Monday, 6 May 2013

Was Tolkien envious? - a bleg


I keep coming across people ascribing envy to Tolkien, as if it were a sin to which he were particularly prone.

Especially people say Tolkien felt envy of C.S Lewis (e.g. Lewis's fluency as a writer, or his fame, or his friendship with Charles Williams) - but I cannot myself recall a single instance of Tolkien expressing envy about anything; and particularly not about his friend Jack Lewis. The emotion seems alien to him.

But please correct me if I am wrong - does anybody know of any instance in which Tolkien really was envious?



Roger Billings said...

As to CS Lewis, I doubt that Tolkien felt envious, especially during the years that they were both at Oxford. Tolkien enjoyed much greater prestige at Oxford. During the course of some 30 years, Lewis was a Tutor and Fellow, but never attained the more elevated status of Professor. Whereas Tolkien had been a Professor for most of his time at Oxford. Lewis's first and only Professorship was late in his life at Cambridge, and was partly through Tolkien's influence. Lewis's personal life was also much more complicated and must have been more stressful with his obligation of caring for Mrs. Moore, his alcoholic brother Warny and then Joy Davidman, without the benefit that the higher income of a professor would have provided.

Troels said...

I agree that there is nothing in the known sources that really point at Tolkien being envious.

When Carpenter uses the word "clearly" about Tolkien's “a little jealousy or resentment” he is either interpreting things differently than you (and many others, myself included), or he had found indications in Tolkien's diaries (not published) that did indeed make this clear.

Which of these is the case is not something I feel confident enough to make a call about. I do think, in any case, that it is very unlikely that Tolkien would have put any clear indications of such jealousy or resentment (however small it was) in a letter, and so the lack of published evidence is, in my opinion, quite unsurprising either way.

Bruce Charlton said...

'Troels - You make a valid point (as usual!).

But I read A LOT of diaries and letters from a variety of eminent folk, and many/ most of them are FULL of envy, jealousy, resentment.

When people are strongly subject to these vices, they seemingly just cannot stop themselves 'venting' at every opposrtunity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RB - belated reply. I see your point, but envy (when it exists) is not really like that: an envious person may envy the single attribute in which another excels him, even when in most aspects that person is in a worse situation. Those that attribute envy to Tolkien suggest that he envied Lewis's fluency and rapidity as a writer - and the swiftness with which he published; his fame; and that Williams replaced Tolkien (supposedly) as 'best friend'. I don't think any of this is true, but it is not ruled out by Tolkien having a higher status and a very happy (mostly) family life. .