The Secret of the Enigmatic Inkling Revealed (Final)

Life & Legacy

What about Williams’s own life? He was a very odd man, from all that one can gather. Tolkien claimed he never knew what Williams was talking about. Eliot said that when Williams lectured, he hopped all over the place, crossing and uncrossing his legs as he perched on the desk, jingling coins in his pocket, and so forth. Eliot also said that Williams looked like a monkey.

But by far the most perplexing thing about Williams to people who did not know him personally (and maybe to them too) was his excessively odd relationships with women. They seemed to fall all over themselves over him, although there was nothing of glamour about his person. And, if we read Letters to Lalage, we might conclude that Williams had all sorts of "behaviors," as they say now, that Freud would have loved to get at.

But — and I say this after many decades of studying everything I can about Williams — I firmly believe that he went to his grave absolutely faithful to his wife Florence, even though they lived apart for the whole of World War II, when the Oxford University Press, for which Williams worked, moved its offices from London, where the Williamses lived, to Oxford.

There are some ironies about Williams’s legacy. His followers—they might almost be called worshippers, both men and women, and I have met some of them—fell into the most vicious fighting over his manuscripts after his death. But these were the people who were supposed to have been tutored in the Way of Substitution and Exchange, in the Law of The City. What went wrong? I do not know.

I found myself caught in the middle of some of the fighting and had to make my escape (literally) on an airplane back to the United States, holding a huge canvas zipper-bag full of manuscripts that one Raymond Hunt had received from Williams, and that he (Hunt) wanted to give to Wheaton College. For all I know, I might have had my throat cut by some of Williams’s other votaries who detested Hunt, and who felt that he had made off with the material. But all of the personae in that drama are dead now, and de mortuis nil nisi bonum.

Williams’ "What the Cross Means to Me" can be found in Charles Williams: Selected Writings, edited by Anne Ridler.

Thomas Howard taught for many years at St. John’s Seminary College, the seminary of the archdiocese of Boston. Among his many works are the books Christ the Tiger, Evangelical Is Not Enough, Lead Kindly Light, On Being Catholic, and The Secret of New York Revealed, and a videotape series of 13 lectures on "The Treasures of Catholicism" (all from Ignatius Press).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting- Thanks. Based on what I've read (published materials only) I think CW was 'physically faithful' to his wife, but I'd be hard pressed to make an equivalent statement for the emotional sphere.

DDD (aka Pyegar)