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Joy Davidman book available online

The man. The myth.

Joy Davidman book available online

Postby larry gilman » 03 Jul 2009, 20:17

Interestingly, the full text of the one theological book by C.S.L.'s wife, Joy Davidman, is available online. The site includes Lewis's preface -- which I am glad to have, because my 1954 copy of the book does not contain it:

http://www.worldinvisible.com/library/d ... moke.c.htm

I have read the book and found it surprisingly uncongenial. Davidman's voice seems harsh, her messages simplistic. She declares Christianity "everywhere too difficult for simple black and white thinking" (p. 121, my print edition) but I find her book everywhere full of just such thinking. I find none of the subtlety, gallantry, or warmth here that I find in Lewis's own writings.

Does anyone else have a similar reaction? Or should I re-open my mind and re-read?

Larry
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby CKinna » 04 Jul 2009, 13:22

I am currently reading the book for the first time. While it is not CS Lewis I have enjoyed it. She does sound like an all or nothing preacher - so does Jesus - and I have not agreed with everything she has written, and if CS Lewis was not involved this book would probably be out of print, still I have agreed more than one of her points and I am not regretting the time spent.
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby larry gilman » 04 Jul 2009, 15:35

CKinna,

I have looked into the book again, reading bits here and there, to see if I could understand my original disappointment -- now about a decade old -- and perhaps revise it. I would like to like this book, and, the first time I read it, expected to do so.

I agree that there is a lot deal of sense in it. It's hard to find anything in it that I outright disagree with. But I think I do see what gave me my original, rather negative impression: the tone of absolute certainty throughout. I am unable to find a passage where she expresses any doubt or uncertainty, or points to limits on her (or our, or anybody's) knowledge of these matters: it is all so perfectly figured out, so defined, so clear. Christianity as a perfect, utterly sensible, totally doubt-quenching system with an answer for everything. I find Davidman's tone of unwavering, all-covering conviction, of knowing all there is to know about every topic that is discussed, oppressive and depressing. So my gripe is with theological voice, not so much with specific claims.

Davidman wrote the book before knowing Lewis personally, but was very much a Lewis fan already -- dedicated the book to him and quoted him repeatedly in it. I think she was trying to imitate, not necessarily consciously, an aspect of Lewis's apologetics -- the clarity, the confidence, the freedom from fuzzy pious cliché. A lot of Lewis fans, I think, pick up this aspect of Lewis without picking up the carrier wave, as it were, of intellectual caution or fairness or awareness-of-multiple-possibilities or awareness-of-open-ended-questions that runs through most of Lewis's theological writing. I open up Christian Reflections at random, and after riffling 2 pages find this: "For I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our minds? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real? I hope not. God help us all, and forgive us."

Davidman would, I think, have written that as a statement, not a question.

Mostly, though, this difference in style or attitude is hard to pin down. One can say simply that Lewis was a much better religious writer than Davidman --- very true, but that doesn't explain what it was about his writing that was better! .

Regards,

Larry
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Adam Linton » 05 Jul 2009, 21:23

larry gilman wrote:But I think I do see what gave me my original, rather negative impression: the tone of absolute certainty throughout. I am unable to find a passage where she expresses any doubt or uncertainty, or points to limits on her (or our, or anybody's) knowledge of these matters: it is all so perfectly figured out, so defined, so clear. Christianity as a perfect, utterly sensible, totally doubt-quenching system with an answer for everything. I find Davidman's tone of unwavering, all-covering conviction, of knowing all there is to know about every topic that is discussed, oppressive and depressing. So my gripe is with theological voice, not so much with specific claims.


I have the book in question (hard copy), have read Lewis' Preface and have poked through the book itself here and there, enough to get a feel for it. I likewise found it difficult to connect with--and you've articulated the "why so" rather well, I think.

