Advice Requested

Dear Readers:

As you know from yesterday’s news, I am about to send The Chapel of the Thorn off to publishers. I’m undecided about what to include under the “About the Author” section at the end of the book. Here are a few options; would you please give your opinion about which of these I should include, or something else altogether? Thank you!

Option #1: This blog’s very short description.

Charles Walter Stansby Williams was a poet, novelist, literary critic, editor, lecturer in English, biographer, Anglican Christian, and occult master. He was a member of the Inklings with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien for the last six years of his life. He was charismatic, saintly, radiant, riveting, loquacious, and inspiring. According to Lewis, everyone who met him fell in love with him—including many young women who became his disciples and on whom he practiced semi-sexual, semi-magical rituals of transference to heighten his creative powers. Yet he also motivated many people to practice their Christianity more seriously and founded the Companions of the Co-inherence in order to carry one another’s burdens. His seven metaphysical thriller novels and his virtuosic Arthurian poetry place him among the great literary masters of the early 20th century.

Option #2: A little longer, starting with that same opening but adding biographical information.

Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945) was a British poet, novelist, literary critic, editor, English professor, biographer, Anglican Christian, and occult master. He was a member of the Inklings with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien for the last six years of his life. He was charismatic, saintly, radiant, riveting, loquacious, and inspiring. He was a passionate and riveting teacher, explicating texts clearly with humble enthusiasm and reciting massive amounts of poetry from memory. According to Lewis, everyone who met him fell in love with him—including many young women who became his disciples and on whom he practiced semi-sexual magical rituals of transference to heighten his creative powers. Yet he was also a staunch Anglican, invariably described as radiant, inspiring, and saintly, whose life and writings motivated many people to practice their Christianity more seriously and founded the Companions of the Coinherence in order to carry one another’s burdens. His seven metaphysical thriller novels and his virtuosic Arthurian poetry place him among the greatest literary masters of the early 20th century.

Charles Williams was born on September 20th, 1886, in North London; his family moved to St. Albans in 1894. He was educated at the Abbey National School, St. Albans Grammar School, and then University College London (where his parents could afford only two years of secondary-level education). In 1908 he began his life-long career at the Oxford University Press and also met Florence Conway; they married on 12 April 1917. That same year, he joined A. E. Waite’s Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.

Williams’s only child, a son named Michael, was born in 1922. In 1924, Phyllis Jones (“Celia”) joined the staff of the Oxford University Press in London as librarian; Williams developed an intense passion for her and idealized her in his Theology of Romantic Love. He gave evening lectures through the City Literary Institute until 1939, when the Press evacuated to Oxford to escape the bombing of London. There he joined C. S. Lewis’s “Inklings.” Oxford University invited him to lecture on Milton’s Comus on January 20th, 1940, after which he gave many tutorials and lectures before being awarded an honorary M.A. on February 18th, 1943. Williams died unexpectedly of intussusception on May 15th,1945, just a week after victory in Europe ended England’s involvement in World War II.

Option #3: The longest option, starting with the same three paragraphs, then going on to discuss his influences, themes, and works.

Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945) was a British poet, novelist, literary critic, editor, English professor, biographer, Anglican Christian, and occult master. He was a member of the Inklings with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien for the last six years of his life. He was charismatic, saintly, radiant, riveting, loquacious, and inspiring. He was a passionate and riveting teacher, explicating texts clearly with humble enthusiasm and reciting massive amounts of poetry from memory. According to Lewis, everyone who met him fell in love with him—including many young women who became his disciples and on whom he practiced semi-sexual magical rituals of transference to heighten his creative powers. Yet he was also a staunch Anglican, invariably described as radiant, inspiring, and saintly, whose life and writings motivated many people to practice their Christianity more seriously and founded the Companions of the Coinherence in order to carry one another’s burdens. His seven metaphysical thriller novels and his virtuosic Arthurian poetry place him among the greatest literary masters of the early 20th century.

