Saturday, 3 October 2015

Review of Charles Williams: the third Inkling by Grevel Lindop

Grevel Lindop. Charles Williams: the third Inkling. Oxford University Press, 2015. pp xx, 493.

I should say upfront that this is an excellent biography, taking its place as the premier resource on Williams and providing a great deal of new material - including everything I personally most wanted to know about Williams but had previously been unable to discover.

It is well-written, clear, memorable and consistently gripping - such that I read the whole thing, cover to cover, in about thirty hours of nearly solid attention (of course I needed to eat and sleep!)


I have been reading Charles Williams (known as CW), off and on, since 1987 - including everything of a biographical nature that I could lay my hands on. He is one of the most difficult personalities I have ever encountered - and I am still not sure what I think about him.

But this new biography has, at last, answered all my significant questions - I feel that now, for the first time, I have been given everything I need to form a judgement both on the man and his work. But this will probably take a while - because there is a great deal to absorb, assimilate and evaluate. 


One of the first problems about Williams is - why should we be interested in him at all?

I, like most people, came to him via my interest in JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis- specifically Humphrey Carpenter's group biography The Inklings (1979). The problem is that none of CW's work is really a masterpiece - or, at least, not generally regarded as such; and all of the best work is difficult (for modern readers).

Lindop states that his reason for being interested in CW is that he regards Williams as a great poet on the basis of his last two collections Taliessin through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. But I do not: I find TtL to be over-edited and artificially-contrived, and while I find TRotSS to be more fluent and effective, I don't much like it.

My reason for interest in CW is his status as a Christian - he was, indeed, one of the four main Christians of the mid-twentieth century Anglican revival; which was the most recent significant Christian revival in England (the others were CS Lewis, TS Eliot and Dorothy L Sayers, who were all friends and very strong admirers of Williams). So, specifically I have the highest regard for some of the novels and his theology.

Williams was also quite a successful playwright on Christian themes - however, he is never performed nowadays (What never? Well... hardly ever), and I personally cannot get much from reading his plays.  He was a critic of good repute - did a great mass of hack work as a biographer, anthologist, writer of introductions and journalistic reviews... Much of this is very good, but not enough to make him stand-out. 

So, I think Williams will survive either as a Christian writer, or as a poet. This biography is essentially of Williams the poet - since Lindop is neither a Christian nor especially interested by Christian theology.


And whether Williams is regarded as primarily a poet or a Christian turns-out to make a very big difference - because Lindop reveals clearly and unambiguously, for the first time, the extent to which Christianity and poetry were at war in Williams's life - and in particular, the extent to which Christianity was sacrificed to poetry.

I may as well get to the point straight away. While I knew that Williams was in love with Phyllis Jones, and that he had a warped kind of interaction with Lois Lang-Sims, and that there were other rather vague rumours about ritual magical-sadism with others - the sheer extent of Williams's activities along these lines was never before clear to me. I did not realize - for example - that CW had had intense love relationships with both his main biographers Anne Ridler and Alice Mary Hadfield.

Lindop quotes extensively from the correspondence between CW and Phyllis Jones, and I never before realized how sexual was the relationship. Indeed, in my interpretation, it was primarily sexual - albeit the sex was not consummated. The relationship indeed seems deeply maladaptive - in that it was a case of mutual dependency of a very common sort: both were mostly unhappy and frequently wretched in the relationship, but neither could find the willpower to break away.

It was essentially addictive - Williams was addicted to the sexual frisson and seductive teasings of the young women - she gave him energy; Phyllis was addicted to the attention and worship of the older, clever, creative man - he made her feel special.

In other words, despite the hundreds of thousands of words of soaring rhetoric, philosophy and theology which Williams associated-with and attributed-to his relationship with Phyllis - the relationship seems to be fundamentally pathological, a delusion, a self-deception, a fake.


