Friday 22 August 2014

Evidence that Charles Williams 'presided' at Inklings meetings 1939-45

Continuing from:

It is generally assumed that CS Lewis presided over Inklings meetings throughout the span of that group's existence - indeed Humphrey Carpenter's group biography of the Inklings argued that the group was nothing but a group of Lewis's friends. And the meetings were held in Lewis's rooms.

However, I believe a strong case can be made that for the period 1939-45 when Charles Williams was living in Oxford, and was the most regular attender at Inklings evenings (according to Warnie Lewis) - Lewis stepped back into the role of merely hosting the Inklings, and CW dominated and presided over the meetings.

When I talk about presiding, I am of course referring to an informal gathering - yet, in all regular groups of friends there is a dominant figure - one who is the main authority, final court of appeal, who controls the discourse. And I think this is the role that Williams took over from Jack Lewis.

1. The main reason to believe this is that Williams was a dominant man: someone who (in his own distinctive way) dominated every human situation in which he found himself - with the possible exception of formal meetings with the Publisher of Oxford University Press Sir Humphrey Milford. He reportedly evoked voluntary deference from such large and powerful characters as Jack Lewis, TS Eliot and WH Auden.

2. Williams was the oldest of the regular Inklings.

3. Williams was by far the most published Inkling - the senior author.

4. Williams was the best connected of the Inklings, had friends and colleagues among major and famous literary figures of the era.

5. Williams was a figure in London - in this sense a wordly man, compared with the 'ivory towered' dons.

6. Williams was, in effect, a professional theologian - whose books were read, pondered, discussed, by real theologians - he had for a while been invited to contribute essays, books, plays on theological matters.

7. Williams was a successful poet, regarded as one of the most important of that era. Tolkien and Lewis had both intended to be poets (first and foremost) in their early adulthood - neither had succeeded; but Williams had.

So, I think that there are many reasons to suppose that - even despite the lack of direct evidence of what actually happened in the group - it was Williams who probably presided-over and dominated the Inklings meetings, and in this sense 'led' the group; from moving to Oxford until his death.


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