Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Charles Williams love affair with Phyllis Jones was not 'Platonic' (non-physical)


It is generally supposed and often stated that Charles Williams long infatuation with Phyllis Jones was a wholly non-physical affair - yet this is contradicted by a passage I failed to notice until very recently (despite several re-reads) in Alice Mary Hadfield's Charles Williams: an exploration of his life and work.

From Page 72.

Probably in 1929, [Charles Williams] wrote to Phyllis, (...) What a year! (...) Do you remember offering to take me to The Ghost Train? But instead I took your arm - which to me was much like a weekend at Brighton - and we talked about almighty God... it was only the second time in my life I had taken - even so remotely as that - a woman's arm. And certainly certainly only the second time that the idea of kissing her had crossed my mind - as it did at Victoria. And took four months to eventuate, blessed be he.

So, kissing eventuated four months after the taking of the arm.

The Ghost Train was a popular play of the time, written by Arnold Ridley who much later became very famous as Private Godfrey in the BBC classic sitcom Dad's Army.

The reference to 'a weekend at Brighton' is an old smutty joke for a 'dirty weekend' or adulterous holiday - Brighton being the classic location for such liasons - convenient for those living in London, but sufficiently remote. The participants in a weekend in Brighton were stereotypically (ahem) a boss and his younger secretary.

I'm not sure what is meant by the 'it' in 'as it did at Victoria' - but Victoria is the London railway station for the line which goes to... Brighton.


So Williams is saying that for him (who had only ever taken his wife's arm before, and who had a bit of a 'thing' about girls' arms) the holding of Phyllis's arm was equivalent to an adulterous weekend together - he may even be referring to an actual weekend in Brighton - but either way, the tone of this passage is anything but Platonic!



Anonymous said...

Doesn't the "it" in "as it did in Victoria" refer back to "the idea of kissing her"?

I suppose it depends on what one includes under 'physical', but note also page 82, "your [...] inscribed hands", and compare page 106 with respect to one of "his young women students" some years later: "Sometimes he would write on her hand or arm with the tip of a metal paper knife or darning needle, or he would slightly prick or make circular movements or patterns".

For what it is worth, I have never encountered any evidence suggesting that "he may even be referring to an actual weekend in Brighton"!

Rereading Mrs. Hadfield's quotation from the letter as you quote it, I find myself wondering if I am being too unsuspicious in always assuming that it merely refers to facts... But perhaps this is mostly symptomatic of wishing for more context - even more than Gavin Ashenden has given - which Grevel Lindop's new biography may soon supply!

David Llewellyn Dodds
28 April 2014

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - My main point was the kissing - which certainly 'crossed a line' into non-Platonic for CW. Also, the tone by which CW addresses PJ is 'rougish' in a way that implies the relationship had a physical aspect.

CW's prolonged infatuation would be easier to understand, if indeed there had briefly been a significant physical element - which was then withdrawn.