(Phyllis comes across as very much the histrionic kind of woman; who is easily bored, has rapid and wide moods swings from ecstasy to abject misery and back, craves attention from men, and uses flirtation and display to get it; who enjoys psychodrama, and especially being competed-for and 'fought over' by multiple men, whom she takes-up and drops, but never lets-go-of - she strings them along for years with promises and hopes.)


To summarize the problem for those of us who most value Charles Williams the Christian: it seems that he strategically used the role of confidante and spiritual adviser for young women to 'groom' them into gratifying his desire for ritualistic petty sadism - he did this in order to become sexually excited, and then he used this excitement to write poetry. This was done, or attempted, time and again with multiple women.


In general, it seems the sadism was, as I said, petty - involving stuff like slapping with pencils and rulers on the palms, back, or buttocks; or some pinching. There was quite a bit of master-slave type play acting, including by letter and telephone; and an authoritarian/ bullying element in his advising and teaching.

In general, it seems that the young women did not much object, and most remained on good terms with him, often very good terms. Of course they may be others we don't know of - indeed I would expect that there would have been many young women who must have been appalled, frightened or disgusted at the turn of conversation from this previously kind and charming and spiritual man; who immediately fled, and left no trace on the records.

Nonetheless, whatever the young women felt personally about being sexually used as poetry-stimulants; there is no doubt that this kind of behaviour was dishonest, manipulative and categorically un-Christian.


The evidence presented by Lindop is consistent with Williams's assertion that he engaged in this ritual sadism with attractive young women mainly in order to write poetry.

And for whatever reason, it worked - it achieved its goal. (Williams thought of it as a magical process, to do with the generation and transformation of sexual into creative energies).

So this was the poetry-Christianity trade-off to which I referred. In order to write poetry, or better poetry; Williams deliberately, strategically, repeatedly behaved in an un-Christian manner.


Lindop also provides new evidence about Williams's Christianity - and I see links between Williams theology and his long-term affair with Phyllis Jones and also the felt-need for ritual sadism.

For the fact is that Williams did not repent these activities - indeed he specifically states at one point that he did not repent the extra-marital affair with Phyllis - that he indeed regarded repentance of this sin as a temptation; one that he had been strong enough to resist.


I had not noticed before, but Williams's theology is one which really has little or no role for repentance, because he is always trying to discern the unity of all experience; and the ways in which apparent evil is actually good.

He did not find this a consoling doctrine, however, because he had very little sense of the reality of an afterlife or Heaven. He often said that all times were simultaneous - but this seemed to mean that suffering (as well as joy) was permanent and inescapable, and there was no realistic hope of things ever being better than they are now.

In sum - there is very little 'good news' about Williams's Christianity - it is bleak, it is a whisker away from utter despair. This, I think, is because he had painted himself into a corner with some of his theological axioms and assumptions which were not necessary.

In a sense, I am surprised that Williams did not suspect that this might mean he had misunderstood Christianity, in some fundamental way - but then, there have been innumerable Christians who have lost sight of the fact that it was a joyful message.


Aside, I tend to think that repentance is almost the essence of Christianity, and this means that there really are things that need to be repented - in other words, sins. For any traditional Christian there was a great deal about Williams's sexual life that was very obviously sinful and needed to be repented - and his refusal to repent it amounts to a denial of its sinfulness, and an implicit assertion of its virtuousness - which amounts to a far worse sin than the original transgression.

I now need to go back and re-read the theology in light of this possibility; the possibility, I mean, that Williams may have been denying the necessity, and perhaps even the value, of repentance. 

So, the revelations of this biography are, I think, potentially very significant for an evaluation of Charles Williams as both a public Christian teacher and as a theologian.


I had not previously properly noticed that Christianity only came to prominence late in Williams's work - from 1936 and the highly successful production of his play Cranmer at the Canterbury festival.

However, back in 1924, Williams had written but not published a book called Romantic Theology in which he first put forward an idea he had been discussing for years - that in some way marriage, or sexual relationships, might be a path to God - a Christian 'way'.

