th, 2015 at the Inklings Fellowship Retreat in Montreat, North Carolina

In 1922, a young Oxford scholar named C.S. Lewis scribbled some verses to a narrative poem that he would later title “Dymer.” The poetic reinvention of “Dymer” was based upon a prose version originally written in 1916 (when Lewis was a mere eighteen years old) called “The Redemption of Ask.” The poetic version, which was published in 1925, chronicles the odyssey of a young man out of the territory of his youth and into a dense forest where he meets a mysterious and enchanting woman.

“He entered into a void.

Night-scented flowers

Breathed there – but this was darker than the night

That is most black with beating thunder showers,

A disembodied world where depth and height

And distance were unmade.

No seam of light Showed through.

It was a world not made for seeing.

One pure, one undivided sense of being

Though darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly

He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.

A cool smell that was holy and unholy,

Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet

Blew towards him

The same night swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap

And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud

From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap

And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,

And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood

Along the shores of earth: and held these two

In dead sleep till the time of morning dew…”

After having an intimate encounter with his enigmatic lover (marked by a sensation he calls “holy and unholy”), she disappears and Dymer, over the next several cantos, searches for her. Eventually, he is killed by his own offspring, a product of that evening together, and becomes a god.

Let us now go forward several decades. Lewis’s final book of fiction, and one he considered his best work, is published as Till We Have Faces. In this exceptional retelling of the Cupid and Psyche romance, Lewis narrates the story from the perspective of Psyche’s sister, the queen Orual. Psyche informs Orual that the god Cupid has fallen in love with her, and that he comes to her under cover of night.

“He comes to me only in the holy darkness. He says I mustn’t – not yet – see his face or know his name. I’m forbidden to bring any light into his –our – chamber.”

“This thing that comes to you in the darkness…and you’re forbidden to see it. Holy darkness, you call it. What sort of thing? Faugh! (124)

Here we find the same scenario, but two very different characters experiencing the same “holy” coupling. In the first, a male operating on adrenaline and hormones, has a complicated encounter with a mysterious female. In the second, the female encounters a secretive male who is her husband. Before Orual’s insistence on discovering his identity, Psyche is comfortable leaving his face in darkness. Dymer becomes a god, while Orual eventually forfeits her selfish appetite for power to the one true God. Dymer reflects an earlier version of Lewis, a version contaminated by the “Christina Dreams,” in which fantasies corrupt real love and companionship. Till We Have Faces not only illustrates Lewis’s talent of narrating outside gender, but also illuminates the importance of humility in revealing our true motivations and intentions. So what significant force provided such a shift in tone?

Enter Joy Davidman.

Joy served as the “midwife” for Till We Have Faces. In fact, the book is dedicated to her, as the creative collaborator behind the book. Lewis nurtured the idea of retelling the romance for many years, and with Joy’s encouragement and assistance, Lewis was able to complete it. So who is this mysterious woman, who emerged from the dense “forests” of New York to alter the life and works of confirmed bachelor C.S. Lewis? Essentially, she was a divorced ex-communist ex-patriot poet. Sounds like a great match for England’s beloved children’s author and most famous lay theologian, yes?

But Joy Davidman was much more than that. In the past, certain scholars have accused Joy of exploiting Lewis, of being “gold digger,” only marrying Lewis for the financial stability while he financed the educations of her two sons, with writer Bill Gresham. Some feel that the clandestine civil marriage between Lewis and Davidman, completed simply for extending his British citizenship so Davidman would not be deported, was an attempt to steal his fame or tarnish his reputation. More often, she is framed as the literary death knell, removing him from the company of his Inkling friends, while absorbing his time and attention. And all this from the woman whose death inspired the richly written lamentation known as A Grief Observed, in which Lewis calls her his mistress and muse.

As Lyle Dorsett writes in his work chronicling Joy’s life, And God Came In, Joy came of age in the turbulence of New York City in the 1920s.  Her mother Jeanette descended from affluent Jewish merchants who had abandoned their home in the Ukraine, migrating like thousands of others to the “promised land” of America.   Jeanette, essentially, was historically Jewish.  However, her husband Joseph Davidman was an atheist who restrained his untraditional views to ensure peace in his household; Dorsett identifies it as a “tepid indifference” to Judaism.  As educators and voracious readers, Joy’s parents fostered an appetite for knowledge into Joy and her younger brother Howard.  During the summer, it was not uncommon for Joy and Howard to visit the library nearly every day, although her parents maintained an impressive library in their home. Among the works that Davidman read was George MacDonald’s Phantasies.

