Charles Williams’s last novel is set in the locale he knew best, central London, but in a time that he did not live to appreciate: the first autumn of the peace after World War II. The novel removes the barrier between the natural and the supernatural worlds. Lester is the central character in a drama that illustrates Williams’s mystical and imaginative interpretation of Christian doctrine. The plot traces the triumph of love over evil during Lester’s period of purgatory. She is a modern version of the figure of Beatrice, the spiritual guide of Dante’s The Divine Comedy (1802). Her love for her husband, which survives her death, leads to his conversion, to the defeat of evil, and to her own salvation. The story combines natural and supernatural elements with a realism that is not merely a matter of literary technique but also an expression of Williams’s belief that the material and the spiritual, and the temporal and the eternal, are equally real. This tenet of faith is basic to the creative imagination for Williams. The novel is not intended as a fantasy or as an allegory; the novel form is used simply for its traditional purpose of revealing life’s reality. Williams believes that a person who loves can bear another’s burdens in a way that he considers physical as well as spiritual. This ability involves not simply praying for the burdened one but also loving that one so deeply that the burden of suffering is transferred from the loved one to the person who loves. As the human form of Christ on the cross suffers for all humanity, so the central character of this story saves a victim by substituting herself.
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 sees only the city, but as her spirit develops, she hears all...
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