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WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

The man. The myth.

WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby David » 24 Apr 2006, 00:53

Just a piece of Lewisiana that might be of interest to some people. The magazine Writer's Chronicle carried an article on William Lindsay Gresham. He was the husband of Joy Davidman. She left him when he degenerated into alcoholism and infidelity and, as we know, eventaully married C. S. Lewis.

I guess Gresham wrote a blockbuster novel called Nightmare Alley that won him acclaim and was made into a popular film in the late 1940s. He wrote some other stuff but was never able to live up to the reputation of his first novel and his life went into a tailspin after that. Much of the article is a discussion of what he wrote and the subject matter with which he felt familiar. He commited suicide in 1962.

The article talks about Lewis a bit and mentions Joy Davidman and Douglas Gresham (as well as his brother). If you're interested in some of side stories related to Lewis and those who were a part of his life, this would be something to read. I don't think it's on the net but you can find the publiction at newstands or maybe at libraries.

I remember hearing Douglas Gresham speak in the great city of Petosky, Michigan, a few months ago. He said when he finally saw his father, his father expected him to act like an American boy and embrace him and say "Daddy!" "By that time," Gresham said, "I had become an English boy. I shook his hand and said, 'How do you do, sir?'" Reading the article in Writer's Chronicle made that anecdote a little more poignant for me.
The way, the weather, the terrain, the discipline, the leadership. --Sun Tzu
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re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Charis » 25 Apr 2006, 11:33

This post started me wondering if there was any interaction between Gresham and Lewis.

Particularly after Joy's death you'd think there may have been questions about her estate or the boys which would could have led to communication between the two.

Is there any evidence they ever talked?
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re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Lara » 25 Apr 2006, 13:00

I no idea he had commited suicide. I wonder what the boys did after Joy, Jack and Warnie were gone. I know they were adults by the time Warnie passed, but still; you need family. I do, and Im 39.
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Re: re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Leslie » 25 Apr 2006, 16:48

Lara wrote:I no idea he had commited suicide. I wonder what the boys did after Joy, Jack and Warnie were gone. I know they were adults by the time Warnie passed, but still; you need family. I do, and Im 39.

You could read Douglas Gresham's autobiography In Lenten Lands, covering his late teens and early adulthood.
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"At myself. My little puny self," said Phillipa.
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re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby David » 25 Apr 2006, 19:56

This post started me wondering if there was any interaction between Gresham and Lewis.


There must have been. By the time Mr. Gresham visited his son, Joy Davidman had died. I assume Lewis would have been there when he visited Douglas. I have not read Lenten Lands so I don't know if Douglas discusses it any further.
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Re: re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Charis » 25 Apr 2006, 20:04

There must have been.


It seems likely.

Imagine the tension.
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re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Sven » 25 Apr 2006, 20:12

Here's a bit from the time just after Joy's death in 1960.

Walter Hooper wrote:Another who saw a good deal of Lewis at this time was Bill Gresham, Joy's first husband. Gresham had been planning a visit to Oxford before Joy died, and she had last written to him on 2 July about things to bring the boys. Lewis wrote to him on the day of the funeral (15 July) saying, 'Joy died on 13 July. This need make no change in your plans, but I thought you should arrive knowing it.' Bill Gresham arrived on 3 August and put up at the Old Black Horse Inn in St. Clement's Street, Oxford. Lewis met him several times during his stay.

C. S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide


I've also read elsewhere that, in conversation with Lewis, Gresham made an offer to take the two boys, but Lewis dissuaded him fairly easily.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby stourhead » 22 Sep 2009, 18:49

Gresham and Lewis wrote frequently during Joy's illness. You can see some of the correspondence in Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman, edited by Don King. In the book there is one particularly poignant letter from Gresham where he states how much he loves the children and that although he doesn't have much, he can give them love. In George Sayer's novel there is a copy of the letter that Lewis wrote to Gresham, threatening that he would bring all legal resources against Gresham if he were to try and take the children after Joy's death. Two years later, the teenagers were orphaned again when Gresham killed himself having discovered he had cancer of the mouth. I would expect if Gresham had fought Lewis he would have won, and that if the boys had returned to the U.S., Lewis would not have made them his heirs. I wonder if their lives would have been better or worse? In the U.S., they did have a step-mother, aunts, uncles, grand-parents. But probably would not have had a private education.
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby simone » 23 Nov 2009, 15:07

Hi David!
I'm an italian writer, keened on Gresham's works and life. I’m actually working on a brief essay about by this author; essay that will be joined to the Italian translation of “Nigthmare Alley”. According to me he's an author whose literary production is worthy to be read more than it is. Do you agree with me? Unfortunately the name of Gresham is quite unknown in Italy and it’s very difficult to find out significant documents and informations, indispensable materials for someone who is intentioned to spread the name and the work of Gresham, like I am. So, I'm wondering wether you could help me sharing with me the interesting article on Gresham published on the magazine Writer’s Chronicle. I think it’ll be very useful for me and, of course, it'll be a pleasure form me to send you a copy of my book on Gresham, when published, with special thanks to you for your contribution to my research.

