Sturch on Williams

In Descent into Hell the crucial choices are those of the military historian Lawrence Wentworth; there are three, and each time he chooses the worst. A rival historian is knighted. It could be an opportunity for joy, to take it as an honour to his profession. "At least he could refuse not to enjoy. [...] With a perfectly clear, if instantaneous, knowledge of what he did, he rejected joy instead. He instantaneously preferred anger, and it came; he invoked envy, and it obliged him."

Then a girl to whom he is attracted prefers someone else, and he cannot accept this either; instead, out of his daydreams (egoistic castle-building!) is fashioned a succubus, a horrible parody of the girl which is in no danger of showing the independence the real girl had.

Finally, he is offered a chance for professional integrity, akin to the repentance through non-moral goodness that I have already discussed. His knighted rival, we are told, is "a holy and beautiful soul who would have sacrificed reputation, income, and life, if necessary, for the discovery of one fact". Wentworth has already lost much of this integrity; but now he is given a chance to regain it. The uniforms for a play being produced by some acquaintances are historically inaccurate. He could point this out. He is actually asked to say whether they are correct or not. But he cannot be bothered; he prefers to be lost in his fantasies. And, steadily, he loses touch with reality and slides into a mindless damnation.

Richard Sturch ~ Four Christian Fantasists [Walking Tree - 2001]

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