Friday, September 24, 2010

The Other Inkling

Charles Williams.
Williams was an editor at the Oxford University Press, which had moved its offices to Oxford when the blitz began hitting London. He was a self-educated and omnivorous reader, and he seems to have been a sort of animating spirit in the group's meetings at The Eagle and Child ("Bird and Baby") pub or in Lewis's rooms at Magdalen College. Lewis and Tolkien managed to secure a lectureship for him at the University. T. S. Eliot describes Williams lecturing -- hopping about, perching on the desk, jingling coins in his pockets, and pouring out a torrent of coruscating prose. In one place, Eliot remarks that he looked somewhat like a monkey.
Williams also poured out books: poetry, literary criticism, theology, drama, and novels. It was his novels that gained him a modest measure of fame.

They are hardly novels in the ordinary sense. Eliot tried the category "metaphysical thrillers" to refer to them, and that is perhaps the closest anyone can come to describing them. The thing is, it turns out in each of his seven novels that heaven and hell lie under every bush.

This would seem to be a wild overstatement, of course. There may be grass or twigs or insects under the shrubbery: but heaven and hell?


R J said...

I've now read a word of Williams's novels, but years and years ago I did read a good preface that he wrote to a pocket-sized English edition (1947 or thereabouts) of Paradise Lost. This preface struck me as similar to the sort of thing that C.S.Lewis would have produced, which, in view of Williams's background, makes perfect sense. It suggested to me that Williams deserved greater fame in the field of lit-crit, at any rate.

R J said...

Oh yes, and I've just remembered that Williams wrote a few verse plays, rather on the lines of (and presumably in homage to) T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral. There was a Williams play about Cranmer which was rather good on the printed page, and would, I think, be effective in a theatrical context too.