Monday, October 18, 2010

Charles Williams' Example for Lewis?

So, despite my not being able to make it to Diana Pavlac-Glyer's talk at the Wade this week

her ongoing work to assert mutual influences between the Inklings came to mind last week while I was working with the Williams papers. I knew Wms was prolific: he usually came out with several books at year he either edited or wrote, along with a slew of articles and reviews and poems. But the checklists and bibliographies I'd seen don't really convey an idea of the sheer mass of material he produced, or just how quickly he worked. The particular piece I was looking at -- preserved in the form of a seven-page typescript -- his personal archivist Raymond Hunt referred to as a 'weekend job', and believed he cd assign to a specific two-day period in which it was written.* The Wade's Wms holdings includes drafts of novels, multiple drafts of many plays, essays, poems, lecture notes, &c. &c. Here's their listing of over four hundred separate Mss and Tss in their collection:

Now, this got me to thinking. Lewis is also remembered as an epically prolific author, but it's often been remarked as curious that he was very slow in getting started. In the first ten years after he became a don, he published only one significant article and one major book. Plus, of course, he researched and wrote his famous lecture series published posthumously as THE DISCARDED IMAGE. It's sometimes been said that at an American university he probably wd have been denied tenure for such a sparse publication record. But that all changed in the late 30s/early 40s (being away from home I can't consult the bibliographies to narrow down the date), after which he became famously productive, issuing a steady stream of articles and books and letters.

Why the change? Well, in as far as anyone has offered an explanation, it's been that somehow his conversion was responsible -- that converting to Xianity lit a fire under him that never went out, and the speed at which he wrote and published was one aspect of this. How do we know, though, that this isn't a case of post hoc prompter hoc? I'd like to suggest another possible stimulus that I think is equally plausible: what if the example of Charles Williams played a role? One of the strongest influences on a writer is the example of other writers. Lewis, Tolkien, Barfield, and Greeves -- the circle of writers the young CSL was most familiar with -- were not particularly productive so far as their publication record went, and often worked on projects for years without getting them published. But Williams, who transferred to Oxford in late 1939 and was in close contact with CSL for the remainder of the war years, wrote quickly and published immediately, exactly as the latter CSL did. I don't think this is the sort of thing that's susceptible to proof, but I'd be interested to see the evidence laid out and see if an interesting pattern may emerge.


*Hunt's twenty-volume set of typed transcriptions of Wms' collected works ran to well over three thousand pages -- apparently all in chronological order, as near as he cd get it. Didn't have time this visit, but I'm looking forward to seeing the originals of these next visit.


David Bratman said...

Just as a very quick transcription, counting poems and published letters the same as full books, here's a totaling of the number of Lewis's publications for his earlier years from Hooper's 1996 bibliography:

1919: 2 (Spirits in Bondage and one separate poem)
1924: 1 (poem)
1926: 1 (Dymer)
1928: 3 (all book reviews)
1929: 2 (review & letter)
1931: 1 (letter)
1932: 2 (essays)
1933: 2 (Pilgrim's Regress & one poem)
1934: 6 (essay, poems, reviews)
1935: 4 (essay, poem, letters)
1936: 4 (Allegory of Love, essays, poem)
1937: 5 (poems, reviews)
1938: 7 (including OSP)
1939: 7 (including Rehabilitations and The Personal Heresy)
1940: 15 (including The Problem of Pain and 6 essays)

He reached a peak in 1945 with 28 (not counting serializations of Screwtape and The Great Divorce) and only once dropped again below 7 for the rest of his life.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi David
Thanks for the listing and breakdown. That seems to show that the impetus, whatever it was, preceded his closer contact w. Wms. Ah well; another theory does not survive contact with the facts. Thus things proceed in their circle, and thus the empire is maintained.
In any case, now I'm in awe of how much all three wrote: Tolkien and Lewis AND Williams


Josh Long said...

David & John,

Have you seen the Tolkien letter on Pieter's website for sale about CW and the Inklings? Seems like a letter both of you would be interested in.

Letters 1: