Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Click to enlargeJon Kennedy's
'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, due in stores in March 2008, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.


I would normally call a discussion like this one a "corrective" or use something like "setting the record straight." But "rehabilitations" is another of C.S. Lewis's—"Jack's"—ingenious insights. It is the key word in the title of a collection of essays he compiled and that Oxford University Press published (as Rehabilitations and Other Essays) in 1939. Professor Bruce Edwards of Bowling Green State University, Ohio, describes the book's title as Lewis's attempt "to bring the fading critical reputation of authors he revered back into balance.” In it he "rehabilitated" writers who were studied in his Oxford classes, just as in some of his longer works he revived interest in and appreciation for John Bunyan (Pilgrim's Regress), John Milton (A Preface to Paradise Lost), and other classical English writers.

Much in the same way, I'm setting out here to rehabilitate Jack's own reputation in these remarks meant as a corrective to some overstatements I made two weeks ago. As I've read further in his letters, I've concluded that I overstated two trends observed in the correspondence in his mid-twenties: his attitude toward his father and his double standard in the sexual practices of his close friend Arthur Greeves compared with his own behavior.

C. S. LewisIt was an overstatement, I now believe, to characterize some banter back and forth in the letters between Jack and his brother Warnie in discussing their father, as "bitter rididule." There was a thread of ridicule in their exchanges about their father, the "P'daytabird" (potato-bird), but it was more mild than bitter. I've written here earlier about their father's falling into a pit the boys dug to try to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that ended in their front yard, and referring to this as a booby trap they deliberately set for him.

Throughout their lives with their father after their mother's death, he made outlandish statements about things their father judged too quickly and one-sidedly. He micromanaged such routine commonplace tasks as getting dressed to go outside, mentioning the various items of clothing and footware they'd need, even after they were grown. He spied on them, looking into their bank accounds and inquiring about their business to others he thought would know things they might be keeping from him. We've all known or at least seen dramatizations of parents like this.

After his father's death, while dealing closely with the still-living Lewis uncles in planning final arrangements for his father, Jack realized that such "p'daytaisms" were part of the older-generation Lewis family way of communicating and probably a byproduct of their growing up in a large family in which there was little socialization outside the home when they were growing up. They didn't even have regular schooldays to interrupt the family's constant togetherness (organized education not yet common for children in Ireland at that time). And there was always stress about economic hardships and surviving (much of the Irish population had been decimated by famine in the lifetimes of Jack and Warnie's grandparents' generation).

Another overstatement in entry 1024 regarded Jack's seeming double standard regarding his friend's homosexual failings alongside his own (real or implied) adulterous relationship with a married older woman. "It seems," I wrote, that "Jack is judging Arthur by a law (the Seventh Commandment) that he was not entirely innocent of transgressing himself." I then casually added: "But it is likely that he genuinely feared Arthur's being pulled down into a vortex of debauched living compared to his own relatively minor appearances of impropriety." This afterthought, I have since come to believe, should have been the heart of this entire matter.

That's because the double-standard then was not theoretical but a fact of real life—their society looked the other way when people of opposite sexes dallied with partners not their own, but literally tore apart the lives of any adult found engaging in same-sex activity or even admitting such an attraction. It seems true that the whole of English society in Jack's time was tacitly aware of and overlooked widespread homosexual activity among boys in boarding schools, but even into the 1950's, any adult man found to have been in homosexual engagements was ruined and, very often, thrown in jail. So, despite its being a double standard, Jack wasn't as guilty of duplicity as I suggested. He was more likely worried about Arthur's ruining his life by becoming "open" about his desire to pursue what he considered natural for himself, under the influence of "psychoanalysis" (whether Arthur got this kind of thinking directly through doctors or from reading about it is not revealed in the letters).

It's not apparent what role Jack's counsel to Arthur played in the latter's course correction, but it does seem from the correspondence a few months later than the diary entry quoted here two weeks ago that Arthur had repented from his stated intention of "swimming with the tide." In that later period, both Arthur and Jack seemed to be conscientiously striving to take the higher ground of living a chaste lifestyle.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

I almost got thrown out of my sister-in-law's house one year at the holidays. I told them that I was thinking of opening a restaurant (I did this with a straight face, so they thought I was serious). She and her family at the time were vegetarians, so I said I was going to open a restaurant that specialized in venison. I was going to call it, "The Buck Stops Here," and its marketing slogan was going to be, "Bambi: You've seen the movie. Now, eat the star!"

Thought for today

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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