What you say also explains well why many find efforts at Christian witness so off-putting. Perhaps it's partially a function of maturity in faith. I agree with you, also, that Lewis was exceptionally good at avoiding this sort of effect--but even with him, I think that there's a growing spiritual maturity in his tone, as well, as his efforts as a Christian writer continued over the years. (For example, the contrast between Pilgrim's Regress and even Problem of Pain--both of which I nevertheless like--and later works. Lewis himself notes this in his later preface to Regress.)

About a year ago, Karen, in another thread, cited an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (7/14 July 2008) on Chesterton (on whom, by the way, I am not interested in devoting yet another Wardrobe thread). The article, however, does speak of "convert sickness"--for many, an inevitable part of the voyage of faith, at least in initial phases. And I'm thinking that such a "sickness" might partly explain the offputting tone.

Makes me wonder about my own tone in years gone by!
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Adam Linton » 11 Jul 2009, 18:51

Follow up, here. I noticed the new offering from Eerdmans Publishing:

Out of My Bone: The Letters and Autobiography of Joy Davidman

I'd much like it, of course. But when does it stop? More books that I'd like to read than I have time to read (or money to buy!).
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Sven » 11 Jul 2009, 18:55

*sigh* To paraphrase somebody..."Of the reading of books there is no end...."
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: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Sven » 18 Jul 2009, 15:54

I've started reading Out of My Bone, it's an excellent book. In addition to her letters, it includes her autobiographical essay from the hard-to-find collection These Found the Way.

Joy's description of her first Christmas with Jack and Warnie is a hoot :smile:
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: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Adam Linton » 18 Jul 2009, 15:57

Sven wrote:Joy's description of her first Christmas with Jack and Warnie is a hoot :smile:


Any details to share? Or is it best to wait and read?
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Sven » 19 Jul 2009, 17:27

Letter written to Chad Walsh (author of the first commentary on C. S. Lewis, Apostle to the Skeptics) on January 25th 1953.

Joy Davidman wrote:Dear Chad,

First chance I've had to write to you--so much has been happening. I stayed with Jack and Warnie over a fortnight just before I sailed for home, and had a marvelous time; by the way, they both send their love. Quite an experience it was, Christmas with the Lewises. (An enormous turkey, and burgundy from the Magdalen cellars to go with it; I stole a wineglassful to put in the gravy, and they thought it was practically lese majeste--until they tasted the gravy.) Being on vacation, Jack was taking life easy--he was merely writing his book on prayer (it's going to be a wonder, I've read part of it), correcting OHEL proofs, setting scholarship and fellowship exam papers, doing a college edition of Spenser for an American publisher, and finishing the seventh Narnia book. Also, of course, answering the endless letters. This left him time to go over my own Decalogue book with me (about 50,000 words of it) and tell me how to fix it; he liked it quite well, thank heaven. Also there was a lot of walking and talking. One day the threee of us were over Shotover to Horspath and then to Garsington, coming back by way of Wheatley (do you remember all thoses places?) and getting caught in a savage rain--I blistered my feet, and Jack and Warnie practically had to pull me up Shotover on the last stretch. But it was great fun.

I even got taken to a Christmas pantomime, where we all roared enthusiastically at the oldest jokes and joined in the choruses of the songs. I'll never forget Jack coming in loudly on something that went like this:

    Am I going to be a bad boy? No, no, no!
    Am I going to be awful? No, no, no!
    I promise not to put some crumbs in Auntie Fanny's bed,
    I promised not to pour the gravy over baby's head...etc.

I wish the critic of Presbyterian Life who objected to my quoting Yeats' "Fiddler of Dooney" ("The good are always the merry") could have heard that!

And, of course, the pubs--Eastgate and Bird and Baby and the Ampleforth (up in Headington) and lots of others. Some day I'm going to open a pub in Oxford. I've become a complete Anglomaniac anyhow, can't wait to transplant; I've never felt at home anywhere as I do in London or Oxford. And after the magical gold light of the English landscape, ours looks strangely flat and dull to me.