However, Joy’s early life was extremely difficult.  Her father was cantankerous and overbearing.  Some family members recall Joseph blowing a whistle to summon his children “in the fashion of trained dogs”.  Joy, forever the doting daughter, attempted to win her father’s affection.  A bright, receptive student, Joy excelled in academics. Although she suffered from a crooked spine, Graves Disease and hyperthyroidism, which contributed to excessive school absences, her grades were largely unaffected. She was soon recognized as a poet with the publication of her poem “Resurrection” (a poem shaped by religious themes, although Joy described it as a “private argument with Jesus”). In addition to a demanding father and nagging illnesses, Joy and her brother Howard endured the “demons of anti-Semitism” which plagued them nearly everywhere they went, even when they travelled throughout the United States on holidays and vacations.

Joy eventually matriculated to Hunter’s College, a tuition-free women’s college located in the Bronx.  Joy thrived there; she quickly found her youthful love of books had matured into an abiding love of literature and language.  Joy was already “proficient” in German and Latin, learned French in college, and taught herself Greek in her spare time.  She also began crucial friendships with other students of the literary persuasion, including novelist Bel Kaufman.  While at Hunter’s, Joy served as associate editor of the literary magazine Echo while participating in the English club and Sigma Tau Delta, the national English studies honorary society.  Joy published a story in Echo titled “Apostate” in which a young Jewish woman elopes with a Christian to avoid an arranged marriage to a “weak man”. The woman is baptized into the Christian faith so she may wed, but the wedding is disrupted by her family who violently beat her as her “husband” looks on and the pastor escapes. The story won the Bernard Cohen Short Story Prize that year. After graduation, she obtained employment as an English teacher at Walton High School.  She also decided to pursue a Master’s degree in English at Columbia University.

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Her towering academic achievements were unfortunately overshadowed by major cultural shifts.  The Great Depression ravaged the overcrowded, unemployed residents of New York.  Some predicted a slow, yet steady pace of national rehabilitation, but the hopelessness, for some, was too much to bear.  One afternoon before her graduation in 1934, Joy watched in horror as a young woman on an adjoining building plunged to her death. The girl had leapt to her demise after struggling unsuccessfully with depression and hunger. Joy interpreted this as a byproduct of the growing capitalistic society upon which many staked the precarious recovery of the American economy.

Although Joy had never experienced the pangs of hunger and poverty, she felt a deep compassion stirring for those less fortunate. Dorsett writes that “…her anger grew increasingly at the insanity and callousness of a society that dumped potatoes in the ocean, burned wheat, and poured lime on oranges, while millions of people were unemployed, malnourished, and forced to stand in soup lines and sort through refuse in garbage cans for sustenance” (21). These images, coupled with her increasing animosity toward greedy corporations, eventually led Joy to join the Communist party. Joy resigned from her teaching position in 1937 to devote more time to writing. Earlier, in 1936, some of Joy’s poems were published in Poetry magazine.  This connection would eventually lead her to a friendship with celebrated novelist and poet Stephen Vincent Benet.  Benet headed the Younger Poet Series for Yale University Press. When Joy submitted nearly fifty poems for the competition, she won and found a quick admirer in Benet. These works were published by Yale University Press as Letters to a Comrade in 1938. The following year, Joy won the Russell Loines Award for Poetry, a prestigious award that she shared with Robert Frost. During this time, at the behest of Benet, Joy spent time at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.  This colony utilized the concept of collaboration and encouragement among writers and artists to produce and refine good art.  It served as an artistic catalyst as well as a retreat from the tumultuous society surrounding them.  Much like the Romantics of the nineteenth century, these artists sought repose and restoration through nature as anodynes for the treacherous stranglehold of modern life. Former members of MacDowell include author Willa Cather and poet Sara Teasdale.  If writers and artists were selected for the colony, they were expected to pay their own expenses, although impoverished ones could still attend with the assistance of philanthropic donations provided by wealthy businessmen and politicians such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and President Grover Cleveland. Ironically, Joy used her time at MacDowell to rail against the evils of capitalism (although she was not a sworn Communist yet) while some of her associates attended only through the generous sponsorship of corporations!  MacDowell Colony proved to be artistically beneficial for Joy.  She published a novel, Anya, in 1938. A second novel, Weeping Bay, followed later in 1950. Joy soon became a sworn communist and spent much creative energy contributing to the communist publication New Masses; she also worked a stint in Hollywood writing scripts. Joy eventually met and married fellow writer William (Bill) Lindsay Gresham.

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The couple lived in utter poverty, struggling to make ends meet through literary endeavors. Joy had two sons – David and Douglas – but Bill’s alcoholism and unfaithfulness were wearing on Joy. With no coping mechanism for the increasing strain on his family and finances, Bill Gresham began to spiral out of control.  One fateful night, Bill called Joy exclaiming that he was having a “nervous breakdown”.  He  “couldn’t stay where he was” but “couldn’t bring himself to come home”.  Then he hung up the phone.  Joy was frantic.  She calmly put her boys to bed, then spent the evening on the phone attempting to locate Bill to no avail. She writes in her essay “The Longest Way Round”:

By nightfall there was nothing left to do but wait and see if he turned up, alive or dead. I put the babies to sleep and waited.  For the first time in my life I felt helpless; for the first time my pride was forced to admit that I was not, after all, “the master of my own fate” and “the captain of my soul”. All my defenses – the walls of arrogance and cocksureness and self-love behind which I hid from God – went down momentarily.  And God came in.  – From Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman (Ed. Don W. King).

Joy writes that she felt “a Person” in the room with her that night. She also admits that, a year or so prior to this occurrence, she had begun reading fantasy works which had led her to C.S. Lewis; Joy specifically cites The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, and The Great Divorce as particularly influential. These works provided Joy not only with entertainment, but with intellectual stimulation in a curious, new direction – the rational argument for faith, a faith she had previously dismissed.  That night, overwhelmed by the lack of control over her family life, Joy felt the philosophical foundation shifting beneath her feet.  The fortifications of her atheism were collapsing, and the origin of her wanderlust was being revealed to her. The towering presence of Truth was educating her at this moment.   She could no longer deny that God didn’t exist. After several days, Bill returned home and found a new woman. Joy renounced atheism and began attending church. She indulged her interests in religious philosophy and Christian dogma, seeing it not as a complicated enigma teeming with restrictions and empty litanies uttered to concrete gods, but as an unnamed pulse of life surging through mankind offering liberation and a renewed appreciation for beauty. She befriended professor Chad Walsh, who maintained a robust correspondence with none other than C.S. Lewis.  Fascinated and grateful to Lewis, Joy began a correspondence with him in 1950Joy mentions in “The Longest Way Round”:

“I went back to C.S. Lewis and learned from him, slowly, how I had gone wrong. Without his works, I wonder if I and many others might not still be infants “crying in the night’” (95).

The experience influenced her next novel, Weeping Bay.  Although Joy was ecstatic over the spiritual changes occurring within her, it did little to repair her marriage.  Bill was still drinking and began to dapple in Buddhism while Joy was exploring and practicing orthodox Christianity. In August 1952, she sailed to England “to consult one of the clearest thinkers of our time for help”. She stayed with a friend, Phyllis Williams, while in London and arranged to meet Lewis in Oxford at the Eastgate Hotel.  The visit was a rousing good time.

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Warnie loved Joy - her quick wit, her boundless sense of humor, her keen intellect.  Joy returned to stay at The Kilns during Christmas. The Lewis men immensely enjoyed Joy’s visit.  Joy and Lewis discussed her upcoming book Smoke on the Mountain. That Christmas, Lewis gave Joy a copy of George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul with an initial inscription from George MacDonald, followed by “Later: from C.S. Lewis to Joy Davidman, Christmas 1952″.

