The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Charles Williams’ last novel brings together many of the themes of his other five novels. Lester Furnival, who has been married for six months, and her school friend Evelyn Mercer are killed by a plane that crashes near Westminster Bridge. Only gradually does Lester realize that she is dead. As she crosses a strangely quiet but still familiar London, Lester speaks to her living husband, Richard. With Evelyn, she sets out to accomplish something in her “new life” to make up for her incomplete earlier life.
Jonathan Drayton, a painter friend of Richard Furnival, is in love with Betty Wallingford. To impress Betty’s mother, he paints a portrait of Simon Leclerc. Lady Wallingford sees in the picture “a ranked mass of beetles” around the face of an imbecile. Offended, she insists that Betty break off her engagement to Jon-athan. Jonathan also has painted a remarkable picture of the city of London as a city of light. The painting impresses Richard, who asks how Jonathan came to create it. Jonathan explains that Sir Joshua Reynolds, a famous English painter of the late eighteenth century, once alluded to common observation and a plain understanding as the source of all art. Jonathan is later visited by Simon, who approves of his portrait but dislikes the painting of the illuminated city. He attempts to flatter Jonathan, calling him a genius and insisting that great art is apostolic. A practical artist, Jonathan throughout the novel insists on...
(The entire section is 441 words.)
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Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Westminster Bridge. Bridge over the River Thames near London’s Westminster Abbey and Houses of Parliament, where the novel opens with Lester Furnival standing by the bridge and coming to the realization that she is dead. She also realizes that she, along with her friend Evelyn Mercer, was killed on this spot by a warplane dropping out of the sky. From there she and Evelyn begin to wander around London.
*London. From the moment when Lester finds herself alone on Westminster Bridge to the climax of her disappearance from Simon’s house, there is always a strong sense of London as the background to the action. At first, Lester can see only the city, but as her spirit develops, she hears all the familiar noises of people and traffic, feels the pavement under her feet, and smells the river and the October rain. The literalness of London sights, sounds, and locations is not merely a device to root the supernatural story in the natural world. For Charles Williams, London is an image of the City of God, the Holy City, the community of the saints.
When the city is first mentioned, the term indicates the ancient borough of London, site of St. Paul’s Cathedral, as distinguished from Holborn, where Simon’s headquarters are. Through Lester’s developing spiritual perception, however, the spiritual reality of the eternal city is revealed. Its identity is hinted to mortal eyes on the fateful afternoon when Lady Wallingford and Betty call to look at Jonathan’s portrait of Simon. Lady Wallingford is equally antagonized by another painting that Jonathan and Richard consider the best that Jonathan has done, a painting of a part of London after a raid, a scene of desolation bathed in living light.
Three domiciles in London are key: the top-floor apartment of artist Jonathan Drayton, near St. Paul’s Cathedral; the house of the magician, Simon the Clerk, in Holborn; and the house of Lady Wallingford, Simon’s mistress and acolyte, in Highgate. The characters, including the newly dead spirits...
(The entire section is 851 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Anderson, Angelee Sailer. “The Nature of the City: Visions of the Kingdom and Its Saints in Charles Williams’ All Hallows’ Eve.” Mythlore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams and the Genres of Myth and Fantasy Studies 57, no. 3 (Spring, 1989): 16-21. This quarterly periodical regularly contains articles on Williams’ work. Two other periodicals that offer information on Williams’ work are Inklings and Seven.
Eliot, T. S. Introduction to All Hallows’ Eve, by Charles Williams. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1981. Eliot was an important literary friend of Williams.
Howard, Thomas. The Novels of Charles Williams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. Discusses Christian doctrines of forgiveness and judgment as portrayed in the novel.
Sibley, Agnes. Charles Williams. Boston: Twayne, 1982. In addition to a summary and insightful commentary on All Hallows’ Eve, Sibley’s work contains a useful bibliography.
Williams, Charles. The Image of the City and Other Essays. Edited by Anne Ridler. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Williams expounds his theories himself; in addition, the critical introduction contains a brilliant analysis of Williams’ major themes.