This eventually reached a mature expression in his later work as the Via Affirmativa, Positive theology, or the way of affirmation of images. I regard this as an important and valuable insight - but not as original as Williams thought (or as Lindop believes), since it was a major doctrine of Joseph Smith and had already been put into practice in the Mormon nation-then-state of Deseret/ Utah for many decades.

Also, the working-out of this idea in the draft of Romantic Theology (posthumously published) - in terms of the supposed analogy between the stages of marriage and the events of Christ's life - is (at least to me) massively un-convincing!

But - whatever its imperfections, this has certainly been, for many people - myself included, one of Williams's valuable contributions to Christian theory.


Williams's other distinctive theories included the doctrines of exchange and substitution - and these were formalized in the organization he founded called the Order (or Company) of the Co-Inherence.

Lindop provides us with rich new detail about this, including that Williams was not reluctant to found this group (as had been previously stated), but on the contrary very keen; and he took an active role in organizing the network of substitutions by which one person would take on the burdens of another.

Indeed, this is another rather disillusioning story. The original idea of substitution was one of voluntary and mutual decision - in which person A would offer to take on a worry or fear from person B, and person B would need to agree.

But after a while Williams was telling, or indeed literally ordering, people to take on burdens of others whom they had not met, and knew nothing about; and often the person getting the assistance would not even know about it.

Williams became like a puppet master arranging an intricate web of (claimed) supernatural assistance, with the participants often unaware of what was going-on.


In sum, I found that this biography challenged my view of Williams in multiple ways.

Williams had remarkable qualities as a man. Many regarded him as something like a saint - or if not, then someone of exceptional spiritual insight, and capable of providing great help to many people. All this was what I first heard about Williams, and it remains true.

But most of what I have learned in this detailed biography was negative about Williams. So the more I know about him, the worse Williams seems! How to put this all together, and come to some coherent and also comprehensive overview is not going to be easy - and I am far from accomplishing it!

So, although it was somewhat dismaying to hear of so many horrible new things about CW in such a concentrated burst; I am very grateful to Grevel Lindop for providing the materials which I will need in my task of discernment and synthesis.


29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow - is this the first published review of it? In any case, a very good review of the 'problematical' character of Williams life, work, and thought, taken together (insofar as I have encountered them without all the new information and reflection the biography provides)!

While it might be fair to say "Christianity only came to prominence in Williams's work from 1936" in the sense that Williams's work and himself only came to real prominence, then, I would say Christianity itself was a prominent feature of most of his published poetry until then, especially between 1918 and 1924 (however limited its readership),of at least one of the Three Plays (1931), and also, if allusively and ellusively, of much of his fiction from 1930 to 1933.

As to this poetry, Poems of Conformity (1918) and Divorce (1920) are scanned in the Internet Archive, as is Theodore Maynard's 1919 essay, "The Poetry of Charles Williams". (Maynard a couple years later, somewhat playfully, asserted that the Williams of this early poetry was the third best of modern poets, with Christianity distinctly a feature: the two better were Chesterton and Alice Meynell.) We can now also see how much prominence it had in his second major work, The Chapel of the Thorn (1912) - thanks to Sorina Higgins editing it and getting it published at last!

The "analogy between the stages of marriage and the events of Christ's life" is, I think, already in some ways discernible in his first major publication, The Silver Stair (1912) - a sonnet-sequence - and in the 19i8, 1920, and 1924 volumes. Whether "massively unconvincing" or not, it seems to have been experiential, including that of mistreating(as far as that is possible) Love Himself and the Christ-bearing beloved as Our Lord was mistreated during His earthly life.

