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Charles Williams: The Third Inkling Hardcover – 29 Oct 2015
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In Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, Grevel Lindop has written a page-turner. He proves himself a master of the biographical narrative. He knows how to end chapters and sections of chapters with cliffhangers. He liberally employs the ironic slant, and he has an eye for visuals. Lindop's preface, a model of balanced prose, sets the volume's tone. (Philip Irving Mitchell, Religion and the Arts)
Charles Williams: The Third Inkling is a must-read for all those interested in this unique writer and thinker. (David Brazier, Temenos Academy Review (19))
Exemplary, and very thought-provoking (Philip Hensher, Books of the Year 2015, The Spectator)
This solid and scholarly biography explores the byways of literary history with much verve and energy ... Lindop has provided a fascinating account (Philip Hensher, Spectator)
Lindop has added significantly to our knowledge of the Third Man in the Inklings and deftly filled in some major blank areas in our standard map of literary modernism. (Kevin Jackson, Literary Review)
excellent biography (London Review of Books)
[a] fine, thoroughly researched book. (Tablet)
ground-breaking, and must play a central part in future Williams studies. (David Barratt, The Glass)
thorough biography (Journey)
fascinating reading ... meticulous study ... This biography puts Williams back in the picture (Andy Ffrench, Oxford Times)
About the Author
Grevel Lindop was formerly Professor of Romantic and Early Victorian Studies at the University of Manchester. His previous books include The Opium-Eater: A Life of Thomas De Quincey; A Literary Guide to the Lake District; Travels on the Dance Floor, which was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week; and a twenty-one volume edition of The Works of Thomas De Quincey. He has published six collections of poems, and his Selected Poems appeared in 2000. He lives in Manchester, where he now works as a freelance writer
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"The strangest story in twentieth-century English literature", the jacket's blurb promises, and I'd struggle to think of a stranger. On the one hand, CW impressed many contemporaries as not just a brilliant writer, lecturer and publisher but also as someone uncommonly wise and good; his admirers included T. S. Eliot and, especially, C. S. Lewis, who revered him as probably the greatest poet of his time and a kind of cockney angel. On the debit side, CW had an enthusiasm for sorcery that to me seems foolish, ridiculous and sinister, and he recruited a series of young women as disciples to be exploited in sado-masochistic sex games. Perhaps I'm guilty of prudery, but I don't suppose that I'm the only reader of this book who'll find its account of CW's grooming of these acolytes distinctly disquieting.
What can't be doubted is that Grevel Lindop has done his work very well indeed, researching diligently and telling his tale with no little skill, if perhaps succumbing to the temptation to claim a greater importance for CW than the man truly deserves. His 493 pages include 40 pages of notes, 9 pages of sources and a 19 page index, beautifully designed and printed by an Oxford University Press honouring one of its own. Thirty-six monochrome plates accompany the text.
Lindop's excellent (and deeply honest biography) of Williams I doubt will produce a resurgence of interest in Williams, but will put the record straight on the man. Lindop places the blame for this at the feet of Florence Williams, but I get the feeling that unlike Tolkien work's, which are both timeless and which have been deeply influential on modern fantasy fiction, or Lewis's works, which remain popular, though it's hard to see why[!?] Williams's works are very much 'of their time' and actually not worthy of longer-term remembrance. They have neither the timelessness of Tolkien, nor are they likely to capture the popular imagination as Lewis has continued to do. As for his works of theology, there is very little timeless theology that is produced, much of it is 'of its time', only rarely is a piece of theology produced that stands the test of time.
Most biographies and books on Williams take a high view of his brilliance and the outré nature of his work, but ignore the man behind the mask. They provide a hagiographic view of the man, emphasising his brilliance, but ignoring the cost of that brilliance. Lindop turns the tables, providing an insight into the man, but also highlighting that his was a deeply flawed brilliance, one that came at a profound psychological cost to those who should have been closest to him.
The problem begins with the fact that Williams married above himself, socially, but beneath himself, intellectually. His wife, Florence (known as 'Michal') could never provide the intellectual conversation or stimulation he sought, thus he had multiple affairs with various women who crossed his path, feeding off them intellectually and using them as a sounding board for his poetry and theological interests. Secondly he never seemed to have truly loved his son, Michael, seeing him as a hindrance and a dampener on his intellectual pursuits, coming to resent the emotional, physical and intellectual cost a small (sickly) child can have. Both his multiple (and most likely platonic) indiscretions and his lack of love for his wife and son was to have a profound cost in the longer-term for his wife and son, as Lindop makes clear in the final paragraphs of the book.
'She [Michal] and Michael will continue to live together [...] on her widow's pension, the small royalties from Charles's books [...] Michael will [...] never settle into any determined career. Nor will he form any other long-term personal relationship. At times he will share a bedroom with his mother; at times, too, he will seek psychiatric help'. [p.425].
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