Joy had a rapturous time at The Kilns, but the tone changed significantly when a letter arrived from Bill. Joy’s cousin Renee was looking after her sons during her voyage and English holiday.  Bill admitted that he had fallen in love with Renee and recommended that he and Joy file for divorce. Distressed and confused, Joy asked Lewis for guidance; Lewis ultimately agreed with Bill and suggested a divorce. In late November, Joy moved, with her sons in tow, to England.  Her marriage was dissolving but Joy was happy to be “a transplant”. She struggled to provide for her family, as Bill’s child support checks were insufficient and often unpredictable. She maintained her friendship with Lewis, even later obtaining a residence in Headington, near The Kilns. Lewis would visit “every day” with many visits lasting “until eleven at night”.

Although many maintain that Joy “forced herself” on Lewis because she needed financial assistance, these visits were prompted by Lewis, not by Joy. In the summer of 1955, Chad and Eva Walsh visited Lewis and Joy and “smelled marriage in the air”. However, Lewis endorsed the Church of England edict which claims that marriages are holy unions and cannot be dissolved, and thus remarriage was impossible. Nonetheless, Lewis eventually fell in love with Joy.  Some of his friends disapproved of the union, partially because of the Church’s views concerning divorce and partly because Joy was known to be brassy and outspoken, an often unwelcomed contradiction to the more reserved British personality. For example, Joy describes attending a debate along with detective novelist Dorothy Sayers in a letter dated October 29, 1954. She writes,

“Dorothy Sayers was at the debate too; she’s enormously witty and a very eloquent speaker, a forthright old lady who wears rather mannish clothes and doesn’t give a damn about her hairdo. Mother said if brains made a woman look like that she was glad she wasn’t intellectual” (223)

Despite this propensity for brutal honesty, it was obvious that Joy was passionately in love and that Lewis was developing mutual feelings for her.  Joy composed love sonnets, most likely written in 1952 during her initial visit to England.  According to the poems, Lewis at first rebuffs Joy’s advances by claiming that he preferred blondes. Perhaps it was the humor of an old bachelor, but Joy is deeply distraught by this dismissal. The theme emerges in several of the sonnets.

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 As many now know, thanks to the romantic yet hyperbolic film Shadowlands, Joy’s residential permit was not renewed by the British Home Office.  To extend his British citizenship, Lewis generously married Joy in a civil ceremony on April 23, 1956.  Lewis kept the affair quiet, fearing criticism and disapproval from his colleagues and friends. Joy was then diagnosed with cancer (originating from radium treatments for her thyroid condition when she was young).  She began evasive cancer treatments.  The illness proved to be a turning point for Lewis; he realized that he truly did love Joy.  Furthermore, he wanted to seal a commitment before God.  There were married at her hospital bedside on March 21, 1957.  After this, Joy experienced a period of brief but wonderful convalescence. They honeymooned in Wales and Ireland.  Later they spent twelve glorious days in Greece with Roger and June Green. Although viewed as coy and intangible to Joy at first, Lewis finally warmed to Joy and a beautiful romance blossomed.

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Joy writes in a letter dated February 28, 1957: “All I really care about is having a bit of life with Jack and getting adequately on my feet for it. He has been growing more attached to me steadily – is now, I think, even more madly in love with me that I with him, which is saying plenty – and give dear Georgie Sentman my love and tell him he was wrong about the intellectual Englishman’s supposed coldness. The truth about these blokes is that they are like H-bombs; it takes something like an ordinary atom bomb to start them off, but when they’re started – Whee! See the pretty fireworks! He is mucho hombre, my Jack!” (308-309) Joy quickly transformed The Kilns from a bachelor pad complete with ash burns on the carpet and black-out drapes to a habitable abode. Not only did Joy busy herself with redecorating, she also engaged in home security measures by brandishing a shotgun.

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Perhaps Lewis admitted that he was not a pacifist, but he certainly was a reluctant marksman. Lewis was opposed to using weapons in threatening trespassers, yet Joy proudly purchased a shotgun to protect the property. Douglas Gresham tells us in Lenten Lands that on one occasion when stubborn poachers refused to leave, Joy retrieved her gun immediately. Lewis stepped in front of her to offer protection (as any chivalrous man would do), to which Joy emphatically yelled, “Damn it Jack, get out of my line of fire!” (85).

