It appeared for a while that C.S. Lewis would never marry. And though eventually he would, it was under rather shrewd circumstances in a private civil ceremony, followed a year or so later by a deathbed exchanging of the vows – this time sanctioned by a minister in the Church of England, though forbidden by the Bishop.
SHE WAS A MOTHER-FIGURE AND A MISTRESS
We don’t hear much about Lewis’ engagement with women. It seemed, frankly, as though he wasn’t interested at all in any type of romantic relationship.
When he was young he formed an odd relationship with Mrs. Moore, the mother of his friend Paddy. I say odd because when Paddy died in the Great War Lewis took it upon himself to bond with Mrs. Moore (having lost his own mom when he was about 9). But the bonding was strange indeed. For this woman was one and the same his mother-figure and his mistress (p.75).
Eventually the dynamics of their relationship would changed – though no one knows for sure when exactly. Likely by the time of his conversion, though even then it is difficult to describe the kind of relationship they had. He took care of her until her death, keeping with the utmost devotion his promise to Paddy.
INTELLIGENT WOMEN LOVED HIM
There’s no indication that Lewis ever looked for a romantic relationship and most of his friends believed he’d be a perpetual bachelor. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a much sought after man.
In fact, according to McGrath, he was. Here’s how he puts it:
“We need to appreciate the impact that Lewis had upon a specific audience – intelligent, literary women.” (p.321)
For whatever reason Lewis’ BBC radio talks and his book Mere Christianity developed a strong following with intelligent women. Apparently this affection they had for him was so strong that some sought to meet him, even travelling great distances to do so. One woman is said to have even fallen in love with Lewis before they ever met.
With some of them he developed great friendships, notably with a woman who sought him out named Ruth Pitter. Lewis is said of have quipped that if he ever were to marry, he would like to marry Pitter. But no romantic relationship ever came from it.
C.S. LEWIS BECAME A SUGAR-DADDY
Another woman who sought him out was Joy Davidman. Lewis would marry Joy eventually, but he considered it at first a “marriage of convenience.” Joy travelled to England from America “with one specific intention: ‘to seduce C.S. Lewis'” (p.323). At the time she was married, but while in England her husband sent her a letter stating that he wanted a divorce so that he could marry her sister. So Joy gathered up her two boys and took up residence in the United Kingdom. Eventually her immigration papers would expire and so Lewis married her discreetly to help her stay in the land. He then went about his life as though nothing had happened. Though much did happen. Here’s how McGrath puts it:
“In reality, Lewis had become – to put it bluntly, yet accurately – an American divorcee’s sugar-daddy.” (p.331) [Tweet That!]
Yet Lewis’ marriage to Joy did not seem to change his practice of meeting quite regularly with other women as he had done before. Not romantically or privately. But for intellectual stimulus. They sought him out and he would meet with them.
He also had the strange habit of sending money to women he had never met across the pond. “Lewis was actively supporting other American women writers financially around this time” (p.331). If they wrote him – as so many did – expressing their admiration for him as well as their personal financial troubles, he would dip into the fund he set up from the revenue he received from his books and send them money. A good example of this is Mary Shelburne, “a poet and critic who kept in contact with Lewis over an extended period of time, and was clearly well-regarded by Lewis. She had financial needs, which she did not conceal from Lewis.” (p.131)
THE NON-ROMANTIC HERO
When I read over Lewis’ odd relationship with women, be it Mrs. Moore, his clueless relationship with Joy (which grew in complexity), his habit of sending money to struggling female writers in America who reached out to him and so on, I can’t help but reflect on Lewis’ own development. What made Lewis into the type of man who sought to be a hero to women, perhaps sought their affection, but had little interest in romance?
It could have something to do with the gay tendencies he had as a young man (p.62). But those are more clearly understood to be bisexual tendencies in which, when it came time to make a choice, he firmly – though empathetically – chose to identify himself as a heterosexual (p.72-73, softly letting down the advances of his best friend).
No, I think the root of Lewis’ complex relationship with women is found in the dramatic death of his mom at age 9 followed by the complete lack of considerable actions of his father who, not knowing how to handle the death of his wife, simply sent Lewis away to school.
It really is a story deserving much attention.