Charles Williams was born on September 20th, 1886, in North London; his family moved to St. Albans in 1894. He was educated at the Abbey National School, St. Albans Grammar School, and then University College London (where his parents could afford only two years of secondary-level education). In 1908 he began his life-long career at the Oxford University Press and also met Florence Conway; they married on 12 April 1917. That same year, he joined A. E. Waite’s Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross.

Williams’s only child, a son named Michael, was born in 1922. In 1924, Phyllis Jones (“Celia”) joined the staff of the Oxford University Press in London as librarian; Williams developed an intense passion for her and idealized her in his Theology of Romantic Love. He gave evening lectures through the City Literary Institute until 1939, when the Press evacuated to Oxford to escape the bombing of London. There he joined C. S. Lewis’s “Inklings.” Oxford University invited him to lecture on Milton’s Comus on January 20th, 1940, after which he gave many tutorials and lectures before being awarded an honorary M.A. on February 18th, 1943. Williams died unexpectedly of intussusception on May 15th,1945, just a week after victory in Europe ended England’s involvement in World War II.

Williams influenced many writers. Alice Meynell funded the publication of his first book (The Silver Stair, 1912). W. H. Auden reportedly re-read his extraordinary ecclesiastical history, The Descent of the Dove (1939), yearly. T. S. Eliot respected his Arthurian poetry and wrote the preface to All Hallows’ Eve (1945). The Figure of Beatrice (1943) inspired Dorothy L. Sayers to read The Divine Comedy, learn Italian, write criticism on Dante, and translate Inferno and Purgatorio. She collaborated with Lewis on organizing Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1966); contributors included J.R.R. Tolkien, A.O. Barfield, Gervase Mathew, and W.H. Lewis. C. S. Lewis was probably Williams’s greatest admirer, and was influential in securing the lectureship at Oxford. Williams’s style influenced Lewis’s later works, particularly That Hideous Strength.

During his lifetime, Williams was best known for his professional work: editing anthologies and writing introductions, reviews, biographies, and literary criticism (Poetry at Present,1930; The English Poetic Mind, 1932; Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind, 1933; and Religion and Love in Dante, 1974). One of his most important projects was the supervision of the earliest English series of Kierkegaard’s works. He may have been the first person in England to lecture on Kierkegaard.

Williams’s theological books (He Came Down from Heaven, 1938; Witchcraft, 1941; The Forgiveness of Sins, 1942; and Outlines of Romantic Theology, published posthumously in 1990) are extraordinary and surprising. He also wrote plays (often commissioned for religious festivals), including Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (the Canterbury Festival play of 1936), House of the Octopus (1945), and The Masques of Amen House (dramatizations of the Press staff; 1927, 1929, 1930). In his later plays he treated historical time symbolically and incarnated ideas in the action. The plays are daring and profound.

Williams’s masterpiece is his Arthurian poetry: Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). There, following Arthur’s bard Taliessin through the founding of the true Logres, all of his unique and profound ideas reached maturity, expressed in perfect unity with a new poetic style.

Williams’s most popular works are his seven “metaphysical thrillers”: War in Heaven, Many Dimensions, The Place of the Lion, The Greater Trumps, Shadows of Ecstasy, Descent into Hell, and All Hallow’s Eve. In each novel, sacramental objects or occult adepts unleash spiritual forces that threaten vast temporal or spiritual destruction. Preservation is achieved by the imperial mastery of a person surrendered to divine will. Williams’s progressive narrative technique resembles stream-of-consciousness, and anticipates (but far surpasses) contemporary Christian thrillers. A recent resurgence of interest in Williams has led to imitative fiction, analysis of his life and work, and a wider readership.