I think there is also an experiential awareness of sin and the need for repentance in all of this - and of a stubborn resistance to acting on that awareness. How much "trying to discern the unity of all experience; and the ways in which apparent evil is actually good" is involved with what he understood by 'repentance' seems an important question.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - I don't suppose this is the first review, although I haven't seen another - but I got my review copy on Friday morning, and started reading soon after. I was ill on Saturday, so instead of doing chores I stayed in bed reading. At any rate, I finished the book much faster than I would normally have been able to (plus I had already read some segments on Google Books).

It was a roller coaster ride - I kept vacillating between anger and admiration at him, between joy and disgust, irritation and compassion!

(I have learned from personal acquaintance as well as from biographies that a writer complains of chronic shortage of money - as CW constantly does - this is always linked with crazy, impulsive acts of extravagance and casual self-indulgences taken-for-granted. As an example, smoking - probably - eighty cigarettes a day is not a cheap lifestyle; and a steady stream of presents to one's 'mistresses' don't count as essentials for subsistence.)

I read a lot of biographies, and I think it fair to say that I have never encountered anyone else like Charles Williams - the more facts I know, the less I seem to understand him. And part of the strangeness is that most people found him to be a well integrated person and very characteristic.

The contrast between his desperate, edge-of-despair, inner misery; and the happiness and self-confidence he brought to the lives of so many people is especially strange.

Perhaps his main genius was related to his personal presence - that is always difficult for later people to understand (e.g. Ralph Waldo Emerson was primarily a lecturer - but we cannot help judging him as a writer, since that is all we have).

The writings, taken in isolation, are perhaps little more than 'lecture notes' for his rhetorical impact. Perhaps he was primarily an 'orator'?

If so, like most truly great practitioners, he broke all the rules of his craft - or rather transcended them.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for these very good further remarks! I don't think I can respond equally well, except perhaps by selected quotations! Very interesting to see you write, "I think it fair to say that I have never encountered anyone else like Charles Williams". Yes!

Do you happen to know David Lodge's novel, The British Museum is Falling Down, where the graduate student is studying a minor sort of sub-Chestertonian writer, and discovers a dark secret? Well, it's so simple by comparison. Or what I've read about Saul Bellow's Ravelstein as a sort of roman-à-clef of Allan Bloom - if true, quite creepy and infuriating, but, again, still comparatively simple, if very elaborate hypocrisy set beside Williams. "I kept vacillating between anger and admiration at him, between joy and disgust, irritation and compassion!" - sounds not unlike the story of the past 32 years of my life!

Eric Voegelin sketches an interesting analysis of Nietzsche in Science, Politics, and Gnosticism in terms of "demonic mendacity". Is something like that fairly apt for Williams? How much simple hypocrisy is there, combined with perceptive orthodoxy, and - perhaps - how much possible self-deceptive heretical construction of a sort of 'magic Christianity'?

I tend to look to the novels, and wonder. For example, how much are Henry in The Greater Trumps and Simon in All Hallows' Eve peculiarly sorts of self-portraits? I often think Lionel Rackstraw in War in Heaven is in many ways most like the everyday Williams - yet Williams has also had and affirms a very different experience, and can imagine and affirm the Archdeacon.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Yes, I know the David Lodge novel, or did - the memory is a bit hazy. The protagonists friend in that novel - nicknamed 'Camel' was my English tutor at Durham University. His real name was Derek KC Todd, and he had a kind of hump deformity of the upper spine, left over from adolescent tuberculosis - he became a good friend.

You may well be correct that the novels are the key - perhaps they could profitably be read as semi-autobiographical, even confessional, documents - especially since we know that Williams deliberately wove autobiographical references into them.

The first one (Shadows of Ecstasy) has the Considine character, which (one gets the feeling) rather worryingly seems approved-of by the author; Henry is rather too easily forgiven for attempted murder in Greater Trumps; Henry is rather too easily forgiven by Nancy for the attempted murder of her father in Greater Trumps; and the last, as you say, has Simon - whose wrongness seems to me less firmly established than some other people say (also, Hallows was, of course, written in close editorial collaboration with the Inklings - who may, perhaps, have made Simon less positively portrayed than he otherwise would have been?). Even Place of the Lion has a dark magic character in Berringer, surrounded by admiring disciples, who triggers off the plot although he remains 'offstage'.

