The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter)

Humphrey Carpenter tells the story of the group of Christian literati who worked in the university setting in pre-World War II England.  It isn’t simply a snapshot of different inklings (e.g., Lewis, Tolkien, Williams, Barfield). The chapters form a relatively continuous narrative with Lewis at the center.

Carpenter isn’t afraid to explore some ambiguous and sometimes troubling aspects of their personal lives.  Unfortunately, as I will show below, he either ignores some evidence and overcooks other lines of evidence.  Nonetheless, the book is a real “page-turner.”

Charles Williams

Williams is the most bizarre of the Inklings.  He was probably the closest thing to a true genius or savant.  He had a photographic memory of pretty much every key quote in English literature–and he chanted them during lectures. Williams considered himself a Christian–of a sorts.  That points to the problem. I think Williams was more interested in the “initiatory” aspects of Christianity than the faith itself. That could explain why Williams was drawn towards cults like the Golden Dawn.  

How do you explain away Williams’ involvement in Crowley’s cult?  I don’t think you really can. To be fair, Williams left Crowley and disavowed the sex magick in Crowley’s religion.  Still, anyone who was involved with Crowleyism needs several good exorcisms, just for safe measure.

Carpenter fails to mention one thing, though.  In his book Witchcraft Williams called it a “perversion of the soul,” which suggests a stronger stand against it than Carpenter allows. 

“We are the Companions of the Co-inherence.” Williams took a key aspect of Trinitarianism and Christology and applied it to anthropology.  To risk oversimplification, the two natures of Christ coinhere (perichoresis, circumcessio) with each other while retaining their properties.  Can humans do something similar? Obviously, they cannot on the DNA level, and the marital act is probably the only thing similar on the physical level.  Can they do so on the “soul” or “spirit” level? Maybe. It might work something like this:

1) We must first reject all horrors of nominalism (that vomit of hell) and atomistic ontologies.
2) The human “self” is a series of concentric circles, with the “will” or the “heart” at the center and the “soul” as encompassing all within (though never reduced to any single aspect, pace the false teaching of Christian physicalism).
3) Ergo, the Soul has a social dimension.  It is porous. This porousness allows an interpenetration on the spiritual level.

I think Williams took it much farther and in a more dangerous way.  Williams took St Paul’s admonition to “bear one another’s burdens” as taking someone else’s pain and physically bearing it.  Besides the obvious, I don’t know what else to say. I don’t think it works that way. And it’s just weird.

The Women of the Inklings

CS Lewis (pre-conversion) made some uncomfortable by his boarding with “Ms Moore” when he was a young student. I don’t think there was anything sexual about it, though. Moore had her own young children and she needed help around the house.  In any case, the servants never gossipped, which they would have had there been anything going on. Ms Moore, by all accounts, had the intellect and personality of a stump. The pictures of her present her (at best) of being quite matronly.  

Most of Charles Williams’ problems with women were entirely of his own making.  He waited nine years to marry his fiancee. Sometimes there are good reasons for so long a wait.  I can’t think of any that would apply here. Williams also had an intellectual infatuation with one of his students.  There is no evidence it went beyond the mental, and the sexual aspect doesn’t seem to be foremost in Williams’ mind. It was still unhealthy and sinful and created more problems for him.  Williams also had this unhealthy tendency to collect female followers. That couldn’t have helped his his family life, though.

Tasting the Allegory

Lewis’s savage rejection of T.S. Eliot’s poetry struck a chord with me.  I always wanted to like Eliot because he seemed to stand for Tradition and Culture.  His poetry was just….grating. All Modernist poetry is bad. Lewis goes so far to say, “What I am attacking in ‘Neo-Angular’ is a set of people who seem to me to be trying to make of Christianity itself one more high-brow….bourgeois-bating fad.  T. S. Eliot is the single man who sums up the thing I am fighting against” (quoted in Carpenter 49).

What does a text of literature mean? Lewis counters by noting that might not always be the best question. Take one of Lewis’s own works, That Hideous Strength. It is a perfect novel. It is perfect in every respect. While there are deep truths in it, the key issue is not “what does it mean,” but can you taste the truth and beauty in it?


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