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Unfortunately the shadow of cancer returned. Joy was in a wheelchair, but still gregarious and lively, playing Scrabble and chatting frequently with Lewis. Despite all of the optimism, all knew, including Joy, that the time was at hand. Joy passed away on July 13 1960. Although their marriage had been brief, it was an experience which made Lewis incandescently happy. The loss shook him to his very core.  His reflections on Joy’s death were later published as A Grief Observed. Lewis writes:

“For a good wife contains so many persons in herself. What was [Joy] not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me…There is, hidden or flaunted, a sword between the sexes till an entire marriage reconciles them.  It is arrogance in us to call frankness, fairness, and chivalry ‘masculine’ when we see them in a woman; it is arrogance in them to describe a man’s sensitiveness or tact or tenderness as ‘feminine.’ But also what poor warped fragments of humanity most mere men and mere women must be to make the implications of that arrogance plausible.  Marriage heals this.  Jointly the two become fully human. ‘In the image of God created He them. Thus, by a paradox, this carnival of sexuality leads us out beyond our sexes.”

As Lewis illuminates, Joy’s influence is undeniable. Joy, along with other female friends such as Dorothy Sayers, Ruth Pitter, and Sister Penelope, assisted Lewis is realigning his perspective on females and feminine depictions.  Notice in earlier Lewis works how women are generally characterized. As we have seen in “Dymer,” she is the mysterious temptress who gives birth to a beast. In Lewis’s first post-conversion work A Pilgrim’s Regress she is both the temptress of the “brown girl” but also “Wisdom” personified. Many have argued that this illustrates Lewis’s strong dislike for women, framing them as “Eves” or intangible ideals. However, if we investigate testimonies of the women Lewis actually corresponded with, we find a very different portrayal.

His friend and poetess Ruth Pitter wrote in a letter to Walter Hooper on 13 January 1969:

It is a pity that he made his first (and perhaps biggest) impact with Screwtape, in which some women are only too well portrayed in their horrors, rather like Milton’s Satan – it is this perhaps that has made people think he hated us? But even here, the insight is prodigious…I would say he was a great and very perspicacious lover of women, from poor little things right up to the “Lady” in Perelandra. I think he touched innumerable women to the heart here – I know he did me…Surely the shoals of letters he got from women (as he told me) must show how great was his appeal to them: nobody’s going to tell me these were hate-letters. (239)  

Additionally, several of Lewis’s female students at Oxford were very complimentary of him. Rosamund Cowan writes in In Search of C.S. Lewis,

It was a joy to study with Lewis. He treated us like queens. I think Pat Thompson and I were the first women students he had. He had perfect manners, always standing up when we came in. And he brought to everything a remarkable original approach. At first we were a bit frightened as he had a reputation of being a “man’s man.” We rather thought he would be a bit down on women. Actually he was delightful. He told me I reminded him of a Shakespearean heroine – a compliment I’ve always cherished. He certainly treated me like one. (62)

We see a distinct change progressing through the space trilogy (composed in the late 30s and 40s). There is a more nuanced, more complex portrait of women, from the “Green Lady” who is full of love and light in Perelandra, to the stubborn Jane Studdock and the ladies of St. Anne’s and extending to Miss “Fairy” Hardcastle, head of the N.I.C.E.  Institutional Police. Later we see major shifts illustrated in each installment of The Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy, the girl with indomitable faith who leads the group through the Wardrobe to Narnia and later through unfamiliar terrain in Prince Caspian, Susan the queen who eventually get tangled up in the modern day world and forgets about Narnia. Then there is the headstrong protagonist from The Horse and His Boy Aravis, the careful and caring friend to Digory, Polly Plummer from The Magician’s Nephew, and the courageous Jill in The Silver Chair. Lewis provides the reader with a wide variation of female characters. This progression correlates, if unintentionally, with his growing correspondence with women. The later installments of Narnia, as well as Till We Have Faces, illustrate the collaborative benefits of Joy’s expertise. One very notable character from The Magician’s Nephew is Helen, the cabbie’s wife who becomes the first queen of Narnia. Helen is Joy’s name, and this is a sign of her ultimate creative influence as she is incorporated into the fabric of the Narnia stories.