And against this, as you rightly say, he could convincingly portray goodness - CS Lewis was especially impressed by this.

The novels may perhaps, if examined in this way - as confessional psychological documents, not only show some aspects of Williams's own extremes of psychology - but how he understood their relationship, how he fitted them together - or held them together...

Anonymous said...

Yes! - "how he understood their relationship, how he fitted them together - or held them together...": all three of those at once, I'd be inclined to think. "Some aspects of Williams's own extremes of psychology"- 'write what you know'! - but definitely worked with, stylized, distilled or extrapolated - and manipulated, I fear. But also lucidly analyzed. I think Considine is attractive to Roger (and somehow admittedly goes on being attractive to Williams), while also being deftly, radically exposed and criticized by Isobel and Inkamasi (though again, their choices make me want to scream in some ways). I was impressed by Henry's 'Babel' experience late in The Greater Trumps on last rereading more than I recall being before: it really seems a sort of self-confrontation and metanoia analogous to Anthony's with the Eagle on the stair in The Place of the Lion, though more protracted, as seems needed to get Henry to face up and want to change. I think you are very right about Berringer, who I think is subtly properly condemned by Williams - he is a figure of Adam recapitulating the Fall, I think (compare the curious Fall account in "The Vision of the Empire"). I think Simon is clearly rejected and I find the combination of his hidden aspirations with his public appearance of seemingly effective healer preaching love to be a striking one (but that doesn't preclude a possible admittedly perverse but persisted-in attractedness on Williams's part). In Descent into Hell, I think Wentworth is a (partial, stylized) self-portrait of Williams in a significant part of his feelings toward Phyllis, and Stanhope an idealized counter-portrait of part of how Williams could be and thought he ought to be. But, as you say, "I would expect that there would have been many young women who must have been appalled, frightened or disgusted at the turn of conversation from this previously kind and charming and spiritual man" - if someone came to him on the basis of the novel expecting Stanhope, and finding him, but then finding him become more like Simon! In how far might the novel have been intended, on one level, as a lure?

I had no idea the characters in The British Museum is Falling Down were so close to real people! I've sometimes lazily thought that something like its denouement with respect to the evidence about the darker sides of Williams might be convenient in some ways, but we are better left wrestling with as much as can be known.

David Llewellyn Dodds

Unknown said...

Haven't been on here in a while, but I found this deeply interesting. I've never understood Williams prose or his appeal either. Reading this, it is easy to see why Tolkien didn't really like the man, even if he didn't know about all of it.

I'm a little wary of the tendency of biography to tear down great figures, however. A friend of mine did discover the sexual relationships in his research, but to him, it was an important fact that Williams never consummated the relationship. That he felt great sexual attraction to these women, and even used them for gratification, but never actually had sex with them, was to my friend highly significant.

He also... I forget his precise argument regarding the master-slave dynamic, but he was looking for examples of domination in Williams' writing I believe he thought Williams was trying to depict God's relationship to man as a master-slave relationship (which would not be totally incorrect)

However, I can't find much around the point that there's no repentance in William's work. I've only read one of Williams' books, but there wasn't any repentance in it, so if it holds across other works--as I imagine it does--then yes, that's very much a serious problem with his Christianity. I can see how Lewis would be at least intrigued by his ideas, while the more orthodox Tolkien would be disgusted.

It's always been my impression that the strange Cameron, who shows up and then disappears in the NCP, is a version of NCP, though admittedly I have nothing to base that on than Tolkien's apparent dislike of both.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Unknown- Tolkien did like Williams, very much , while Williams was alive - he only changed his mind about 15 years after Williams died, when (presumably) he discovered some other aspects of the man. (See the web reference in the comment above.)

