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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 715

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As both an outspoken Christian and a writer of popular works on the Christian faith, C. S. Lewis found some admirers but perhaps more detractors at the University of Oxford, where he taught English. The Screwtape Letters (1942) and Mere Christianity (1952) enjoyed a wide audience and provoked both disdain and envy. He was, certainly, not without friends. They were, however, almost exclusively male, and until sometime after he met Joy Davidman in 1952, Lewis had considered himself a confirmed bachelor. Not quite fifty-four years old, Lewis had found no woman who interested him on an intellectual and later romantic level as did this American writer, a former atheist and Communist organizer. The triumphs and pains of their few years together and her death from cancer form the background of A Grief Observed, which Lewis first published under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk.

Joy, who had become a Christian at least partly through the influence of Lewis’ writings, met him on a trip to England. Upon her return to the United States, she found that her first husband, William Gresham, had been unfaithful to her, and a divorce soon followed. After she moved to England in 1954, Lewis’ admiration for her continued to grow. In A Grief Observed he writes of Joy, “Her mind was lithe and quick and muscular as a leopard. Passion, tenderness and pain were all equally unable to disarm it. It scented the first whiff of cant or slush.”

When the Home Office denied Joy’s request for permanent residence in Great Britain, Lewis ensured her right to remain there by marrying her in a civil ceremony in 1956. He told his brother that is was simply a formality and that he and Joy would not live together. When Joy was later diagnosed as having terminal cancer, however, the two were married at her bedside in a Christian ceremony on March 21, 1957, and she was taken to Lewis’ home, the Kilns, expecting to die. By what her physicians considered a miracle, her cancerous bones began to knit again, and in early December of 1957 she was again able to walk. Three brief years of marital happiness followed. Lewis told a friend, “I never expected to have, in my sixties, the happiness that passed me by in my twenties.” In 1959 the cancer returned, and although she and Lewis were able to make a trip to Greece, which had been one of her lifelong dreams, they believed that it was too much to hope for a second miracle. None came, and she died on July 13, 1960.

A Grief Observed consists of short entries into four notebooks which the author says that he found, partially used, in his home. The published version runs sixty pages and retains this four-part outward structure. The entries themselves, bearing no date, run from one line to a half page, and a typical page has several entries. They describe the gamut of emotions and thoughts which flood the author’s mind when his grief is fresh and also as it matures. He gives an intimate portrait of the deceased and of their love, in which “no cranny of heart or body remained unsatisfied.” He also gives voice to fears that his selective memory of her will distort the truth of the H. (his wife’s middle name was Helen) who actually lived. Although he has in principle believed in the providence of a loving God, his anger and sense of loss are such, at least at the beginning, that he begins not to doubt God’s existence so much as His goodness. In view of the pain already inflicted on H. in this world, Lewis wonders what the pains of a purgatory might be like. In his doubt and disappointment, philosophizing and praying, asking and attempting answers to his own questions, one entry in the diary is usually connected to the one it follows. Sometimes an entry contradicts the previous thought, as if he were arguing with himself or a close friend. A Grief Observed appears to be a dialogue in which he speaks with a friend, though he be physically removed; with his deceased wife, though she be separated from him by the death of the body; and with God, who seems at first not to answer when the author calls from the depths of despair.


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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 65

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Christopher, Joe R. C. S. Lewis, 1987.

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Musacchio, George. “Fiction in A Grief Observed,” in Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. VIII (1987), pp. 73-83.


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