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Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. By Grevel Lindop. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-19-928415-3. Pp. xii + 493. $34.95. In the introduction to his biography of Samuel Johnson, James Boswell proclaims, ‘‘I profess to write, not his panegyric, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect.’’ Grevel Lindop, in writing Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, might have used Boswell’s criterion as his mantra. As Lindop documents meticulously throughout his impressive study—drawing on letters, private papers, and more than 20 interviews with those who knew the poet—some of Williams’s behaviors were not only less than perfect, but deeply troubling. The story’s disturbing parts for most readers will be those detailing Williams’s personal life, which Lindop calls at the book’s outset ‘‘strange and troubled’’ (viii): specifically that Williams fell in love with a woman (Phyllis Jones) at his workplace and carried on a long affair with her (albeit one that was never consummated sexually). While Williams’s wife, Michal, knew about the love affair, Williams tried to hide the extent of his devotion to Phyllis from his wife through lies and diversions. In addition to Phyllis, Williams cultivated a long series of sadomasochistic relationships with younger women, relationships that he came to believe were necessary to fuel his creativity; in spite of the fact most of the women ‘‘disciples’’ involved believed ‘‘Williams had transformed their lives for the better,’’ on his side ‘‘a compulsive pattern of dependency had developed’’ (340). Lindop so thoroughly documents the numerous incidents that by the time we read of the last one between Lois Lang-Sims (27 years old) and Charles Williams (57 years old), we are forced to agree with Lindop’s conclusion that, for Williams, ‘‘it had become an addiction’’ (340). While Williams’s sexually charged, mentor–disciple relationships with younger women are likely to alarm all readers, Christian readers, in particular, may be puzzled by Williams’s interest in and initiation into occult groups as well as his magical pursuits. Though a lifelong Anglican, Williams yearned for spiritual experiences and knowledge beyond the boundaries of orthodox Christianity. Lindop notes that Williams found these through involvement in A. E. Waite’s Fellowship of the Rosy Cross and perhaps in the Order of the Golden Dawn. Both were Rosicrucian organizations. While the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross remained entirely Christian and mystical, avoiding magic, the Golden Dawn had ‘‘accepted practical magic—the use of paranormal methods to change the world in accordance with the magician’s will’’ (59). Lindop also describes how Williams met weekly with A. H. E. (Henry) Lee and D. H. S. Nicholson. Topics of discussion in this group involved alchemy, the Kabbala, astrology, breathing exercises, and the transformation of sexual energy for spiritual purposes. While Lindop admits the extent to which Williams’s activities could be described as magical is open to question, the uniqueness of Williams among the Inklings hit Book Reviews 553 home with full force when I read the account of what occurred the day after Williams died: Joan Wallis, one of Charles’s ‘‘women,’’ was allowed into Charles’s office, ‘‘where she removed from the cupboard his magical regalia—the sword she had so much disliked, his Rosicrucian robes, and perhaps other items,’’ all of which she took to the home where Williams had been living and buried them in the garden (423). The reason Joan Wallis disliked the sword is because Williams had used it to ‘‘gently spank’’ her as part of one of his rituals in his office. Lindop also notes that ritual swords were used in one branch of the Golden Dawn and that Williams may have acquired his sword after D. H. S. Nicholson’s death. Thus, these two odd and secret strands of Williams’s life story come together: his sadomasochistic relationships with women and his practice of the occult and the magical. By highlighting these two aspects of Charles Williams’s life, I do not mean to imply that Lindop’s presentation is primarily negative or that he tries to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 553-556
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-28
Open Access
No
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