Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Mrs Moore: The greatest mystery of CS Lewis's life - now officially solved

Some nine years ago I wrote a post, in which I speculated on what might be the truth behind the greatest mystery of CS Lewis's life, and a subject on which he maintained (apparently) absolute secrecy: the nature and basis of his decades long relationship with Mrs Janie Moore. 

Just last week, and some 58 years after Lewis died, the mystery has 'officially' been solved in public, with the publication of an interview from the late Walter Hooper (CSL's literary executor, who died a year ago). I have lightly edited the passage, for clarity:

My knowledge of this comes from Owen Barfield almost entirely. Owen Barfield told me that yes, Lewis told him there had been a sexual relationship and it began really at the time, right after he came out of the army [c1918]. 

[Lewis], as he himself has said about himself he was not a moral man at that time. He believed in morality, he believed in goodness, but anyway, he–they did have an affair. And it lasted until Lewis was converted to Christianity [c1931]. 

Lewis told Owen Barfield that part of his reparation for all of that took the form of, first of all he stopped having the sexual relationship with Mrs. Moore as soon as he was converted to Christianity, and he thought that his penance should be and was looking after that lady for the rest of his life

I can’t imagine him getting rid of Mrs. Moore. But you can see that this is part of his penance,  and I think that penance went as far as he could, right up until he visited her everyday even in the nursing home. 

This pretty much confirms what I had guessed from contextual evidence:

I believe that what happened was that the relationship between Lewis and Minto was initially sexual (this is now generally accepted), but when this ceased (the time and reasons for which are not known, but was almost certainly before or at the time Lewis gradually became a Christian around 1929-31), Lewis felt he had done Minto a great wrong. At this time, I strongly suspect that Lewis made a vow to do service to Minto for the rest of his life, as a penance for the wrongdoing. I suspect that this was a private matter and that he told nobody - but for the rest of his life he stuck to this penance, and that this is what explained the extraordinary servility of the relationship between Jack and Minto for the last 20 or so years.


Anonymous said...

It would be interesting to see if there is any explicit reference to any of this anywhere by Owen Barfield himself.

It is also interesting to compare Lewis's April 1945 remark in what Walter Hooper published as 'Christian Apologetics': "I do not myself think we can expect people to recognize it ["fornication"] as sin until they have accepted Christianity as a whole." (God in the Dock (Eerdmans, June 1982 reprint of 1970 ed.), p. 96.)

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - I don't suppose there will be any direct reference in Barfield's writings (unless in unpublished private diaries, maybe) - but now we know that Barfield knew, it should be possible to see indirect evidence that Barfield knew the basic situation - perhaps in what Barfield did Not say, more than what he did.

Anonymous said...

Lewis's familiarity with St. Augustine's Confessions came to mind, and, with it, Book 6, chapter 15 where he tells how his converted (and cast off) mistress "went back to Africa, making a vow unto You never to know another man, leaving with me my natural son by her. But I, unhappy one, who could not imitate a woman [...]". This has similarities to and differences from Lewis's situation - Lewis, like the mother of Adeodatus, converted and vowed himself to chastity. But, unlike her with Augustine, could Lewis have married Mrs. Moore? Why didn't they marry? Indeed, why did they not marry earlier? Did Mr. Moore not want to give (the adulterous) Mrs. Moore a divorce? Did the now chaste and consciously Christian Lewis not think he should marry a divorcee, even if the Moores would divorce? What happened? If for whatever reason Lewis did not marry her then, did Mr. Moore die, leaving her a widow, whereupon Lewis could have married her? Or did Mrs. Moore not want to marry him? Or not want to pursue a divorce?

Thinking of this got me wondering if his suggestion of State marriage contracts in Christian Behaviour (1943), with which Tolkien took such clear issue in his draft letter (Letter 49), reflected Lewis's 'experience' with Mrs. Moore? Would the young apostate Lewis have married Mrs. Moore on such terms, and she him - or, in any case, if they could have gotten Mr. Moore to agree to a divorce? Did the Lewis of 1943 think that would not have been a bad thing, had it been possible?

David Llewellyn Dodds

Bruce Charlton said...

@DLD - I don't know the answers. But CSL had always been extremely secretive - and indeed dishonest - about this relationship; and this continued after he became a Christian (i.e. he pretended to many people that Mrs Moore was his mother). Recall that he never even told his brother Warnie that the relationship had been sexual.

For any of the above marriage scenarios to happen, CSL would have needed to to be publicly open about this business in a way that he never was - and never made any attempt to be.

All of which I would suppose probably added to Lewis's sense of guilt, and strengthened his adherence to the 'penance'.