Co-inherence is Williams’s central doctrine: Christ’s risen life inhabits believers so that they share the divine interrelationship of the Trinity and live as members of one another. Williams’s Companions of Co-inherence voluntarily carried spiritual, emotional, or medical burdens for each other and anyone else—living, dead, or unborn—by Substitution or Exchange. He believed that sex is an act of co-inherence and that the lifelong interactions of a Christian couple corresponded to Christ’s earthly life. He was fascinated by the mystical body of Christ and its physical analogues. Each part of the body relates to all others; the same is true of every believer in the Christian vision of reality and of the regions of the empire in the Arthurian cycle. He was also interested in the Ways of Affirmation and Negation of images or descriptions of God, the value of skepticism, the simultaneity of all times, the fascination and shortcomings of magic, and the idea of Christianity as true myth. His private language, characterized by avoidance of Christian clichés, labyrinthine syntax, extreme obscurity, and bizarre scenarios, makes his writing initially inaccessible but ultimately rewarding—and delightfully uncanny.

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About Sørina Higgins

Sørina Higgins is a writer, English teacher, and Inklings scholar. Sørina serves as Chair of the Department of Language and Literature at Signum University and teaches English at King's College and Lehigh Carbon Community College. She has published two books of poetry, "The Significance of Swans" and "Caduceus."
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11 Responses to Advice Requested

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    A possibly unhelpfully unspecific suggestion, but to what extent might this well coincide with – perhaps by summarizing – anything ‘biographical’ you may also say about him in your Introduction, or, by contrast, to what extent should you suppose most readers will read every part of your edition attentively, and use this to complement whatever you say elsewhere by adding other interesting details, with as little duplication as possible?

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  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    For one specific suggestion, I think too much is packed into this one sentence (included in all three proposed versions): ““According to C.S. Lewis, everyone who met Williams fell in love with him—including many young women who became his disciples and with whom he practiced semi-sexual, semi-magical rituals of transference to heighten his creativity.”

    Among the possible dangers, here, are that someone might think it meant Lewis said – or even knew – something about the subject of its last part (from “and with whom…” on). I know of no evidence he knew anything about such matters.

    Another, is that someone might think it meant that he practiced such rituals with all, or many, of the “young women who became his disciples”. He certainly did not practice rituals with all; it is quite possible that most did not know he was practicing rituals with any.

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  3. Dmitry Medvedev says:

    I think it should be very brief, formal and impersonal – like a short encyclopedic article. No more than a paragraph or two. I would include only the absolutely necessary biographical facts and the list of the most important works. I would not mention occult practices, personal doctrines and private life, and avoid highly subjective and emotional characteristics like “saintly”, “radiant”, “riveting”, etc. (certainly avoid using such words more than once in the same paragraph – see #2 and #3).

    If this book is to be published by The Apocryphile Press as part of their Charles Williams series, then I believe no such biographical section is necessary at all. All of those books had a very short paragraph about the author on the back cover, and it was the same for every book.

    Also in #2 and #3: as far as I know, CW never was an “English professor”, strictly speaking.

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    • Sørina Higgins says:

      Thank you. I am very glad to have you as my personal sentimentality police! I’m serious; I sometimes forget to make the transition from casual blogging tone to professional academic tone. I’ll post my modified piece below; please let me know if it’s better.

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  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Dmitry,

    Good point about the Apocryphile context. My Williams and Masefield editions for Boydell & Brewer’s Arthurian Poets series did not even have such short paragraphs (except about me as editor!). If this happens to be the first book by C.W. a reader encounters, there will surely be enough in the Introduction to give them a good context and basis – and enough references to other works by and about him to follow up in detail at leisure.

    “English professor” is distinctly American (I was ‘Professor Dodds’ to my students when teaching American and ‘International’ undergraduates at an American college in England, though in fact only an A.M. with a teaching fellowship). Perhaps “lecturer in English”, or “in literature”, would be accurate and succinct (his lecture notes in the Wade cover a wide ranges of works and subjects, including – if memory serves – which it may not! – both Cervantes and Pascal, for exanple).

    I was wondering about “British” as I came to C.W. as author of Taliessin poems expecting him to be ‘Welsh’ at least by descent – which he wasn’t! It was still very much “the British Empire” in his days (throughout all of them, in fact), but he was an Englishman.