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It is also noteworthy to mention that Lewis influenced Joy’s writings as well. Their marriage was one of creative reciprocity. In addition to Smoke on the Mountain, Joy was working on a book concerning “The Seven Deadly Virtues” and thanks to Warnie’s encouragement, a book on Madame do Maintenon. She writes on February 19, 1954… “Warnie keeps suggesting that I collaborate with him on a life of Madame do Maintenon, Louis XIV’s morganatic wife. She’s never been done, and she’s fascinating – a noblewoman born in the workhouse, spending a mysterious girlhood in the West Indies, coming back and marrying a paralyzed poet and wit, later becoming the governess of the king’s illegitimate children and catching the king! She was interested in education for women, founded a girls’ school, and used to pop out of the kind’s bed at dawn to go and get the little ones up and take a few classes herself. Wow!” (179-180). Unfortunately, this book, as well as the book on the Seven Virtues, was never published, with drafts and notes currently housed at the Wade Center in Wheaton, Illinois.

Although much evidence exists to prove Joy’s influence on Lewis’s later work, Lewis scholarship has a tendency to diminish, if not completely dismiss, Joy’s contribution to Lewis’s personal happiness and creative trajectory. Joy served as a sounding board, an editor, and literary catalyst. Joy had always considered herself possessing this role. She writes on April 29th, 1955:

“I don’t kid myself in these matters – whatever my talents as an independent writer, my real gift is as a fort of editor-collaborator like Max Perkins, and I’m happiest when I’m doing something like that. Though I can’t write one-tenth as well as Jack, I can tell him how to write more like himself! He is not about three-quarters of the way through his new book (what I’d give for that energy!) and says he finds my advice indispensable.” (246)

Joy has been portrayed as a communist seducer, a comfortable commuter of coat-tails, and one prominent scholar even referenced her as a “gold digger.” But the literature proves that Joy was none of these. Lewis financially assisted Joy, but letters show that she reluctantly accepted the help, and often with much remorse. Many scholars support their arguments by expressing the sentiments of Lewis’s friends, J.R.R. Tolkien among them, who was suspicious of the union.

Perhaps the origin of such irritation for many of Lewis’s friends was that Joy was a rather progressive (some might even say feminist) voice for her time. Much like Lewis’s mother Flora Lewis, Joy was an unconventional female. She was a celebrated poet, as Lewis desired to be. She challenged him and simultaneously inspired him to think in new and diverse ways, which is reflected in the depth of his later work. Her marriage to Lewis was treated with the utmost respect. Joy knew the substantial risk but emotional nourishment that marriage can deliver. She viewed marriage through the lens of Christ and yet with the shrewd consciousness of a modern woman.

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In her monumental book Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments, she stresses the importance of a marriage in a chapter on adultery, a painful experience that she knew all too well:

“Every statement our Lord made about sexuality works to protect women and to awaken men to their own responsibilities. Condemning adultery, he yet forgave the adulteresses who repented and loved God, and denounced the lustful and loveless men who caused them to sin. Perhaps that, in itself, is enough to prove Him more than a man. For throughout history even the best of men have usually sought to shift the blame for their sexual weaknesses to the women. “the Woman tempted me and I did eat!” cried the father of the tribe, and “The woman tempted me!” has been the cry ever since, whenever someone ate where he should not. True enough, most women try to be as tempting as they can. But what Jesus, and later Paul, pointed out was that, although men are not always free agents in love, they are still on the whole far more free than the women are” (89). But at the heart of Smoke on the Mountain, Joy always returns to the theme of love:  “For many contemporaries God has dwindled into a noble abstraction, a tendency of history, a goal of evolution; has thinned out into a concept useful for organization world peace – a good thing as an idea. But not the Word made flesh, who died for us and rose again from the dead. Not a Personality that a man can feel any love for. And not, certainly, the eternal Love, who took the initiative and fell in love with us.” (132)

That love, one originated from the Creator and contagiously spread throughout humanity has a transformative power. It allows us to express love and compassion for one another, which ultimately changes us:

“The difficulty is to love men for what they are – members of yourself in the eternal body of mankind – and at the same time to make them better than they are, through love.”

