Wednesday 31 July 2013

Charles Williams had a (so-called) 'Cockney' accent because he wanted one


St Alban's grammar school would at the time Charles Williams attended, would certainly have made it its business to eradicate local accents.

(St Albans is an anciently founded grammar school, and one of the high status English Public Schools, whose Headmasters were members of the Headmasters Conference.)

That was a non-optional part of what English public schools were about - core business for them. A public school education was designed to prepare its pupils to join the upper classes - and upper class membership could be detected by hard to fake attributes such accent, manners and detailed knowledge of etiquette etc.

Most of this training was done by the social milieu - such that boys would discipline each other into adopting the correct behaviours - and this would probably have been reinforced in class by formal elocution or 'speech' lessons, as well as by teachers mocking and shaming those who spoke with lower class accents in class.

So the probability is that anyone who emerged from an English private or public school around 1900 still having a regional accent must have actively resisted its eradication. This is somewhat plausible, given Williams lifelong assertion (reported by Alice Mary Hadfield) that the English 'middle classes ' (and not the upper classes) were the basis of the best and most distinctive literature. 

So either Charles Williams retained his 'Cockney' accent by choice, or else he had lost his regional accent by the time he left school but later re-adopted it, by choice.

But, either way, CW had a lower middle class 'Cockney'/ South East English regional accent essentially because he wanted one!

I think we can rule-out un-self-consciousness when it comes to CW! - since by all accounts his manners were exceptionally studied, formal, learned, distinctive.

If Williams spoke with an accent mistaken for Cockney - it was almost certainly by his deliberate choice.


Sunday 21 July 2013

A superb TV documentary about JRR Tolkien from 1992


J.R.R.T.: A Film Portrait of J.R.R. Tolkien - release date 1996, but apparently completed in 1992

In case you haven't already seen it, this is a simply superb documentary - indeed, one of the best documentaries I have ever seen on any subject:


Wednesday 10 July 2013

Tolkien's most dreadful production - the 1960 revision of The Hobbit


I have been reading the begun but (thankfully) nowhere near finished 1960 revision of The Hobbit which was done by JRR Tolkien, and is published in Part Two of The History of the Hobbit edited by John D Ratliff.

The draft consists of replacement passages amounting to some 30 pages and taking Bilbo and the Dwarves as far as arriving in Rivendell.


The idea of the revision was to bring the Hobbit into line with Lord of the Rings in both a factual and tonal sense. This was a deeply flawed motivation, especially when applied to a first rank classic of children's literature, and could hardly fail to damage the book.

What resulted is rather horrible to read, at least it is horrible for anyone who loves Tolkien and who recognizes The Hobbit's special quality.

The very life has been drained from the Hobbit - its spark, verve, spontaneity are extinguished, smothered - its humour (in the old sense of humour - when a 'humorous' man was one of vivid and distinctive character).

The much derided avuncular asides are gone, but so is the vitality.


The failure of the 1960 Hobbit betrays its misguided purpose, just as the vampiric bureaucratic prose of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (the one recommended by the modern Church of England) betrays Christianity - the hobbit, for all its flaws, is essentially a perfect book ^ (just as the Authorized Version is a perfect translation of the Bible) - and if you revise perfection there can be only one outcome.

^perfect - A perfect work of art is one at the highest level in that art, one which cannot in actuality be improved (any change making it overall worse), one which cannot be surpassed (only something different being done) - in this sense the following are perfect: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Mozart's Magic Flute, Rembrandt's sequence of self-portraits...


[Note: An error of similarly tin-eared and destructive magnitude, but an error which has been enacted and imposed is currently poisoning the literary experience of tens of thousands of children - I mean the reordering of the Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis; which retrospective juggling attempts to make kids read the books in pseudo-chronological order rather than by order of publication - that is with the Magician's Nephew first (instead of the correct first book, which is obviously The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe). I have read all the arguments over this matter - but frankly find it embarrassing that anyone - especially the wonderful Walter Hooper - could seriously argue against the fact that the books should be read in order of publication. I say fact because, insofar as there is objectivity to literary criticism, this is about as obvious a fact as can be supposed. The re-ordering of the Narnia books was an act of literary vandalism of major proportions. The only consolation is that most kids seem to be ignoring it, in practice.]

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Was Charles Williams's accent deliberately adopted - 'Mockney' rather than Cockney?


In commenting on Charles Williams at another blog -


- I suddenly had the idea that Charles Williams accent, which struck some of his Oxford friends as 'Cockney' was instead an affectation - or what we term 'Mockney' - a mock-Cockney accent, designed to give an impression that the speaker is 'a man of the people'.


The possibility arises because Charles Williams was actually a University-educated Public Schoolboy whose father had been a clerk - yet CW struck others of that educated class (such as CS Lewis) as if he were of lower class origins and education.

Why should this be? - essentially, I think it was mostly Williams accent, plus perhaps some strange manners and mannerisms.


But why would Williams have a superficially-Cockney accent and strange manners?

My answer: because he deliberately adopted them at some point in his youth or young adult life - for whatever reason CW wanted to appear as something other than he was, he wanted people to assume he was an outsider, of lower class origins.

By the time Williams met the Inklings, this affectation of accent had long since become an ingrained, spontaneous habit. 


Plenty of English people have done and do the same - indeed English public life has been since the mid 1960s largely populated by people of upper middle class origin who try to appear to be of lower class or regional origin - ex Prime Minister Tony Blair (Fettes, Oxford, Mockney) being an example.

Why not Charles Williams? It is known he was extremely self-conscious, he struck most people as extremely affected (yet carried this off by his charisma and magnetism), he was very pro-Middle Class in his social views (and thereby implicitly unimpressed by the Upper Class), he seems to have habitually behaved in an odd and stand-out kind of fashion - wanted to be regarded as one of a kind.