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    • Sørina Higgins says:

      I’ve fixed that. I’m thinking of the “about the author” to be mostly for those people who won’t read a critical introduction but WILL read a short biographical piece at the end.

      Like

  5. Sørina Higgins says:

    Is this better? It repeats less of the info and has a more professional tone:

    Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945) was a British poet, novelist, literary critic, editor, teacher, biographer, Anglican Christian, and occult master. He was educated at the Abbey National School, St. Albans Grammar School, and University College London (he left without taking a degree, for financial reasons). In 1908 he began his life-long career at the Oxford University Press and also met Florence Conway (“Michal”); they married on April 12th, 1917. That same year, he joined a secret society. Later in life, he founded his own unofficial Order called “the Companions of the Coinherence.” Williams’s only child, Michael, was born in 1922. In 1924, Phyllis Jones (“Celia”) joined the staff of the Oxford University Press in London as librarian; Williams idealized her in his Theology of Romantic Love. He gave evening lectures through the City Literary Institute until 1939, when the Press evacuated to Oxford to escape the bombing of London. There he joined “the Inklings.” Oxford University invited him to lecture on Milton’s Comus on January 20th, 1940, after which he gave tutorials and lectures and was awarded an honorary M. A. on February 18th, 1943. Williams died unexpectedly of intussusception on May 15th, 1945, just a week after victory in Europe ended England’s involvement in World War II.
    Williams’s writing is varied, including his professional work: editing books, compiling anthologies, and writing introductions, reviews, biographies, and literary criticism (Poetry at Present, 1930; The English Poetic Mind, 1932; Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind, 1933; and The Figure of Beatrice, 1943). One of his most important projects was the supervision of the first English series of Kierkegaard’s works. He may have been the first person in England to lecture on Kierkegaard. He also wrote theology (He Came Down from Heaven, 1938; The Forgiveness of Sins, 1942; and Outlines of Romantic Theology, 1990), plays (including The Masques of Amen House, 1927-30; A Myth of Shakespeare, 1928; Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury, 1936; and House of the Octopus, 1945), and one short story (“Et in Sempiternum Pereant,” 1935).
    Williams’s most popular works are his seven metaphysical thriller novels: War in Heaven (1930), Many Dimensions (1931), The Place of the Lion (1932), The Greater Trumps (1932), Shadows of Ecstasy (1933), Descent into Hell (1937), and All Hallow’s Eve (1945). His two volumes of Arthurian poetry are his masterpiece: Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944). The novels and Arthurian poetry place him among the literary masters of the early 20th century.

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    • Dmitry Medvedev says:

      Much better, I think!
      “A secret society” is perhaps a bit too ambiguous. I would mention that it was The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross (especially because there is still some confusion between the Order of the Golden Dawn and Waite’s organization). I would leave out the Companions of the Co-inherence altogether. Maybe add a few more words about “the Inklings” – that it was an informal literary group, which also included Tolkien, Lewis and Barfield (for those who don’t know it).
      Certainly, “The Descent of the Dove” should be in the list of CW’s theological works! I would also mention a couple of biographies (since they are actually worth reading, but are often unjustly forgotten).
      I would not mention the “special” names “Michal” and “Celia” here (unless they are also discussed in the introductory essays). For someone not already familiar with CW their meaning and context would be unclear.

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I’ll second that, on most points!

        To write “biographies (including Bacon, 1933; James I, 1934; Rochester, 1935; Queen Elizabeth, 1936; and Henry VII, 1937)”, for example, would add 14 or 15 words (depending on how you count them).

        In my Dictionary of Literary Biography entry, I refer to “the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, the successor to (and in many ways continuation of) the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Order of the Golden Dawn which A.E. Waite had established after taking over the Isis-Urania Temple in 1903”, which is pretty concise for all the detail included, but would be disproportionate here! I would think either “the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross” or “a secret society” would be possible, given that more detail will be available in the Introduction.

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  6. Pingback: The “Eminently Combustible” Mr. Williams | Book Geeks Anonymous

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