If you’re a romantic, one who likes a bit of bitter stirred in the brew, pack this book for a late-summer vacation – “Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C.S. Lewis,” by Abigail Santamaria (Houghton, Mifflin, $28).
It was a long-ago winter when I saw the movie “Shadowlands” at the Manor Theater, the story of their love affair. A thick scarf warmed my neck. I wept so long and so hard, the scarf was soaked with tears by movie’s end.
C.S. Lewis was, of course, the British novelist (“The Screwtape Letters,” “The Chronicles of Narnia”), poet, critic, lay theologian (“Mere Christianity,” “The Problem of Pain”), close friend of J.R.R. Tolkien, professor at both Oxford and Cambridge universities.
Quite an appealing guy but one who had never married.
Until... until... Enter Joy Davidman Gresham, a free-thinking poet, active in the New York literary and communist circles of the 1930s and 1940s, separated from a man with an erratic personality, a violent temper and a drinking problem. She wrote to Lewis for spiritural advice, fell in love with him long-distance (left her two young sons with the husband) and sailed to England to meet him.
Tolkien called it a “very strange marriage.” He felt Joy had taken advantage of Jack, as Lewis was called, and other friends held it against her that she had moved her young sons to England.
Lewis did not help things, according to the author, by “overpraising” Joy. He wrote of this marriage in his memoir, “A Grief Observed.”
Soon after their civil marriage, one arranged for convenience more than love, Joy fell and broke her leg. X-rays showed cancer throughout her body.
“They say a rival often turns a friend into a lover,” Lewis told a friend. In this case, his rival was Joy’s approaching death, courting her like a mad demon. After the diagnosis, they went ahead with a Christian wedding, and Jack was finally able to acknowledge his deep love of Joy.
Another biography as compelling as fiction.