He loved ritual and formalisms of his own devising - indeed, Charles Williams was exactly the kind of person deliberately to change his own accent in order to stand out and emphasize his outsider status and to identify with the lower class audiences of his London evening lectures, and the disciples who came from them.


The more I think about it, the more plausible it becomes!

Charles Williams was a Mockney! - and one of the earliest examples of the type.


Tuesday 2 July 2013

Charles William's Platonism had no rationale for valuing mortal life


Consider the following excerpt from near the end of Charles Williams novel The Place of the Lion.


That strange impulse however, to which in the serious and gay humour
that possessed him he had given the name of the necessity, allowed [Anthony]
to wander slowly down the station road, till he saw Richardson walking
swiftly along to meet him; then he quickened his own steps. They looked
at each other curiously.

"And so," Richardson said at last, "you think that the common things
will return?"

"I'm quite certain of it," Anthony said. "Won't He have mercy on all
that He's made?"

The other shook his head, and then suddenly smiled. "Well, if you and
they like it that way, there's no more to be said," he answered.
"Myself, I think you're only wasting time on the images."

"Well, who made the images?" Anthony asked. "You sound like a medieval
monk commenting on marriage. Don't be so stuck-up over your old way,
whatever it is. What actually is it?"

Richardson pointed to the sky. "Do you see the light of that fire?" he
asked. "Yes, there. Berringer's house has been burning all day."

"I know, I saw it."

"I'm going out there," Richardson said and stopped.

"But--I'm not saying you're wrong--but why?" Anthony asked: "Isn't fire
an image too?"

"That perhaps," the other answered. "But all this--" he touched his
clothes and himself, and his eyes grew dark with a sudden passion of
desire--"has to go somehow; and if the fire that will destroy the world
is here already, it isn't I that will keep from it."

Anthony looked at him a little ruefully. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'd
hoped we might have talked more. And--you know best--but you're quite
sure you're right? I can't see but what the images have their place. Ex
perhaps, but the noon has to drive the shadows away naturally,
hasn't it?"

The other shrugged. "O I know," he said. "It's all been argued a hundred
times, Jensenist and Jesuit, the monk and the married man, mystic and
sacramentalist. But all I know is that I must make for the End when and
as soon as I see it. Perhaps that's why I am alone. But since that's
so--I'd like you, if you will, and if restoration comes, to give this
book back to Berringer if he's alive, and to keep it if he isn't. What,"
he added, "what you call alive."

Anthony took the little parcel. "I will do it," he said. "But I only
call it alive because the images must communicate, and communication is
such a jolly thing. However, I'm keeping you and I mustn't do
we sacramentalists say."

They shook hands. Then Anthony broke out again. "I do wish you
weren't--No; no, I don't. Go with God."

"Go with God," the other's more sombre voice answered. They stood for a
moment, then they stepped apart, their hands went up in mutual courteous
farewell, and they went their separate ways.

No-one saw the young bookseller's assistant again; no-one thought of
him, except his employer and his landlady, and each of them, grumbling
first, afterwards filled his place and forgot him. Alone and unnoticed
he went along the country road to his secret end. Only Anthony, as he
went swiftly to Damaris, commended the other's soul to the Maker and
Destroyer of images.


In PotL the Platonic archetypes invade earth. These archetypes are that eternal reality of which earthly things, including people, are merely 'images'.

What happened in the above scene is that Richardson chose to yield to these archetypes, to end his mortal life, to die (by walking into the flames of a burning house - burning with archetypal fire)  and thereby enter the eternal world of real-reality. But Anthony affirmed his intention to saty in this world, resist the invasion of the archetypes, and thereby save the life of his fiancee.

This seems a very sensible thing to do! If the next world, the world after death, is indeed the real world, and this world is only a matter of images, shadows, inklings and glimpses of that real world, then why not die as soon as possible and enter reality?

Why not indeed - IF the Platonic metaphysics is regarded as true.

So, what reason does Anthony give for NOT doing exactly this - what is the best rationale Anthony can come up with for staying in this mortal life?

This is the key passage, upon which the whole plot of the book hinges. This is Anthony's credo:

...but you're quite sure you're right? I can't see but what the images have their place. Ex
umbris perhaps, but the noon has to drive the shadows away naturally,
hasn't it?"...

"... I only call it alive because the images must communicate, and communication is
such a jolly thing.

[Note: Ex umbris means Out of the shadows, and probably refers to a longer saying along the lines of Ex umbris ad lucem meaning Out of the shadows and into the light - in other words, from this mortal world of shadows and into the eternal world of clearly perceived reality.]

So this is Charles Williams bottom-line, ultimate reason for human mortal life -  the images must communicate, and communication is such a jolly thing.

In other words, no reason at all.


And this is the intractable problem with Platonism - whether pagan or Christian - and if Christian Platonism whether that of Eastern Orthodoxy, or of Charles Williams, or indeed of CS Lewis in his Narnia books and elsewhere.

If this world is merely an image, shadow or at best foretaste of the reality which comes after death - then what is the point of it? What is the point of mortal human life? On this view there is none. It is at best an unfortunate trail, and the sooner it ends the better.

Platonism cannot answer the question of why stay alive if we get an opportunity to die - so long as we can be confident of entering this post-mortem world of truth and light.


The current two rival dominant world views are: 1. some variant of the Platonic view which sees no necessity for mortal life, and 2. the secular idealism which sees no reality except mortal life - and a choice between Heaven-on-Earth here-and-now or else no Heaven at all.


[To my knowledge, the only metaphysical system which both demonstrates the value, and indeed necessity, of mortal life, yet also acknowledges the primacy of the next world, is Mormonism. ]