Monday, March 9, 2009

A Proto-Inklings?

So, when I recently mentioned Tolkien and Lewis listening to Wagner together, I was operating off of memory. Going back now and looking it up, I see that I mixed together two separate events, the first of which was Lewis's early interest in Wagner, which included his listening to Wagner on gramophone records (i.e., 78rpms) back in 1912 (Hooper & Green, p.32). The second, and more interesting, is the Lewis-Tolkien-Warnie session of early 1934 which seems to me one of the rare glimpses into the interim steps in what turned out to be the coalescence of the Inklings -- or at least one thread of what came to be The Inklings (Lean's Inklings Club and Tolkien's Coalbiters being two others which played their part).

According to Carpenter's account in THE INKLINGS, as well as the passages from Warnie's diary he based this on, December 1933 found Warnie, who had retired and moved into the Kilns about a year before,* complaining about Tolkien intruding into his quality time with his brother ("Confound Tolkien! I seem to see less and less of J[ack] every day"**). Accordingly, as Carpenter puts it, "Knowing Warnie's feelings, Jack took a great deal of trouble not to leave his brother out of anything and, when Tolkien and he decided to spend an evening reading aloud the libretto of Wagner's Die Walkure, Warnie was asked to join them even though he knew no German and could only take part by using an English translation." (THE INKLINGS pages 55-56).

This is obviously directly based on the March 24th and 26th entries in Warnie's diary, the first of which reads "J and I have been for some time intending to ask Tolkien to dinner with us at the Eastgate and to read the Walkure in J's rooms afterwards."*** The event itself is described in terms which sound v. like Warnie's later write-ups of Inklings evenings: "Tolkien, J, and I met by appointment in College at four o'clock to read the Valkyrie . . . When we had had some tea we started on the play, I reading in English and T and J in German. I think our English version must be the acting version, for it fits the German syllable by syllable -- as a result it was I found very easy to follow the others' parts: I did not need prompting more than a couple times. Coming to it with the idea of an opera libretto in my mind, I got a very agreeable surprise. Even in this rather doggerel version it remains a fine play. We knocked off soon after six and T went home, meeting us again at the Eastgate where we had fried fish and a savoury omlette . . . We then returned to J's rooms and finished our play (and incidentally the best part of a decanter of very inferior whiskey). Arising out of the perplexities of Wotan we had a long and interesting discussion on religion which lasted until about half past eleven when the car called for us. A very enjoyable day."****

I think Carpenter is probably right here, and that by bringing Warnie into what had been their two-man meetings, Tolkien & Lewis essentially had the core of the group established but without the group itself. The timing is key: 'Humphrey' Havard told me that he'd joined the group shortly after his move to Oxford in 1934, and subsequent research bears out the timing of Havard's arrival on the scene and his incorporation into CSL's circle of friends. Among the other early members -- Coghill, Fox, and probably Wrenn -- Havard proved the one who stuck with the group longest, longer than Tolkien himself. More importantly, adding a non-academic like Havard***** would have helped prevent Warnie -- himself a gifted self-taught historian -- from being the odd man out among a gathering of dons.

So, one more piece in the puzzle, to help us get a better glimpse at the overall picture.


*Brothers & Friends, p. 95 (entry for Dec. 21st 1932).

**Brothers & Friends, p. 127 (entry for Dec. 4th 1933).

***Brothers & Friends, p. 144 (entry for March 24th 1934). Interestingly enough, this entry reveals that Mrs. Moore had suggested the men meet on a Tuesday ("from her point of view Tuesday would be the best day for us to do it") but that the Tolkiens had other plans, suggesting that the selection of Tuesday as one of the two Inkling meeting days might have been Janie Moore's contribution to the group.

****Brothers & Friends, p. 145-146 (entry for March 26th 1934).

*****Though it's good to remember that Havard, while not an academic, was a learned man, with a background in biochemistry; he was later to spend much of WW II doing medical research to help protect British troops from tropical diseases.


David Bratman said...

Undoubtably, events like the reading of Wagner together are what convinced CSL and JRRT that WHL would be suitable for the Inklings, just as CSL's conversations about philosophy with Havard are what led him to invite the good doctor.

But I am very doubtful that this reading, or anything like it, is what led to the formation of the Inklings. This is partly because the Inklings was always primarily a dons' club (Carpenter indeed thinks its nucleus was the Cave), and while non-dons could be and were invited, it's harder to imagine one growing out of a CSL-WHL-JRRT circle, still less a CSL-WHL-JRRT-Havard circle. But mostly because WHL was keeping a full diary throughout 1933-34, and though he makes many references to meeting with JRRT, Dyson, and Barfield, there's nothing about a club with or without them. I don't see why he'd leave it out, so it either started later, or WHL was not yet a member of it; either way there's no direct connection between the Wagner session and the formation of the Inklings.

David Bratman said...

Also: the idea that the Inklings were always a firm, regular Tuesday and Thursday event is a misapprehension that comes from CSL's preface to EPCW, which gives an entirely unwarranted impression of stability. Diaries and letters reveal that the Inklings evening moved around the week depending on what was convenient, until the late 40s when it settled permanently on Thursday. And the open Tuesday pub meetings didn't come into existence until around the end of the war either: previously we see records only of ad hoc gatherings in various pubs on various days, with no indication yet of "There's C.S. Lewis, it must be Tuesday."