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Companionship in Grief

Love and Loss in the Memoirs of C. S. Lewis, John Bayley, Donald Hall, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillen

Jeffrey Berman

Publication Year: 2010

In Companionship in Grief, Jeffrey Berman focuses on the most life-changing event for many people—the death of a spouse. Some of the most acclaimed memoirs of the past fifty years offer insights into this profound loss: C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed; John Bayley’s three memoirs about Iris Murdoch, including Elegy for Iris; Donald Hall’s The Best Day the Worst Day; Joan Didion’s best-selling The Year of Magical Thinking; and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice. These books explore the nature of spousal bereavement, the importance of caregiving, the role of writing in recovery, and the possibility of falling in love again after a devastating loss. Throughout his study, Berman traces the theme of love and loss in all five memoirists’ fictional and nonfictional writings as well as in those of their spouses, who were also accomplished writers. Combining literary studies, grief and bereavement theory, attachment theory, composition studies, and trauma theory, Companionship in Grief will appeal to anyone who has experienced love and loss. Berman’s research casts light on five remarkable marriages, showing how autobiographical stories of love and loss can memorialize deceased spouses and offer wisdom and comfort to readers.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Title Page

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p. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv-iv

Table of Contents

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p. vii-vii


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p. ix-ix

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Introduction: “The Lost Other Is an Ongoing Part of Our Existence”

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pp. 1-19

I never imagined I would write a book about deceased spouses. But then Barbara died on April 5, 2004, after a twenty-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. Immediately after her death I began writing a memoir about our life together after her diagnosis on August 12, 2002, one day after our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. Writing about Barbara ...

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One: C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman: “Never Have I Loved Her More than since She Was Struck Down”

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pp. 20-61

Clive Staples Lewis, known to his relatives and friends as “Jack” and to the rest of the world as C. S. Lewis, was one of the most prolific and influential writers of the twentieth century. He was the most famous “Christian apologist”—that is, defender of the Christian faith—of the century. A Renaissance man, he wrote dozens of books on a wide variety of subjects: literary criticism (including medieval and Renaissance ...

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Two: John Bayley and Iris Murdoch: “In Widowhood You Lose Not Only Your Loved One but Much of Yourself ”

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pp. 62-112

John Bayley had written one novel and several books of literary criticism before his wife, Iris Murdoch, began developing Alzheimer’s disease in the mid 1990s, but he was not a memoirist, nor did he seem interested in autobiographical writing. He appeared to share his wife’s suspicion of self-disclosure; she insisted that her novels were about “fictional” char-...

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Three: Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon “Art Is Created against Death”

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pp. 113-156

Donald Hall’s relationship with Jane Kenyon began in 1969, when she enrolled in his large undergraduate course An Introduction to Poetry for Non-English Majors at the University of Michigan. He never met her individually in the class of 140 students, but the following summer she was accepted into his small poetry workshop. He recognized her talent ...

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Four: Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne: “Life Changes in the Instant”

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pp. 157-213

Joan Didion’s best-selling memoir The Year of Magical Thinking was published in 2005, scarcely a year after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who was, like her, an acclaimed novelist, essayist, and screenwriter. They were married nearly forty years. His sudden death—they were eating dinner in their apartment in New York City on ...

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Five: Calvin Trillin and Alice Stewart Trillin: “I Wrote Everything for Alice”

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pp. 214-250

Calvin Trillin, the popular New Yorker humorist, food critic, journalist, and novelist, described by the Boston Globe as “America’s quietest great writer,” has written more than twenty books on wide-ranging topics, but the subject to which he returns repeatedly is his beloved wife, Alice Stewart Trillin. Her name appears in the titles of two of his books, Alice, ...

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Conclusion: “It Is Possible to Be Bereft and Not Bereft Simultaneously”

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pp. 251-261

... I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be grief-stricken (except, perhaps, a masochist), and yet grief can be good, as we see from the dialogue in Philip K. Dick’s 1975 novel Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (102). Now that I’m completing Companionship in Grief, I can see how other memoirists have discovered the ways in which grief can be not only good but also transformative, allowing them to commemorate and honor the ...

Works Cited

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pp. 263-275


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pp. 277-284

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613760123
E-ISBN-10: 1613760124
Print-ISBN-13: 9781558498037
Print-ISBN-10: 1558498036

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 5 color photos, 2 b&w photos, 4 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010