With respect to consummation - I don't think Williams wanted to do this, he had other preferences; so I don't think he can get credit for not doing what he did not want to do!

I think there is a misprint in your comment on Cameron - could you rephrase?

Sørina Higgins said...

Congrats on this review, Bruce! It is thorough and insightful (and, of course, timely). May I reprint this review on The Oddest Inkling blog?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Sorina - Please do! And I hope you do your own review in due course...

Arborfield said...

Very interesting indeed, and Grevel's launch on the 29th October in Blackwells, Oxford will be an interesting occasion - with Douglas Gresham speaking on the 27th, also in Oxford, it will be quite an 'Inklings' week. As a long term fan of most of his work, novels, poetry and theology in particular, I have often wondered about the effect he had on so many very good judges of character indeed. From Lewis (of course) to Chesterton and Auden and a whole generation of Oxford students. I am hoping that this latter point will be addressed by Grevel.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Arborfield- I daresay Jeremy Naydler might be present at the Blackwells opening - since he lives in Oxford and I assume he knows GL from Temenos - if so, please would you say hello from me.

Stephen Clark said...

It seems to me that repentance does feature in Williams' novels: Damaris in The Place of the Lion; Lester in All Hallows Eve; Wentworth refuses the chance in Descent into Hell.

Stephen Clark said...

For repentance issues see Damaris in The Place of the Lion; Lester in All Hallows Eve; and Wentworth's refusal of the chance in Descent into Hell.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Stephen Clark - Good examples, at least on the face of it. But I feel I need to go back and look again more critically.

Suzannah said...

Fascinating review - thank you for writing it! As someone who's benefited quite a lot from Williams's - novels mostly- I'm glad to finally learn something solid about the weirdness and wrongness of which I'd previously only heard rumours.

Anonymous said...

Taking up Unknown's last point: I suppose it is that Cameron is a version of Williams. I had not thought of that. My immediate guess was that 'Alexander Cameron' was largely based on or playing with Roy Campbell, but how complicatedly compound characters they can be, is an interesting question. (Wikipedia - yes, I know... - lists Clan Grant as a rival of Clan Cameron but an ally of Clan Campbell - that's the only immediate connection I can - admittedly Wikipediacally! - find between 'Cameron' and 'Campbell': a plausible bit of teasing, but, who knows.)

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - I'm pretty sure that Cameron has nothing to do with Charles Williams - for a start he never says anything! There is comment in the 'biography' to say that nobody knows who invited him, or why he somes! This does not fit with Williams - nor does anything else in the biography. He is clearly meant to be Scottish (since his catch phrase is "Thanks for a very enterrtaining evening" - the double r meaning his 'rolls' the consonant, Scots style. My guess is that Cameron is based on RB McCallum who was a Scot, and from the comments about him in Warnie Lewis's journal might have been mostly taciturn and occasionally pedantic - plus the comment that Cameron was an historian like McCallum.

CoffeeMatt said...

Fascinating review. I have also long felt at turns fascinated and repulsed by Williams. One thing is clear though from varied accounts - and you mention this in regards to Emerson - to really "get" Williams, you kind of had to be there in the room with him. These records we have of his writings, even his personal letters, end up leaving out something terribly important that we'll probably never be able to grasp.

Bruce Charlton said...

@CM - Thanks. We agree - But even lacking his presence, I find there is much to be gained - and much that is unique and which I would not like to be without - from reading CW in the right frame of mind, and with a reasonable set of expectations. However, whether it is the novels, poems, plays, or theology - I almost always end up reading in short bursts, and skipping some bits. At any rate, something keeps drawing me back, again and again.

Anonymous said...

You've probably got it at your fingertips in Grevel Lindop's biography - I feel sure Williams did some broadcasting but that no recordings are known to survive. I've also heard an old recording of a speech from his Cranmer, but the question at the time was, was it him reciting it? - and I've never tried to see what new developments there were, since (if any!).

