Wednesday 2 December 2015

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis by Abigail Santamaria
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first full biography of Joy Davidman brings her out from C. S. Lewis's shadow, where she has long been hidden, to reveal a powerful writer and thinker.

Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis's memoir, A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves.

A poet and radical, Davidman was a frequent contributor to the communist vehicle New Masses and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. Born Jewish in the Bronx, she was an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life.

Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces. Their relationship-begun when Joy wrote to Lewis as a religious guide-grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story.


There are some reviews that are easy to write, that almost writes itself. I can finish a book sit down and write without problems. Then there are books, like this one that I kind of know what to write, but still, the process from my head to actually writing it down takes a bit longer time. And, I'm sorry it's a bit lengthy.

I first learned of Joy Davidman when I for quite many years ago watched Shadowlands. Before that, I had no idea that C.S. Lewis had been married. It was a wonderful film, but still, it's a film, even though there are truths in the story it has been changed to suit the public. For instance, Joy had two children, two boys and in the movie, she had one. But that they started out as pen pals, that she traveled over to England to see him, that they, in the end, married each other and that she died of cancer is true just as it is in the movie. But the books makes everything sounds so perfect.

But this book gives a much deeper insight into the woman Joy, to her childhood, her growing up, her writing, her time with the communist party and her conversion to Christianity which led her to C.S. Lewis writings and writing together with her husband a letter to C.S. Lewis. She would, in the end, continue to write to C.S. Lewis, but without Bill.

It sounds like a wonderful love story, but in reality, it was a bit more calculated than that. Joy marriage was falling apart, and she practically arranged for her husband to fall in love with her beautiful cousin that came to stay with them. How so? By then she was writing to C.S. Lewis and she was eager to travel and meet him and she left her husband, children, and cousin together and traveled to England to meet C.S. Lewis. She had fallen in love with him through his letters and she was actually going there to make him fall in love with her. It didn’t go as plan, she did meet him, she spent months in England, but it would take some years before they would truly be a couple. During the time, she and her husband divorced because he had fallen in love with her cousin and she bad mouths him quite bad in letter and to friends. Although, she was hardly a saint herself. she left her sons for months while she was in England and she wrote home to ask for money she then spends on buying clothes and stuff for herself.

But was their love story untrue? No she did love Jack (C.S. Lewis) and he loved her and they got some wonderful years together.

It was not an easy book to read, the first half of the book was a bit tough, it’s very well researched (40% of the book was footnoted), but it was sometimes  a bit dry and I must admit that her poems that were in the book, well they didn’t really fascinate me. I often just glanced over them. They just didn't appeal to me. But it was interesting to read about the time period, the rise of the communist party before the McCarty era. I had no idea that Joy was fascinated for a while in life with Dianetics a practice that a man called L. Ron Hubbard had thought of. She got over it, thankfully. She lived in a very interesting time and her life story is quite remarkable.

I think the best part of the book was the last half when she started to write to Jack, and when she got to met and later marry him. Many of his friends were worried for him, like Tolkien. They thought that she was taking advantage of him. Jack had in his youth promised Paddy Moore, a friend, that he would look after his mother if something happened to him and when the friend died in WW1 did he honor the promise and looked after her and many thought that stopped him from ever finding a woman to marry because she looked after him as a mother (he lost his mother as a child) and he looked after her as a son. And around the time Joy came to meet him Mrs. Janie King Moore had died and that made his friends concerned for him since they wanted him to be free.

But I think she did him good. She made him happy.

I recommend this book if you want to know more about Joy or Jack or if you are just looking for an interesting biography to read.

Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for providing me with a free copy for an honest review!

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