Friday, November 22, 2013

For Mrs Moore

C. S. Lewis, a British writer of Christian tracts and fantasy novels, died 50 years ago today (the news of his death being somewhat eclipsed by the assassination of J. F. Kennedy on the same day). He is most well remembered for his seven novels in the Chronicles of Narnia series, but less so for a diary he kept during his early years, before he became a Christian, at the behest of his intimate, but much older, friend Mrs Moore.

Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1898, with the first names Clive and Staples, but he is always known as C. S. Lewis. His mother died when he was only ten. He studied at Cherbourg School, Malvern, and University College, Oxford, but his student life was interrupted by service in the army during the latter stages of the First World War (during which he was wounded in the Battle of Arras). After the war, he returned to Oxford and gained several degrees. From early in the 1920s, he lived with Mrs Janie King Moore, the mother of a friend of his who had been killed in the war, and her daughter. Mrs Moore was more than 20 years Lewis’s senior but, nevertheless, the two had some kind of long-term relationship.

Lewis remained at University College as a tutor, and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow of Magdalen College. In 1930, Lewis, his brother and Moore jointly purchased a house called The Kilns; and, the following year, he became a committed Christian. By 1933, Lewis and a group of literary friends, dubbed the Inklings, were meeting regularly. Lewis’s first major work, An Allegory of Love: Study in Medieval Tradition, was published in 1936 (later, it won a Gollancz Memorial Prize). The Screwtape Letters, in 1942, published as installments in a magazine, was one of many Christian works he penned.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - the first of what became known as the Chronicles of Narnia, for which C. S. Lewis is probably most famous - was published in 1950, and the last - The Last Battle - in 1956. In 1954, Lewis was elected Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at the University of Cambridge. In 1956, he married the American Joy Davidman in order to allow her to stay in the country. Although she was ill with cancer and expected to die quickly, she survived until 1960. Three years later, Lewis himself died, on 22 November 1963, the same day as Aldous Huxley died, and President Kennedy was assassinated (see JFK’s assassin in Moscow for a Diary Review article on Lee Harvey Oswald). For more biographical information on Lewis visit Wikipedia, Kirjasto, John Visser’s fan site, or the official C S Lewis website.

According to Walter Hooper, editor of All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis 1922-1927 (HarperCollins 1991), Lewis made a number of attempts to keep a diary when he was a boy, but all were short lived: ‘Then, at the age of 23, when an undergraduate at Oxford, he began a new diary which runs to over a quarter of a million words and covers the years 1922-27. This was the pre-Christian Lewis, an atheist whose objections to the Faith were ventilated in this attempt. He persevered because it was meant to be, not just about his life, but that of his friend Mrs Moore. Several times he records how he fell behind and how Mrs Moore insisted that he pick it up again. Much of its documentary content was dictated by her interest in recording the pleasures and disappointments caused by the many visitors to their house. And, as the diary makes clear, Mrs Moore was its primary audience. Lewis often read it aloud to her, and she could have looked at it at any time.’

Some pages from All My Road Before Me can be read online at Amazon and Googlebooks.

21 February 1924
‘Immediately after breakfast I tood Biddy Anne in to Gillard to be vetted. Biddy Anne is a yellow cat that has recently adopted us. I walked in from the Plain, called at College and went to the Union, coming home again by bus.

I then made up my diary since my illness. After lunch the weather changed. A startling mildness came over the air and it was like spring though there were heavy black clouds to the east. After D [Moore] and I had strolled in the garden to enjoy this, I came in and read over my diary for this time last year. It is dully written - I recover the horrors from memory and not from the words.’

22 February 1924
‘I had an unusually nasty dream connected with my father in the night - a dream of the clinging sort.

After breakfast I took down all the gas globes for D to clean. I spent the morning working on Henry More’s Defence of the Cabbala, a fantastic, tedious work. After lunch I crumbled ham and swept the kitchen and scullery and then went out for a walk with Pat.’

27 February 1924
‘A letter from my father this morning, answering my last, in which I had pointed out that my scholarship had now ceased and that I should need a little supplement to carry on. This question had been raised before. He replied with a long and pleasant letter with a sting in its tail: offering what was necessary, but saying that I had £30 extra expenses last year (which I cannot account for at all) and remarking that I can always put money in my pocket by spending more time at home. There comes the rub - this cannot be answered: yet to follow his suggestion would be nerves, loneliness and mental stagnation.

I finished More’s Philosophical Works this morning and made out a table of chronology from Ward’s Life and my old table done for the English school. After lunch I went first to the Union where I extracted several facts from the Dictionary of National Biography subvoce More and then to Wilson to borrow his Theological Works . . . In the evening I began The Mythology of Godliness’.

1 March 1924
‘I spent most of the morning in the kitchen cutting up turnips and peeling onions for D, and then went for an hour’s walk in the fields. After lunch and jobs I took Euripides from his shelf for the first time this many a day, with some idea of reading a Greek play every week end (when I am not writing) so as to keep up my Greek. I began the Heracleidae. Coming back to Greek tragedy after so long an absence I was greatly impressed with its stiffness and rumness and also thought the choruses strangely prosaic. The effort to represent a scuffle between Iolaus and the Herald is intolerably languid. After the first shock, however, I enjoyed it.’


The Diary Junction

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