Becoming Mrs. Lewis

 

“What on earth would become of me if I should ever grow brave?”

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What a heartbreakingly beautiful true story.

I was vaguely aware that C.S.Lewis had been married late in life to an American woman in ill health. That was about all I remembered from the film, Shadowlands. Then I happened upon this book in a library e-reader app last week, and could hardly put it down until I came to the inevitable end.

From the first page, it compels.

Who knew that the woman who would one day become Mrs. Lewis started out as a highly intelligent, atheist Jewish child in New York City?

That she lived and wrote as a communist, and graduated with a masters degree from Columbia University?

That she endured years of infidelity and abuse with an alcoholic  husband before fleeing with her two little boys to save her health and hope…?

Not I…

Early in this historical novel (which reads more like an autobiography) Joy had a totally unexpected experience when she fell to her knees in desperation and fear on the floor of her baby’s bedroom one night. She was surprised to find herself uttering a prayer, which was answered by an immediately overwhelming sense of comfort and peace. She could never look at her life the same way again.

“Much of what I’d done — mistakes, poems, manipulations, success and books and sex — had been done merely to get love. To get it. To answer my question: do you love me? . . . From that moment on, the love affair I would develop would be with my soul. [God] was already part of me; that much was clear. And now this would be where I would go for love — to the God in me. No more begging or pursuing or needing.” (‘Joy’) 

She was an award winning writer in her own right, and knew other writers; one of her friends had spent time in England with the well-known author, C.S. Lewis (known to his friends as Jack.) She wrote to him, searching to understand her spiritual experience and gain clarity as a Christian convert.

They did have some things in common, most importantly their incredible intellect, and their surprise at being forced by their own undeniable experiences to forsake their atheism for Christianity.

C.S. Lewis The Kilns, His Oxford Home

~The Kilns, Lewis’s home

(photograph: awesomestories.com)

Joy met her match in Lewis, an Oxford professor 17 years her senior, who worked in a world of academics (of which she was undoubtedly one) and men (of which she was undoubtedly not one.) The college where he worked wasn’t even open to women students!

Little did he know then that this was ‘the beginning of the end’ of his life as a confirmed bachelor. He was originally from northern Ireland, and when Joy stepped into his life he lived contentedly in the English countryside with his older brother, Warnie (who was a dear, and loved her as a sister.) But alas, Jack’s friends didn’t approve of her, especially not for him. It really is amazing that they ever got together.

“It is not hopeless,” he said with surety. “It is uncertain, and this is the cross God always gives us in life, uncertainty. But it is not hopeless.” (‘Jack’) 

Love conquers all.

Patti Callahan ( author of Becoming Mrs. Lewis) has researched minutely and read extensively; so much so that she’s able to write convincingly in the first person about Joy’s courageous suffering through her ‘once upon a time’ and brave living which propelled her eventually into her own ‘happily ever after.’

Becoming Mrs. Lewis left me craving more about this brilliantly gifted writer who waded through chronic illness and faced down relentless prejudice to produce an impressive body of written work and captivate the heart and mind of one of the most famous writers and speakers of his time (and the author of The Chronicles of Narnia!)

It’s safe to say she was the love of his life, as he said this of her:

“She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign; and always, holding all these in solution, my trusty comrade, friend, shipmate, fellow-soldier. My mistress; but at the same time all that any man friend (and I have good ones) has ever been to me. Perhaps more.”                                                 -Person Jr., James E (16 August 2009). “Books: ‘Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman'”. The Washington Times. Retrieved 8 December 2011.

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Joy Davidman (findagrave.com)

I know Joy wasn’t alone in her experience of feeling at first that she had to do or be something, good enough somehow, to ‘earn’ the right to be loved by ‘proving worthy of it’…

I’ve experienced powerful change in my own life, by realizing that I, in my flaws, am and always have been perfectly loved by God.

How about you?

Also, can you recommend to me any other good books or movies about Joy and Jack?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

The Care And Management Of Lies

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis

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Perusing the library shelves, judging books by their covers; I suspect many of us indulge in this delicious pursuit. But this isn’t always the most reliable method for laying my hands on a book I’ll hardly be able to put down. Still, libraries are one of my favourite places to meander, and it’s always worth a try.

