Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A New Friend

The theme for the March/April issue of the magazine is that of legacy. My particular piece for this is the letters of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis (yeah, it's a hard job I've got). Anybody who knows me knows how much I admire Jack (after all, we named our firstborn from his books), but my knowledge of Joy has been confined to some snippets and the movie "Shadowlands." (By the way, if you've never seen that? You should.)

However, because of this new book, Joy ended up becoming the focal point of my article.

First off, a lot of Lewis devotees don't like Joy. I guess they think she's like the Yoko Ono of the Inklings or something. They are so, so wrong. I picked up this book, planning to skim through to get enough of a picture to write about it, and I could not put it down. I kept thinking, "Just one more, just one more letter..." Then I started marking the pages every time I came across a quote I just had to use--until I looked back at the book and saw I had marked most of the pages. Finally, I just made a big document, and I still didn't get everything down that I liked. I probably could have written a 3,000-word (at least) piece on Joy alone.

For anyone not familiar, I'll just give the briefest summation of her life, then I'll throw in some great quotes. Joy Davidman was an American, Jewish, atheist, Communist writer. She was married to a fellow writer, Bill Gresham, who was an abusive, alcoholic, philanderer. Through reading the work of C.S. Lewis and others, Joy became a Christian. When she and Bill finally divorced, Joy moved to England with her two little boys, whom she raised alone. She had been corresponding with Lewis; they became friends, and he married her in a civil ceremony in order that she could remain in England. Shortly after, it was discovered that Joy had bone cancer--due to a radium collar she had had to wear for hypothyroidism (um, yikes!!). Lewis's concern for her grew to love, and they married in a church ceremony and had a few extremely happy years together until Joy's death at age 45.

OK, here are just a few of some of my favorite quotes. As I mentioned, Joy was a writer in the U.S. and was known for her sharp mind and caustic wit (after meeting Christ, she kept the sharp mind and softened the wit--a bit.)

In a review of the WWII film "I Wanted Wings": "Using the crudest of appeals, 'I Wanted Wings' alternates uplifting pep talks with uplifted blondes. If Miss Veronica Lake ever puts on a brassiere, her acting ability will disappear."

In a letter to a colleague on review of his volume of poetry: "The trouble with your poetry is sheer unwillingness to get an education."

In a letter to a colleague on a review of his poem: ""Pregnant Woman' strikes me as terrible, but then I’ve been pregnant myself and I know what it really feels like; you sentimentalize it excessively. It is a cheerful, earthy rather animal and fierce state, usually accompanied by bad temper and greed."

After her conversion to Christianity: "Since my conversion—I am now, believe it or not, a deaconess of the Presbyterian Church, and it feels odd to say the least. Oy!"

On divorce: I always took it that divorce was only the last possible resort, and felt I ought to to put up with anything I could bear for the children’s sake. I hoped that Bill’s adulteries, irresponsibilities, etc. would end if he ever recovered from his various neuroses; also that his becoming a Christian would make a difference. Unfortunately I’ve been disappointed on both counts. Bill gave up being a Christian as soon as he found out it meant living by a moral code and admitting and repenting one’s sins."

On her cousin, with whom Bill had an affair and wanted to marry: "Well it’s a dreary business! My cousin has left now for FL, to divorce her own husband, a violent drunken Alabama man whom she left a year or so ago. For more than a month she and Bill and I were all here together and she was tortured by guilt and embarrassment and worry, and would take to her bed with crying fits—where upon Bill lectured me for my lack of Christian charity in not enabling her to enjoy her love affair more."

And in a subsequent letter to her cousin: "Promise or no, I wouldn’t have him back for a million bucks. He gives me the creeps."

After the divorce and Joy's move to England, Bill had been ordered to send $60 a week as support for her and the boys. Many of the letters depict their life in England and the fact that Bill has, yet again, sent them little or no money.

In a letter to Bill: "Thanks for the scratch, only I wish there were more. Lookie, cookie, even if I could live myself on $100 a month (and I'm already on a lunchless, beerless diet) what am I supposed to do with the boys? Drown them? They got laws against that in this country!"

While there are very few letters between Joy and Jack Lewis, (Lewis burned most of his correspondence three weeks after receiving and answering it), there are a lot of snippets of their life together. Lewis relied on Joy to help him with his work, and she writes, "Though I can’t write one-tenth as well as Jack, I can tell him how to write more like himself!"

At one point, Lewis was commissioned by American Episcopalians to do several radio programs, which they eventually dropped before they even aired, shattering Lewis and outraging Joy, as she wrote to a friend, "[the whole series is supressed because of] "Jack's 'startling frankness' on sexual matters! Needless to say he wouldn't have startled anyone over the age of sixteen and the I.Q. of 80."

As her cancer progressed, she drew strength from God and Jack, stating, "Jack pointed out to me that we were wrong in trying to accept utter hopelessness; uncertainty is what God has given us for a cross."

And she wrote in encouragement to another friend with cancer, "Can you do any sort of work? I’ve found that making crocheted rugs and tablecloths was an amazing help with my spiritual difficulties when I was feeling low. One can work off so many frustrations by stabbing away with a knitting needle! It’s better to make pretty things, I find, than just useful ones. Of course we’re both praying for you—and don’t be too afraid, even if you turn out to need an operation. I’ve had three, and they were nothing like so bad as my fears."

After her death, C.S. Lewis wrote A Grief Observed and talked about everything Joy had been to him--"Once I praised her for her masculine virtues. But she soon put a stop to that by asking how I’d like to be praised for my feminine ones. It was a good riposte, dear."

These are just a brief smattering of all the treasures in Out of My Bone. After reading, you're left without a shadow of a doubt how this remarkable woman caught C.S. Lewis's heart. She caught mine, too.

Internets, you have GOT to get this book!


Kacie said...

Wow. She is feisty. She writes like DeRosset talks. SHE should have taught literature as well!

And Shadowlands is one of my very favorite movies.

AND... I just can't do the insecurity book right now, mostly because I'm taking an online course and the homework fills up the spare time I usually have. I hope to read it when the semester is over, but can't now!

Melanie said...

Oooo, I've gotta get this one too!Thanks, Alice!

Juliet said...

Just finished reading Scars & Stilettos by Harmony Dust and was wondering what to read next...Out of My Bone is something I look forward to reading.

After Bob went home to glory..I read many books about other people who had suffered a loss of a loving mate. A Grief Observed was one of them.

And I also love Shadowlands!