It's funny how some people who knew him would do imitations of his voice for you - I've heard ones (very similar) by his friend, Thelma Shuttleworth, and by Dame Helen Gardner (but not recorded them - alas!).

I've read a letter of his about the pronunciation of Dante - that there seemed to be a fashion for trying to get the Italian right, 'Dahn-tay', but he still said, 'Dan-tee'. And, too belatedly, after I'd left Oxford and England, I tried to make efforts to encourage people who knew him to record or note their memories of how he pronounced the names in his Arthurian poetry, but so far as I know, nothing came of it (unless there is a lovely cache of evidence somewhere of which I simply have not heard...). Idiotic, all the poetry I've read and discussed with old students and friends of his, without ever having thought to make such an attempt then and there...

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Lindop notes a couple of radio broadcasts, and implies there were more - page 361 - it mentions a BBC radio talk on the Authorized Version of the Bible, page 402 a talk for BBC Indian Service on Julius Caesar, Shakespeare and Politics - I would like to hear both of those!

I have argued that Williams accent was, to some extent "put on", exaggerated for effect:

http://notionclubpapers.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=cockney

This is (in my opinion) made more likely by the revelation of Williams Left Wing politics, because - as you know - there is a very common type of English of populist socialist 'am of the people' who emphasizes his 'working class' origins - including exaggerating (or inventing) any trace of local or regional accent.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! I wonder if '"Books That Made History: The Bible." 7 pp. cc. TMs. in 7 lvs., with revisions. NON-FICTION (Address)' catalogued under CW / MS-11 and '"Julius Caesar: Shakespeare's Political Views." 9 pp. TMs. in 9 lvs., with revisions. NON-FICTION (Lecture)' catalogued under CW / MS-20 at the Wade are two of these - as texts?

(I suspect the Cranmer recording I heard is that now catalogued in the Wade as CW-D / SR-2 and described as "inspired by Charles Williams's works".)

An interesting question about accent - my thoughts spring to how little detailed sense I have of accent and 'the Radical tradition' (so to call it) - real people like Mr. Bunce in Trollope's Phineas Finn (and what of, say, George Borrow?) - I can imagine them making no effort to lose their accents and a certain savour in emphasizing them should they become 'upwardly mobile' - but no evidence do I recall. Add to that Williams sense of the dramatic... It would be interesting to hear his broadcasts in the high-tide of Received Pronunciation!

David Llewellyn Dodds

manlyduckling said...

I have long neglected Williams at the expense of the other two Inklings, but your review has had the strange effect of making me feel both relieved that I have not dug deeper into his works, and yet fascinated enough to learn more via the biography. It all seems a curious case. Until now, the more biographies of Lewis and Tolkien I read, the more Williams seemed to come across as a slightly suspect figure. And yet Lewis, whom I trust so much, was completely won over by him. And so many Inklings biographers have apparently accepted him as a Christian. There has been the odd dissenting voice - I remember Alan Jacobs, in the superb biography of Lewis The Narnian, saying he simply didn't trust Williams - but for the most part we have seen only acceptance, the eccentricities (making him more of a Yeats type figure) all being in the service of the greater good. Hmmm. It will be hard, now, to read That Hideous Strength and the St Anne's material without reflecting on these revelations.

Anonymous said...

With respect to Steve Kane's comment(s), Robert Gilbert is certainly still alive and active (and acknowledged in Grevel Lindop's biography, which I have now had the pleasure of reading)! I don't know about his shop still being in business, there, however. Many Fellowship of the Rosy Cross papers (etc.) that were in his care are now in the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica in Amsterdam - where, alas, I have never yet worked with them: but Aren Roukema has - see his ‘A Veil that Reveals: Charles Williams and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross' in the Journal of Inkling Studies, Vol. 5, no. 1 (April 2015). (It will be interesting to compare all his new information with all the new FRC info in the biography - which I have not yet attempted.)