This is exactly how I first discovered this week’s author, Jacqueline Winspear. I was uncommonly lucky that day; I happened to pick up the first book in her well-researched historical mystery series (Maisie Dobbs)! Suffice it to say, I now pounce upon each new instalment with fervent energy and devour it so quickly I only wish it were longer.

This book, however, is her heartrending standalone novel. In this sense, I could almost compare it to Alexander McCall Smith’s  La’s Orchestra Saves The World (https://leahsletters.blog/2019/03/02/las-orchestra-saves-the-world/) except that it’s set during the first, rather than the second World War.

“What is certain, is that war will not leave us as it found us.”                                          ~Woman At Home, February 1915

Dorothea and Kezia are old schoolmates, who (not without some bitterness) become sisters-in-law. While one woman focuses on her career in the city and the fight for women’s rights, the other struggles to learn the trade of being a farmer’s wife.

It still takes my breath away to sense the sickening numbers of loved ones who left for the war and never came back. I can’t comprehend what it would be like to carry on, intimately faced with such widespread grief.

I was immediately drawn into the keenly felt nuances of long-standing women’s friendship, complicated by the upheaval of war. I wonder how many of us today can even relate with the brave and selfless urge to persistently write cheerful lies to the battlefront.

This story really made me think. A lot. And wonder.

Ethical questions are served here, and pushed around like overcooked vegetables on a child’s plate…

 

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Women’s issues are at the forefront of social awareness for a lot of us today. Just over 100 years ago, things were very different, or were they?

Of course the historical perspective is compelling and the farm setting enchanting, but the very different ways these two women face down their enemy- war- is what makes this a book not to be missed.

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What behind-the-scenes ‘battles’ have you read about?

And I’d love to hear what you think of the questions raised in this conundrum of a novel…

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

Dear Mrs. Bird

“Never give in, never, never, never–never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”    ~Winston Churchill

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This is the tale of the life-changing and heart-rending experiences of Emmy, a young woman with journalistic ambitions and seemingly endless energy, during the Blitz in WW2 London. It’s written in a light, good-humoured (almost diary-like) tone that invited me to smile along with her; but this voice was contrasted by the unimaginable horrors through which she somehow kept heart enough to Keep Calm and Carry On.

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I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it featured in a library. (book-lust at first sight;) I’ll chalk that instant attraction up to the vintage-style cover, especially the old-fashioned typewriter keys. I liked it even more once I opened it up and started reading! I am always drawn to stories from this time and place, and the main character’s somewhat disarming flaws drew me right into hers. What she occasionally lacked in ‘honour and good sense’, Emmy made up for in compassion and her brave determination to act on it.

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For anyone who enjoys some witty ‘British-isms’ sprinkled liberally throughout a highly readable novel that takes you into the heart and mind of a likeable young woman, give this book a go; it won’t disappoint!

Also, do tell… what other historical fiction from this era do you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

p.s. I’m not the only blogger (on WordPress) writing about this one!

Check these posts out, too:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44595095/posts/16643

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/77612352/posts/1721

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/84556689/posts/54921

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44873370/posts/10851

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/30727745/posts/6902

 

 

 

La’s Orchestra Saves the World

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. ~George R. R. Martin

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I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this story; my favourite memory of reading it is the time we were on a long family road trip. I was reading it aloud as we drove past lavender fields, which was an enchanting coincidence; the main character’s full name is Lavender. Also, there is an abundance of this flowering herb growing in a garden which is the scene of some of the most important action in the book.

Alexander McCall Smith is most famous for his warm, wise, and witty No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring my dear imaginary friend, Precious Ramotswe. (I am not ashamed to have an imaginary friend who was invented by a clever author.) He’s also written other series, and several standalone novels. This one is my favourite; so much so, that I wish it was part of another series.

I especially enjoy the setting; a quiet country village in England’s East Anglia region. When we lived in England for about 3 years while our children were young, we lived up on the Suffolk coast, so I have seen the 21st century version. It’s a beautiful area, in a gentle and delightfully rural way. (Ironically, this normally out-of-the-way place was the site of the Battle of Britain in WW2.) In this charming story, La goes about saving the world from the outpost of her sleepy Suffolk village during those very years.

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What books act as your return ticket to places you’ve enjoyed?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