The OHEL volume is going to make people sizzle; it's full of controversial stuff and reversals of conventional judgments. I am the first person to see those galleys, and I feel very honored. By the way, I also read a lot of Jack's poetry and I think you're wrong about it. It's quite new and strange and unfashionable, a complete break with the modern conventions of intellectual and bloodless verse, and for that reason rather difficult to appraise; but I thought a lot of it was damn good. TEchnically it's amazing. He's used very old forms and given them an entirely new twist. (He liked my poetry too--so there!) But you and I will never see eye to eye on verse.

I'm in fine shape now and all set to do lots of writing. Let me know if there's something I can do for Episcopal Churchnews, huh? Love to Evan and the four Graces. I hope your English trip comes off all right.

Love,
Joy


Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman
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: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Adam Linton » 19 Jul 2009, 23:20

Sven wrote:Letter written to Chad Walsh (author of the first commentary on C. S. Lewis, Apostle to the Skeptics) on January 25th 1953.

Joy Davidman wrote:
...Being on vacation, Jack was taking life easy--he was merely writing his book on prayer (it's going to be a wonder, I've read part of it), correcting OHEL proofs, setting scholarship and fellowship exam papers, doing a college edition of Spenser for an American publisher, and finishing the seventh Narnia book. Also, of course, answering the endless letters. This left him time to go over my own Decalogue book with me (about 50,000 words of it) and tell me how to fix it... Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman



Thanks.

I knew, of course, Lewis' astounding professional and creative capacities--but still, hearing this version of "taking life easy" is overwhelming.
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby larry gilman » 24 Jul 2009, 16:03

Adam Linton wrote:About a year ago, Karen, in another thread, cited an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker (7/14 July 2008) on Chesterton (on whom, by the way, I am not interested in devoting yet another Wardrobe thread). The article, however, does speak of "convert sickness"--for many, an inevitable part of the voyage of faith, at least in initial phases. And I'm thinking that such a "sickness" might partly explain the offputting tone.


Yes. I think you say it well. It is to some extent a "maturity" thing . . . I have blushed for many years about my own youthful tone . . . enough to make one sick of the whole idea of "witnessing" . . .

Re. that Gopnik article, by the way -- fascinating stuff -- Gopnik also wrote a New Yorker article on CSL himself, back in 2005, and it's remarkable that he ended up saying much the same thing on both occasions: per Gopnik, both CSL and GKC were quite wrong to think that their Christianity had anything to do with their imaginative, creative work. No, no, certainly not. Imagination is its own separate thing and religion only spoils it. This is clearly Gopnik's idée fixe (and must be quite congenial to the editors of the New Yorker). Gopnik derides GKC's apologetic works and raves about his fiction, but I have always found GKC's fiction weak and his apologetics exciting -- even when I disagreed with them. Bottom line: Gopnik has a religion allergy and wants to wall off his imaginative pleasures from the threatening contaminant.

It is in his 2005 article on CSL that Gopnik most starkly reveals, to my mind, what heavy ideological filters he wears. There he makes the remarkable claim that "there is no way in which 'The Lord of the Rings' is a Christian book" (wow) and states erroneously that in Tolkien's imaginary there is no afterlife: "The Blessed Land across the sea [in Tolkien's world] is a retreat for the already immortal, not, except for Frodo, a reward for the afflicted; dead is dead." That is just plumb-smack wrong, as a glance at the Silmarillion or a little Googling would make clear: the spirits of the Elves wait in the halls of Mandos after death. But Gopnik see what Gopnik want to see!

Well, there, got THAT off my chest . . .

Regards,

Larry
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Re: Joy Davidman book available online

Postby Adam Linton » 24 Jul 2009, 16:53

larry gilman wrote:I have blushed for many years about my own youthful tone


Haven't we all?

And thanks, Larry, for the the comments on Gopnik's 2005 article on Lewis--which I had not seen. Illuminating. From what you mention, the perspective is not unlike that of Lewis before his conversion--liking so much about his favorite authors, except their "incidental" Chistianity!

Along with you, I much disagree with the posited divorce between Christianity and the imagination. And the Tolkien comments are howlers, to be sure. I still find Gopnik worth the read, though.

All the best.
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