Monday, April 16, 2018

Surprised by Joy

The world of writer and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis (Jack) was decidedly masculine.

The Kilns

Jack lived in a house called the Kilns, in a quiet, predictable life with his brother Warren Hamilton Lewis (Warnie).

Magdalen College, Cambridge

He was a professor at an all-male school.  

He had a group of good friends – all men. They met at a local pub for drinks and intellectual discussions. He went on walking trips with Barfield, Tolkien, or Warnie   all men.

Jack's world was pretty much limited to men — tweed jackets, foaming pints, and pipe smoke.

And then came Joy.

Helen Joy Davidman

A child prodigy raised in the Bronx, Helen Joy Davidman read the writings of George MacDonald. She later wrote that these stories “developed in me a lifelong taste for fantasy, which led me years later to C. S. Lewis, who in turn led me to religion.” She went on to earn a Master’s degree in English literature from Columbia. She was an award-winning poet and the author of two novels.

In youth, she was an atheist and a Communist. Her marriage to William Lindsey Graham was unhappy. Her husband drank too much and was given to outbursts of temper. 

Partly because of the writings of C. S. Lewis, Joy converted to Christianity. She struck up a trans-Atlantic correspondence with Jack and actually fell in love with him long distance, although her affections were not reciprocated. She even made a trip to England with her two sons.

The Study at the Kilns
One day, Lewis had a letter from Joy, asking if they could meet at a restaurant. When the day came, Joy found Jack and Warnie at a table, and a lively conversation instantly ignited. 

Warnie later confided to his diary that Jack and Joy had built “a rapid friendship.” He described Joy as “a Christian convert of Jewish race, medium height, good figure, horn rimmed specs, quite extraordinarily uninhibited.” And he later wrote, “For Jack the attraction was at first undoubtedly intellectual. Joy was the only woman whom he had met…who had a brain which matched his own in suppleness, in width of interest, and in analytical grasp, and above all in humour and a sense of fun.” 

Joy and the two boys spent a couple of weeks as guests of Jack and Warnie at the Kilns. While in England, Joy received a letter from her husband saying that he was having an affair with her cousin and he wanted a divorce. She went home to try to save her marriage.

After the divorce, Joy returned to England, found an apartment, and set the boys up in school. But child support from Gresham soon stopped, and she found herself in financial straights. Lewis found her a house close to the Kilns and also paid for the boys’ schooling.

Jack and Joy helped each other with their writing, with Joy serving as the inspiration for Orual in Jack’s Till We Have Faces.

Suddenly Joy had another problem, when her Visitor’s Visa was not renewed by the Home Office. Lewis, wanting to help a friend, offered to marry Joy in a civil ceremony to keep her from being sent back to America. This was a marriage in name only  they continued to live separately.

One day Joy tripped on a phone wire and broke her leg. In the hospital, the doctors found that Joy had a far more serious problem  breast cancer that had spread to her bones. Their prognosis? Incurable.

Upon receiving this news, Jack was devastated, for he now realized that he loved Joy as she loved him.  

Joy underwent several operations and procedures to treat the cancer. In March, Warnie wrote in his diary: “One of the most painful days of my life. Sentence of death has been passed on Joy, and the end is only a matter of time.”  

Jack and Helen were married in a religious ceremony at the hospital on the 21st of March in 1957. After that, several of Jack’s old friends avoided them, because Joy had been divorced.

Lewis's bedroom at the Kilns

A week later, Joy went home to the Kilns — and there she enjoyed a long remission of the cancer. They took a few trips.
But the cancer returned, and she died in July of 1960.

Lewis had written a poem as a tribute for his friend, Charles Williams, and he adapted it for Joy:

Here the whole world (stars, water, air,
And field, and forest, as they were
Reflected in a single mind)
Like cast off clothes was left behind
In ashes, yet with hopes that she,
Re-born from holy poverty,
In lenten lands, hereafter may 
Resume them on her Easter Day.  

Jack had written a memoir of his early life, entitled Surprised by Joy. By joy, he meant a longing for something so other, so holy, so awesome, that there are no words to describe it. God must have chuckled when He sent Joy — as a person — into Jack's life

Their time together was short but certainly transformative for both of them.

On April 18th, we celebrate the birthday of Helen Joy Davidman Lewis, while Jack and Joy celebrate in Heaven.

Image Credits:
    The Kilns -- Author: jschroe from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA;
    Magdalen College -- source unknown;
    Eagle and Child sign -- Author: ceridwen
   Joy Davidman -- Wikipedia, Author: The Book Haven, Cynthia Haven's blog 
         -- used for illustration and identification;
    Lewis's study at the Kilns -- Author: jschroe from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA;
    The Kilns, Jack's bedroom -- Author: jschroe from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, USA;
    River and woodland -- Author: inkknife_2000