C.S. Lewis & Women

hermeneuticDid C.S. Lewis disrespect women? Some of his detractors make that argument, but two new books reveal just how weak the notion is.

There is a great book review in the herŸ.menenutics column of the current issue of Christianity Today. You can read it here, but please finish reading this post before checking it out.

Readers of Mere Inkling who are only familiar with Lewis through the Chronicles of Narnia or his classic Mere Christianity, may be surprised to learn that there are some who claim he was a misogynist. While they pull decontextualized examples from his works, the essence of their arguments seem to arise from an animosity to Lewis’ Christian worldview.

Even if you do not go on to read either of the books discussed, taking a moment to read the review itself will be worthwhile. For example, they cite one of Lewis’ longtime friendships.

Lewis’s good friend the detective novelist Dorothy L. Sayers once remarked that when it came to women as a whole, “he had a complete blank in his mind.” But this didn’t keep her from liking and corresponding with him, often in the form of cheerful and vigorous argument . . .it was friendships like hers that “blew away Lewis’ assumptions about women,” helping his ideas to change and develop over time.

The first text discussed in the review is Women and C.S. Lewis: What His Life and Literature Reveal for Today’s Culture, edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key. The volume has a diverse collection of contributors and portrays the writer honestly. Many of the chapters are written by well respected authors who have written their own works on Lewis.

The book offers no foolish attempt to make a feminist of Lewis. The contributions are thoughtful and nuanced. Lewis’ views were a product of his era and upbringing. Yet, to that stodgy context, he added a Christian appreciation for the all of humanity, male and female, created in the image of God.

The second volume examines the life of the woman who played the most significant role in C.S. Lewis’ life. This is a true biography of Joy Davidman, not restricted to the years she spent with Lewis, who was her second husband. It is no hagiography of this convert from atheism to Christianity. Precisely because of that, it promises to provide valuable insights into the woman, Lewis, and Lewis’ attitudes towards women.

And, great news for those interested in this subject. The Kindle version of Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis is currently on sale for only $2.99, a price any student of the Oxford Inkling can scarcely ignore.

If you don’t recall my post several months ago about Lewis and “dating,” you may find it interesting.

I will close now with a quotation from a letter Lewis wrote to a Benedictine monk in 1952. I chose it because it juxtaposes two aspects of his experience with women. The first is based on his daily experience with the discipline of carrying on an excessive correspondence with readers. The second was a remark in passing about Jane Austen which compliments her for both her substance and her strength.

It isn’t chiefly men I am kept in touch with by my huge mail: it is women. The female, happy or unhappy, agreeing or disagreeing, is by nature a much more epistolary animal than the male. . . . I am glad you think J. Austen a sound moralist. I agree. And not platitudinous, but subtle as well as firm.

Just one small example of what the linked book review praises as “his ability to see and appreciate a woman as a whole, multifaceted person.”

2019 Addendum: Last year a new, well-reviewed book was published on this subject: Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis by Patti Callahan.

23 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis & Women

  1. Craig Gallaway

    Glad to see this course correction in the current trend. I see that Lewis was a man of his own time, but he had so many good, respectful, and appreciative relationships with women of great skill and intelligence.

    1. It is nice to see the more balanced assessment of this matter, isn’t it? I really do believe that–like the narrow minded members of the Oxford community who greased the way for Lewis’ move to Cambridge–most of his critics simply dislike the faith he espouses.

  2. What a delightful post.
    ” Lewis’ views were a product of his era and upbringing” First it is always important to see thing in context and people in the context of their eras. Why is that so difficult for people? It is so wrong to apply modern standards to those in the past – just as it would be a bad idea to apply past standards to current.
    Thanks for the fresh insights. So often only the “public” surface is examined – not the letters, frequent companions, family, or actual non-story words/behavior of the writer – to paint a picture. Incomplete picture and as you’ve shown a flawed picture of Lewis.
    Cool stuff. Thanks

    1. It truly is a logical flaw, isn’t it, to expect of the twentieth century the mores and language of people living in the twenty-first?

      Like you, I’m delighted that these works have come on the scene and I’m eager to read them.

  3. It is the current fashion to attack Christian writers for being Christian. This has little to do with whatever the Christian writer might have said and much to do with the internal needs of the attacker.

    1. Too true. And, it appears to be more and more common for critics of Christianity to be vicious in their critiques. Creates a bit of a feeding frenzy. Intentional on the part of many, I believe, to frighten all Christians out of the public forum.

  4. Thanks for pointing me toward that article. It is very interesting. Having known something of Lewis’s friendships with Dorothy Sayers and Ruth Pitter, I always thought it was sort of ridiculous to call him a misogynist. I haven’t read Women and C. S. Lewis yet, but I just recently finished Joy and seeing the way in which he related to his wife especially does make it even clearer that he respected women and treated them as equals, without denying the inherent differences between men and women.

    1. Thank you for the endorsement of Joy. I also look forward to reading the other volume… but perhaps they’ll drop the price for us in a while, eh?

      I don’t want to cheat authors out of their just earnings, but one’s book budget can only stretch so far…

  5. Thanks for this wonderful post! I can imagine considering his relationship with Sayers, that she would not have let him get away with any misogynistic behaviour. I’ve read some of his letters and it’s so apparent that not only was he very respectful towards women, they had an enormous amount of respect for him. He often had them writing and asking advice on any number of issues. In any case, I’ll have to keep a look out for these books. Thanks for the introduction!

  6. Hello,

    Thank you for sharing this insights to a great man. Speaking for smart men who don’t always have social graces, they can be awkward in their relationship with the opposite sex. It takes time an patience for book smart folks to know how to apply their head knowledge to everyday heart knowledge. That is why human interaction over time is the real maturing some genuises need to become relatable to most people. That is evident in the life of CS Lewis. If he never had a family he might never had graced the world with Narnia.

    1. It does raise interesting questions into the development of social skills. Some children are raised in academic or bookish environments. Some are allowed to run “free range” will all of the neighbors. The latter often gain a street sense (what my dad would call “common sense” that the former sometimes lack.)

      Then, of course, there is the innate distinction between being an introvert or extrovert. Introverts are often regarded as less skilled socially, although that is–in my thinking–an entirely different matter.

      1. I am a teacher and a writer. I am very fascinated about how God made people uniquely complicated. I think people have either that introvert or extravert tendency. Both personalities have their strengths and weaknesses. How the Lord wonderfully works is helping the introvert to open themselves to God, people, and share what great knowledge they have to the world. The extrovert learns how to have more depth to surface things, and maybe hear the beauty of listening to others when they want to always have the last word.
        In all, maybe the Lord helps people became Endoverts, a healthy combination of both. Who knows?

      2. Yes, the diversity of creation, especially as evident in humankind, is awe inspiring.

        I’ve ended up becoming pretty balanced on the I/E scale over the years. Neither is dominant. Don’t know if that’s a good thing, but in my case at least I’ll trust that the Holy Spirit has played some role in that. By “some” I mean that he’s moved me to where he wants me in so far as the dragging of my heels and wandering of my attention have not impeded him.

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