An interesting correlation emerges when we examine Joy’s perspective of love. Joy was also an admirer of the works of Lewis’s Inkling friend, Charles Williams. In fact, she was invited to give a speech about Williams to Oxford student on February 26, 1956 (278). Williams had an interesting perspective on theological matters, and perhaps his most unique theory is that of Romantic Theology. Borrowing from the wisdom of poets such as William Wordsworth, Williams extrapolates on various aspects of his theory, as well as establishing a literary precedent in Dante’s Divine Comedy. Williams essentially argues that being united in marriage is an extension of God, and thus reflects God’s love for us to the degree that an individual communes with God during intercourse. For more information on this, please visit Sorina Higgins extraordinary blog chronicling the life and works of Charles Williams titled The Oddest Inkling. She specifically references romantic theology in a post comically titled “Jesus is Your Wife.”

So now, let us revisit the first images we evoked, not of a disillusioned Dymer traipsing through peculiar territory, but of a two spouses, one a mortal, one a god, tucked away in a strange and wonderful palace. Of a love expressed, despite uncertainty, in what Charles Williams would deem and Lewis and Joy would concur as a “holy” union, where God is glimpsed in the joining of two souls. Where perhaps, we can understand God more clearly by loving one of his creatures, and by loving, improve ourselves. This is what marriage was for C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman. It was intellectual admiration, then an abiding fondness, and finally a spiritual convergence. And after death has ravaged the body, has torn lovers from their embrace, and the widower commenced his mourning, what then?

Then there is renewal. Then “like cast off clothes” she has left but only to “resume” them bathed in a different, but equally wonderful kind of holiness. Joy writes in what is considered one of her most moving verses, “Yet One More Spring” that there is perennial value in her death.

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Yet One More Spring

What will come of me

After the fern has feathered from my brain

And the rosetree out of my blood; what will come of me

In the end, under the rainy locustblossom

Shaking its honey out on springtime air

Under the wind, under the stooping sky?

What will come of me and shall I lie

Voiceless forever in earth and unremembered,

And be forever the cold green blood of flowers

And speak forever with the tongue of grass

Unsyllabled, and sound no louder

Than the slow falling downward of white water,

And only speak the quickened sandgrain stirring,

Only the whisper of the leaf unfolding,

Only the tongue of leaves forever and ever?

Out of my heart the bloodroot,

Out of my tongue the rose,

Out of my bone the jointed corn,

Out of my fiber trees,

Out of my mouth a sunflower,

And from my fingers vines,

And the rank dandelion shall laugh from my loins

Over million seeded earth; but out of my heart,

Core of my heart, blood of my heart, the bloodroot

Coming to lift a petal in peril of snow

Coming to dribble from a broken stem

Bitterly the bright color of blood forever.

But I would be more than a cold voice of flowers

And more than water, more than spouting earth

Under the quiet passion of the spring;

I would leave you the trouble of my heart

To trouble you at evening; I would perplex you

With lightning coming and going about my head,

Outrageous signs, and wonder; I would leave you

The shape of my body filled with images,

The shape of my mind filled with imaginations,

The shape of myself. I would create myself

In a little fume of words and leave my words

After my death to kiss you forever and ever.

This morning, we can answer this question. What will come of you Joy Davidman Lewis? Joy will be rightly recognized as a profound poet, as a creative collaborative, an erudite editor, and most importantly as a beloved daughter of God, whose writings gently remind us that love is a gift and that faith, in eternity and in mankind, is a flame never extinguished.

Further Reading

Joy’s Works

Letters to a Comrade Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments Anya Weeping Bay

Biography

And God Came In – Lyle Dorsett (Amazon link)

Out of my Bone: The Letters of Joy DavidmanEd. Don King (Amazon link)

Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis – Doug Gresham (Amazon link)

Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman– Brian Sibley (Amazon link)

Forthcoming:

Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman– Don King (Amazon link)

A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C.S. Lewis and Other Poems – Don King, Ed. (Amazon link)

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis – Abigail Santamaria (Amazon link)

Women and C.S. Lewis: What his life and literature reveal for today’s culture – Carolyn Curtis, Mary Key, Eds. (Amazon link)

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