Saturday 23 November 2019

Love among the Inklings

To what extent were the Inklings a group bound together by Love? The answer is; to a much greater extent than is usual for such intellectual groups composed of colleagues with common interests (e.g. Christianity, literature, the imagination, myth); and with common purposes (writing, socio-political renewal, Christian revival).

Indeed, I would say that the fact that the Inklings was a loving group was what raised it above other superficially similar intellectual groupings. 

At the centre of the Inklings was CS Lewis - who, of course, wrote on the subject of The Four Loves (1960), a man with a genius for friendship, and who genuinely loved his friends. Jack Lewis attended all the meetings, which were held in his rooms; he was driving force that kept them going. And after the evening meeting of the true 'Inklings' dissolved, Jack maintained an extended convivial conversation group for more than another decade, lunchtimes at the 'Bird and Baby' or (opposite) Lamb and Flag pubs.

Of those inklings whom Lewis loved, first was his brother Warnie, second was his student friend Owen Barfield. Then came JRR Tolkien. And in all of these instances, the love was mutual.

Finally, there was Charles Williams...

As always with Williams, the friendship with Lewis is not straightforward. There is no doubt that Lewis loved Williams; but I doubt whether this love was reciprocal - indeed, I have never seen any reference anywhere to suggest that Williams actually loved Lewis as a friend. Respected, yes. Enjoyed the company of, yes. But I am not confident that - after his youth and young adulthood - Williams loved any man.

This is not, perhaps, unusual; because few men can develop robust and lasting loving friendships with other men after early adulthood; and in this respect Lewis was exceptional. 

But with Jack, Warnie, Barfield, Tolkien and Williams we have the core of the Inklings; and at the centre of this web of loving relationships was Jack. He truly was the heart of the group.


Francis Berger said...

I am not that well-versed in the Inklings as a group, but I enjoyed reading this. The kind of love you describe here appears to extend beyond common interests. I get the sense these great men recognized a deeper element in each other. To use your terminology, it would seem they saw each other as Beings and interacted as such. They sought to bring out the best in each other, encourage each other and, ultimately, serve each other in their creativity and in creation.

The opposite is true today. The individuals in similar groups (though it seems hardly appropriate to compare the Inklings to any modern group) interact with each other mostly out of utility and short-term gain. It's quite obvious the Inklings saw the bigger picture within their friendships.

This was refreshing and uplifting read; thanks for posting it.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - Yes, it is easy to get so focused on the technical aspects of this group that the bond in love is missed. Another factor is that 'friendship' is nowadays much weakened through overuse, and through (often deliberate) 'reduction' to sexual attraction.

The absurd idea that the Inklings was based on homosexual attraction was floated as long ago as William Ready's dishonest and incompetent book "Understanding Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings" of 1968. For the post-sixties mind; loving friendship between men has become incomprehensible, so homosexuality is regarded as the default explanation for any prolonged and voluntary association of men.

Francis Berger said...

Ah yes, the modern obsession of placing sex as the root cause of everything that happens or could possibly happen between people. An extremely limiting and limited way of interpreting friendships and the world. I do not know the book you cite above, but I never once entertained the notion that the friendships the Inklings forged were based on homosexual attraction. Not once - even while reading this post. I guess that makes me "unmodern."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I need to be fair and accurate, and may have misled with the remarks about the Ready book. The argument by William Ready - if you can call it an argument - was on the lines that homosexuality was pervasive among the English upper classes due to residential, single sex public schooling, and the Inklings was a manifestation of this kind of women-excluding thing. He wasn't speculating about a *specific* attraction between Inklings members, but trying to account for the men-only grouping - from his own limited set of 1960s leftist assumptions.