Waiting for your answer,
best regards.
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Dr. U » 06 Feb 2010, 17:25

Hi! Just a quick question to stourhead's post. If the source of the letter from Lewis to Gresham is in a novel (by Geo Sayers, who I'm not acquainted with), could it be a fictional letter? There's certainly no shortage of novelists both present (e.g. Dan Brown) and past (e.g. Jules Verne or Rider Haggard) who insert real-sounding "quotes" or "newspaper reports" or historical "facts" that are strictly fictional, but serve a purpose to set a tone they desire within a novel. The letter's content sounds somewhat odd for CSL, compared with other information that's available. On the other hand, Doug Gresham's descriptions of his father's behaviors in the early chapters of Lenten Lands suggest some pretty serious problems, and Lewis may have felt responsible to protect his step-sons from returning to those, so it's possible.

Here's all that Doug Gresham seems to say about the visit in Lenten Lands (in the chapter "Carrying On").

My father, Bill Gresham, visited us in 1960 shortly after Mother's death, and I now know that the apparent coolness of my greeting and our subsequent relationship caused him a considerable amount of pain. I regret that; it was not intended. I was an English schoolboy by then, however, so I shook his hand and said "How do you do, sir?". In truth, I confess I felt no emotion for him at all. He was a stranger; we could not bridge the gap of the years of separation. We spent considerable time together and became friends, but really that was all. When he left to go back to America and his new family, I missed him less than I had before he had come

Jack was really the man to whom I looked, in respect and admiration, and, without in the least trying to, he had taken the place in my mind that a father should fill, and it was Jack, who, gently and kindly, told me in September of 1962 that my father had taken his own life. Dad had cancer of the tongue, and had no wish to face, or to face his family with, the prospect of a long, ugly death. My feeling for Jack developed from liking and respect through admiration to, at last, some degree of understanding. It was not until quite recently that I realised that I loved Jack, and very deeply at that.


Somewhere else, but I couldn't find the source at hand, I read either Gresham saying, or a biographer saying, that Lewis was specific that Doug & David Gresham never call him "father" or any similar term, but only "Jack", that he felt they should only call their own father "father", even if CSL were their step-father.
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby carol » 07 Feb 2010, 09:09

Regarding the letter quoted by Sayer, I am happy to reassure you that it appears in his biography of Lewis entitled "Jack", and is an extract from the letter, with full noting in the quotations appendix at the end.

George Sayer wrote an excellent biography, and was in an excellent position to do so, having been one of Jack Lewis's students at Oxford.
Please repent immediately of putting him into the same category as Dan Brown!!!
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby Dr. U » 07 Feb 2010, 13:52

We repents and we stands corrected.

I don't care for Dan Brown's way-too-sloppy mixing of history and fiction either. Like many people, I suspect that he has an agenda against Christianity (although I don't know that for certain). I took a number of writing classes in college, and I remember one of the best writing professors giving an excellent presentation on acceptable vs. unacceptable mixing of history and fiction. A student in her class wrote a short story about the interaction between Gen. Patton and the soldier he slapped in the hospital in Italy, which he wanted to submit to a magazine, and she strongly nixed it as unacceptable mixing of fiction with real events and real people. Jules Verne's and Rider Haggard's inclusion of fictitious "facts" to set a tone was different, very clear to a reader - even me, when I was just a kid - that they weren't real, just part of the fun. Although all three sold and sell millions of books, I don't think any of their stuff will ever be considered Great Literature. Forrest Gump definitely mixed history and fiction, but not in a way that changed history. (A kid being introduced to JFK could very well have told him he had to pee!)

Anyway, sounds like Sayer's biography is worth reading. I'll try to look for that next summer (when I'm not teaching Biology FT). Although I've read one or two biographies about members of the Inklings circle, I've mostly skipped the ones by biographers far removed from actually having known Lewis or Tolkien, which is most of the biographies. I particularly enjoyed The Road to Middle Earth by Tom Shippey, a former co-professor with Tolkien for some years at Oxford, (albeit much younger than JRRT - it appeared to be a mentoring relationship). Actually, I guess his book wouldn't qualify as biography per se, it's more of a "biography X book analysis X some linguistic discussions". However, perhaps because of that unique perspective, I think I learned a lot I never knew before about JRRT. (Shippey also knows the Tolkien family.)
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Re: WIlliam Lindsay Gresham

Postby carol » 09 Feb 2010, 07:24

You are completely forgiven.
I dislike Dan Brown and have no time for his silly stories. Enjoy reading Sayer's book when you get a chance. The other stories I'd recommend are "Lentenlands" and "Jack's Life" both by Doug Gresham. The former is about his own life but involves Jack Lewis.
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