Tuesday 30 July 2019

John Fitzgerald on Charles Williams

John Fitzgerald has posted a wide-ranging review of Lindop's biography of the Inkling Charles Williams (my own stab at the business is here); continuing the ongoing and fascinating project of trying to attain an overall evaluation of this most contradictory and elusive of literary figures.


Anonymous said...

My Google-eschewal means I cannot comment at John Fitzgerald's blog, so I will do so here - beyond first thanking you for directing our attention to his review!

It is worth noting, with respect to Williams and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross and A.E. Waite, and 'magic', both Aren Roukema's 50-page article in the Journal of Inklings Studies, Vol. 5, No. 1 (April 2015) and his 330-page book, Esotericism and Narrative: The Occult Fiction of Charles Williams (Aries Book Series, Volume 24) (Leiden: Brill, 2018) - which, sadly, costs $228.00, whether in hardback or as e-book! I suspect more libraries will have the former than the latter, but it is worth checking, or looking into whatever Inter-Library Loan scheme is available.

Since he makes good use of my 2008 review article in his book, I hope you will indulge my linking it here:


David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Part 1: I read your linked review of Gavin Ashendon's book, and found it extremely interesting.

One thing that struck for the multiplth time, is how misleading it was to use the word 'Platonic' to describe William's relationships with Phyllis Jones and other young women.


Even if there was never a full consummation in the legal sense; the world Platonic implies an idealised, pure, non-physical relationship - whereas these were purposefully sexual relationships, including certainly taboo forms of touching (e.g. full length embraces) *designed* to elicit physical desire.

Part of the confusion is the element of fetishism about William's sexuality, which always seems absurd to those (such as myself!) who don't share it - I mean the focus on hands and arms etc.

We ought to judge by motivation, and the key point is surely that there is now abundant evidence that Williams's seemingly 'small beer' S&M rituals on young women's hands - sctarched writing on palms with letter openers, and others that you list in your review - which would leave most people unmoved or merely bemused - were highly charged sexual acts In Context For Williams.

The other fact that jumps-out is that not only did Williams make no 'spiritual progress' in overcome these behaviours through his life (e.g. the episodes with Lois Lang Sims, in which CW was clearly actively seeking such relationships, were not long before his death) - Williams seems not even to have wanted to stop.

Bruce Charlton said...

@David - Part 2. From CW's perspective, the only problem in systematically using young women for 'kinky' sexual stimulation - and sublimating the emotion to write poetry - seems to have been the logistics of finding and using suitable young women, and the need for concealment from (by deploying deliberately misleading, carefully misleading, ambiguous language of a highly dishonest type) of his wife, and people like CS Lewis.

I think Williams was, indeed, exibition the oft-remarked-on
'law' of evil, that one must announce what is to happen before it happens, there needs to be a kind of implicit consent. So - with LLS - he both engineered situations that put her under considerable pressure to conform to his wishes, yet also said that she could refuse at any point; she was made very dependent on him and his approval, and incrementally escalating demands for complaince with more elaborate rituals; yet/ but was also offered a way out by refusal: but only at the cost of being utterly cut off.

This was made possible by CW's 'charisma' and the way he could rapidly form strong, initimate relationships with some poeple (most people, it seems) - so much so, that this became almost 'a routine'. People wanted and valued the relation, became addicted-to or at least dependent-on him; and feared to lose this special quality of relationship.

Some of William's encrypted (as you put it) statements in the novels and poems look as if they are serving this function; so that Williams can say in mitigation - "Look, I *told* you about the kind of person I was - and what I believed, wanted and intended - here, and here".

What I find wicked about Williams is the way that he abused his spiritual gifts - rather as, more often, we see attractive young women abuse their physical gifts - in a manipulative and selfish fashion. And as with the young women, it is possible to claim that the victims are perfectly happy to be so abused, constent to being so abused!

That merely makes the evil more seductive - it is not a genuine excuse (at least not for a Christian). So much so that maost people who have - to a smaller degree that CW - any such gifts of attractiveness and/or charm, very often do abuse these gifts in manipulating others for selfish ends, and also usually deny that this is happening by pointing to the 'consent' of the abused...

So most of us are guilty of this kind of behaviour in some degree. The distinction is whether we repent and struggle against the trait; and (again) the problem is that Williams did not repent, and indeed explicitly rejected the temptation to repent! It seems that writing poetry was more important than being good.

John Fitzgerald said...

All good points always, Bruce, and I can't really argue against them. I feel you're harsh on CW though, I really do, especially when we think of the bigger picture of what his life and legacy mean. He brought a tremendous amount of good to the table and made a huge difference - nearily always positive - to people's lives. Like all of us he had his faults, but he aimed high and dreamed big. He wasn't some kind of bland, sell-out, 'go along to get along' type. The world is a patchy enough pace as it is. Without CW's life and work it would surely be a whole lot worse!

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - I have felt that my appreciation and enjoyment of CW was damaged by the biographical revelations (although they always hovered on the edge of my awareness, due to the guarded and coded way that some people had written about him - so none of the revelations were as big a surprise for me as they were for some; as can be seen from the earliest writings on this blog) - because it made me aware of how the works were seeded with justifications for his own sins - and I regard that as a posionous fault; in a writer and person with his role and ambitions. But 'now we know', I think that future readers can make allowances and probably get more good from him.