An unreliable reviewer

Since David Eddyshaw mentioned Charles Williams in a comment at LanguageHat’s, I have read two novels by Charles Williams: The Place of the Lion and Descent into Hell. They were definitely worth it. Some of the scenes in Descent into Hell in particular are deeply imagined and forcefully executed.

Reviewing Charles Williams: The Third Inkling by Grevel Lindop, Michael Newton can’t help disapproving of the subject’s conduct:

He was sexually fascinated by the buttocks, but also by the hands, which were beaten or struck as often as the behind… ‘Every woman, in order to be a goddess, must be treated like a schoolgirl,’ he once wrote to a young female acolyte…

“Like a schoolgirl” nicely describes the way the grandmasterly poet in Descent into Hell treats his female disciple, and the imperious young man at the center of The Place of the Lion deals with his fiancée. However, no rod is involved, merely condescending orders and lectures.

…‘but no one ought to treat her like a schoolgirl who does not admire in her a divinity; neither alone is sufficient, so the gaiety of your chastising is the gate of your glory.’ In spiritual terms, Williams stood for obedience, especially when he was the person to whom obedience was due.

Perhaps. It still takes at least two willing partners to play this game:

[Phyllis] Jones fantasised that their perfect day would start with the buying of a cane in the Harrods toy department and end with Williams making good use of it.

Her fantasy, curiously, not his. But among Williams’ disciples there was also a young lady called Joan Willis,

whom he beat in his office with an umbrella and, extraordinarily enough, a sword –

which makes for good comedy. However, according to other sources, no beating was involved. In Gravel Lindop’s own words:

There would be an umbrella or stick – or a sword. he would make her bend over and would gently spank her with it.

Gently. The touch of the sheathed sword against the disciple’s posterior was ritualistic: laughable or creepy yet not brutal. No nudity was involved.

Judging by Amazon reviews, Lindop wrote a meticulously researched biography. No need to distort his findings for a quick laugh. Newton’s review is amusing but some of the fun is at Williams’ – and, indirectly, the reader’s – expense.

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