Friday marked 70 years since Charles Williams died. It’s an important milestone, an important date on which to examine his legacy–not least because some of his works come into the public domain now. There were a few posts about CW on that day or throughout last week by Inklings bloggers:
and an older post from Ben Trovato: Charles Williams.
Do let me know of any others.
So here I am, the quasi-official Charles Williams blogger, and I didn’t post anything on the anniversary of his death. Because I am surrounded by death. Death, death, and more death. The death of my dear friend Judy, who took her own life. The deaths of my two cats, who filled a bit of the hole in my heart made by childlessness. The deaths of all my personal and professional dreams. I am plunged in the dark night of the soul, the desolation that I have often studied, written about, and talked about.
And at the same time, I’ve been reading CW’s work of literary criticism The English Poetry Mind , and it’s startlingly relevant. I’ll blog about it on its own soon, but the main theme is the Crisis of Schism that was so important to CW’s life and work–the idea that we come up against moments of Impossibility, when we say simultaneously that something cannot be, and yet it is.
That’s where I’m living, these days. It is impossible that Judy would kill herself; such a thing cannot be. And yet it is true. I cannot believe that God would take away the two young, small, sweet beings who filled my days with joy. And yet He has. I cannot face the facts about my empty, desolate future, with all of my deep dreams killed and shattered on the floor of time. And yet they are. There is no more hope for what I have longed to do, what I have trained to do, what I have lived to do. I am trapped and fluttering in an ever-shrinking cage.
This, Williams believed, was the condition that all poets had to confront, create, and conquer in their works. He claimed that only Shakespeare and Milton ever did this thoroughly, and that is what makes them the greatest poets in the English language. Wordsworth tried and didn’t quite get there. Hopkins, Patmore, and Arnold caught notes of it, as did the other Romantics.
It’s a fascinating, limited, narrow-minded interpretation given by one of the broadest minds I’ve ever read. But more on that anon.
Characteristically, it doesn’t seem that CW offers any solution to the Crisis of Impossibility. He lived in the midst of contradictions; he reveled in a state of Negative Capability, in which he held two apparently contradictory positions simultaneously. Faith and doubt. Magic and mysticism. Marital fidelity and emotional adultery. Obscurity and fame. Belief and unbelief. Depression and joy.
Two important articles have recently been published that relate to aspects of this topic. One in the Journal of Inklings Studies by Aren Roukema, entitled “A Veil that Reveals: Charles Williams and the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross,” and the other in VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review, by Andrew Stout, entitled “‘It Can be Done, You Know'”: The Shape, Sources, and Seriousness of Charles Williams’s Doctrine of Substituted Love. The first reveals new FRC material and talks about the reconciliation of Christianity and the occult. The second–well, the title is pretty clear. I hope to blog about these soon, unless you have read one of them and would like to write a summary review? Please contact me if you would.
Anyway, let me wrap up this scattered post by remarking what an important year this is in CW studies. After 70 years, we should stop and ask what legacy CW has. Lots of significant work is being done. There are the two articles I just mentioned. There’s my own edition of The Chapel of the Thorn. There’s Grevel Lindop’s official biography of CW, due out from Oxford University Press on October 29th of this year, and apparently going to be titled Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Then there’s my collection The Inklings and King Arthur, which is pretty heavily weighted towards CW, due out late this year or early next. If you know of other publications in the works, please let me know.
In short, it is a year of death, but it is a year of important beginnings, too. Stayed tuned as I get back into blogging here and share more news and book reviews with you. May you walk Under the Mercy.
~ Sørina Higgins