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May 24, 2014

#60:  A GRIEF OBSERVED.  The mere name of C. S. Lewis is a call, if not to combat, then to heavily entrenched opinion.  Some people idolize him; some people scoff at him.  I’ve enjoyed some of his critical writing—The Allegory of Love is such a readable and inviting book on medieval literature that for a while you actually think you want to reread The Romance of the Rose.  (You don’t.  Trust me.  “It is gone, gone utterly, so far as its readableness is concerned,” Ezra Pound wrote, correctly.)  And The Four Loves I remember enjoying.  The Narnia books, alas, I read after reading Tolkien and found them thin and priggish, as I found some of the religious writing entirely too donnish.  One book stands apart for me:  A Grief Observed (1961).  Lewis, as all the world knows, was for many years the image of the happy bookbound Oxbridge bachelor, sharing digs with his brother Warren.  Lewis married late, the American artist Joy Davidman Gresham, and married happily; and shortly thereafter, as he had his parents, lost his wife to cancer.  (“I wonder who’s next in the queue,” he writes.)  A Grief Observed, originally published under a pseudonym, is startling to read not just for its honesty, which is moving, but for its remarkable intelligence and self-observation.  Time and again, reading this terse little book (ninety pages of large type) one has to say, “That’s it; he’s nailed it.”  It’s this quality—its sheer commanding interest—that makes it the great thing of its kind, because it suggests that it was Lewis’s intelligence as much as his faith that saw him through the ordeal.  He says at the end, “Didn’t people dispute once whether the final vision of God was more an act of intelligence or of love?  That is probably another of the nonsense questions.”  Reading A Grief Observed, Lewis convinces you that it probably is.

     Connection footnote:  Lewis’s brother Warren is the W. H. Lewis who wrote  The Splendid Century, one of the lastingly popular books on the court of Louis XIV, and still worth picking up.

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