There is also interesting attention to Williams and Underhill and her heritag 9so to put it) in the biography (some of it may well be new: something else I have not yet pursued).

David Llewellyn Dodds

Barnie said...


I think is a good review but I think that it falls short on the literary value of Williams and his christianity. You can think what you want about the relationship between Williams and some women but his conception of sexual magic its something he tried to rescue from the evilish hands of one of his companions of the Golden Dawn, Crowley, a true satanist. And I think that the author is not right about the vision of the afterlife in Williams. Al Hallows Eve is an example of secondary world of purgatorial working and his description of the periocoresis of the Holy Trinity in his last chapter is something at the level of Dante. When I see the lives of so many writers and the disastrous consequences of the practice of their ideas (Im thinking about Ted Hugues, for example) I contemplate Williams with a more caritative light. He was a tormented man and he tried to put his inners desires in Christian terms. Probably he did fail in it in his real life but now we have the good he did. He gave to Tolkien the objective correlative of the ring of power in his depiction of the Graal in War in Heaven. He inspired many people to Christian faith.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Barnie - Fair points. As you can see on this blog - if you do a word search - I value WIlliams in many ways; but a review must have a focus.

But I don't believe that Tolkien's One Ring is related to the Graal in War in Heaven in any way!

Barnie said...

Thank you for your reply. A. N. Wilson said about this question:

"Certainly, Williams’s books had an influence on the Inklings. Lindop is right to say that the central plotline of Many Dimensions suggests the story of The Lord of the Rings. In the Williams novel, it is a stone of great power, rather than a ring, but it has the same effect on those who bear it: They become its possession, not its possessor".

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2016/03/havent-an-inkling

And Caleb Crain:

what Williams’s Grail most reminded me of was… Tolkien’s Ring. Like the Ring, Williams’s Grail grants to knowledgeable users the faculty of vision at a distance. Like the Ring, its possession can be sensed by others who have possessed it. And like the Ring, it is capable of imparting tremendous power. The resemblance seemed to me most striking when a nihilist in Williams’s novel urges a Satanist to destroy the Grail.

“Destroy it!” the Satanist wails in protest. “But there are a hundred things to do with it.”

“That’s the treachery,” the nihilist replies. “Keep it for this, keep it for that. Destroy it, I tell you; while you keep anything for a reason you are not wholly ours.”

The exchange could have been lifted from Gandalf and Frodo’s in the second chapter of “The Lord of the Rings.” “Do not tempt me!” Gandalf insists when Frodo offers to hand the Ring over to him. “The way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength.” In these passages, the Grail and the Ring are almost perfect mirror images: Williams’s Grail is dangerous even to the most dedicated of Satanists because, though it can be used for evil, it has an inherent bent for good. And Tolkien’s Ring is dangerous even to the most virtuous of wizards because, though it can be used for good, it has an inherent bent for evi".

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-were-reading-charles-williams

I beg your pardon because the long citations. This blog is wonderful and the review was good and revealing. Thank you.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Barnie - Fair enough, there is a likeness; it's not a silly or absurd idea; but I'm still sure its wrong! Over the years I have read reams about the writing and development of Lord of the Rings - and this wasn't how it happened. Tolkien really liked Place of the Lion, but there is nothing to suggest he had the same strongly positive response to Williams's other novels or works.

Steve Kane said...

@ David Llewellyn Dodds
Thnkyou for your reply that answered a few of my points and questions.
I removed my original observations as they included some indiscretions.
I am easy to find, there is only one of me in N. Portugal.
Personally I agree with you about CWs own "indiscretions" being possibly an attempt to find the pure kernel in Crowley's worm-ridden fruit. Crowley is a frustrating fellow to read, he so closely shaves the point, but "what I will" so often gets in is way. He never responds to the urge with "Whatever?", CWs idea of distributed enlightenment holds so much more wisdom and maturity, Crowley is stuck somewhere before 400BCE, perhaps why he was not bad on the I Ching.
Steve Kane.