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.

C.S. Lewis at 25

Our reading in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis ("Jack") has taken us to 1923, the year he turned 25. Our last look at his letters, a month ago, took us through his late teens, the years he spent finishing his boyhood education with a tutor near the south coast of England, matriculating at Oxford University and moving there for the summer before he went with the military to fight in World War I in France. At this time he described finding Mrs. Janie Moore, the mother of a friend who died in the war and who Lewis would live with after returning from the war until her death in 1952. Most of Lewis's news and expressions of views in his correspondence from this earlier period came in letters to his best friend, Arthur Greeves, who lived in the house across the road from the Lewis home in Belfast, County Down, Ireland, while Jack was spending most of his time abroad.

C. S. LewisBy the year before he turned 25, the war was over, most of Jack's university education was behind him and he was starting to look for work related to his lifelong vocation. Most of Jack's letters were no longer to Arthur Greeves but to his father, who he addresses as "Papy," and to his brother, Warnie, who was serving in Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa, and which at the time was a British colony. There are also some letters to several newer friends, especially Leo Baker, an Oxford fellow student who shared Jack's interest in poetry.

It's appropriate to look in on Jack at 25 as that year seemed to be a watershed in his life, a point that seemed halfway from the peak of his atheism in his late teens and his conversion to Christianity shortly after turning 30. The correspondence with Arthur fell off after Jack tried to persuade Arthur to join him in studying at Oxford. Arthur toyed with that idea but, instead, he went to the Slade School of Art in London. During his years there he and Jack occasionally met at either Oxford or London, but their friendship was no longer as central in either of their lives as it had been before the war.

In an entry in a diary Jack kept in 1923, he said that Arthur

is changed....Someone has put into his head the ideal of "being himself" and "following nature." I tried on one occasion to point out to him the ambiguity of that kind of maxim: but he seems to attach a very clear meaning to it—namely that the whole duty of man is to swim with the tide and obey his desires...He has taken over from psychoanalysis the doctrine that repression in the technical sense is something quite different from self-control.

It's necessary to read between the lines to deduce an understanding of this, but it seems to be saying that Arthur has decided to admit (at least to himself and his closest friends) his homosexuality and to act on his sexual fantasies one way or another. And Jack considers this a defeat. In this postmodern generation it seems unlikely that anyone who professed to be an atheist as Jack was then would say anything other than "you go" to Arthur in that resolve ("psychoanalysis" has won). At this time in his life Jack was employing many deceptions to keep his relationship with Mrs. Moore secret from his father. And by writing to Arthur that he was "in love" and living with Mrs. Moore and her young daughter he might have been seen as, at least unconsciously, encouraging Arthur's break with his strict Plymouth Brethren upbringing to pursue his "nature" and "obey his desires."

Whether Jack and Mrs. Moore had a sexual relationship, apparently no one can say for certain. It is likely that Arthur knew more about that from conversations with Jack than we can ascertain from their correspondence. In any case, it seems Jack is judging Arthur by a law (the Seventh Commandment) that he was not entirely innocent of transgressing himself. 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.

His references to his father in the years around age 25 are often marked by bitter ridicule of "Papy," whom he and older brother Warnie referred to by several derisive nicknames, the most common one being "P'daytabird," a play on the word "potato" and their father's way of pronouncing the word. At the same time Jack was depending on his father's generosity to support him (and, at least in part, indirectly, Mrs. Moore and her daughter), and was trying to sound like the good and loyal son in his regular letters back to Little Lea, the Lewis manor in County Down.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

A dog owner in Twin Rocks had a pit bull that hated to walk. He kept sitting down and bracing his feet so that his owner had to drag him by his leash. The owner finally gave up when he realized that he was just creating for himself a bottomless pit!

Thought for today

You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.

C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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