The Inklings (Humphrey Carpenter)

Discussion in 'Book Reviews' started by BayouHuguenot, Oct 25, 2019.

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  1. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Carpenter, Humphrey. The Inklings.

    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 gossiped, 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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  2. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    It doesn't sound like this book gives anything like the full story. For Mrs. Moore, the Collected Letters (not the severely bowdlerized version published during Warren's lifetime) and All My Road Before Me will explain in far more detail. Suffice it to say that she did not come across as a stump to Lewis, or to his friend Arthur Greeves.

    Williams introduced Lewis and Eliot, and over time they were able to have a reasonably amicable working relationship. Walter Hooper goes into that to some extent. It remains true that Lewis's criticisms of Eliot, especially as a critic, were devastating (e.g., "Shelley, Dryden, and Mr. Eliot"). Eliot's poetry is certainly not all bad in the abstract (indeed, much of it is quite good after its kind), but it represented the end point of a certain line of development.

    The Descent of the Dove and Descent Into Hell provide a fairly full exposition of Williams's co-inherence, one by way of doctrinal argument and one by way of narrative presentation. In general, there was a lot of openness to mysticism of one kind or another in many of those Oxford circles (as in Barfield's long infatuation with Rudolf Steiner and theosophy). Yeats learning magic from Bergson's sister represents a somewhat earlier and differently-directed tendency. Light on C.S. Lewis has his own friends putting him in context; though a comparison with his letters and the autobiography of his stepson tends to show that his friends did not always understand his own state of mind.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2019
  3. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    You're right. It doesn't give the full picture. I know Lewis was more favorable to Eliot later in life, though I would agree with Lewis's criticisms of Eliot's poetry.
  4. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I am not completely attacking the idea of co-inherence. I think it is true at one level, and it has long factored into my hatred of atomistic ontologies. So there's that.

    And I've read the section in Descent into Hell where Stanhope physically takes Pauline's fear.
  5. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    I think your remarks about co-inherence go further than anything else I've read at explaining how it might work in theory. There's no doubt Williams is very weird, but everything he writes leaves an extremely strong, if transitory, impression. Of vividness he certainly had no lack.
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