31 May 2012

CSLIS Report #3

I'm at Taylor University in Indiana for the 8th Biennial Frances White Ewbank Colloquium on C.S. Lewis and Friends. Here is my report on the first set of papers. 

I. Joe R. Christopher: “C.S. Lewis's Lost Arthurian Poem: A Conjectural Essay”
Lewis makes a mistake in a reference to Wace, et al, saying that Wace retells Layamon. Actually:
      1. Geoffrey of Monmouth, 1137
      2. Wace retells Geoffrey 1155
      3. Layamon translated, paraphrased, & expanded Wace into Middle English, c. 1205, as Brut.
The stories are not the same as Malory: no Lancelot-Guinevere romance, Guinevere has an affair with Modred. The alliterative Morte d'Artur (1360) follows this tradition, as do some 20th century works.
Lewis writes about the Brut, then says that he wrote a poem on this subject, which Heineman rejected! That's all we know about it. Now, some conjectures about this poem.
  • Heinemen rejected other poems because they were weak, cutting 5 poems from Spirits in Bondage. The Arthurian poem might be “Retreat” or “Venusburg,” based on correspondence with Heineman.
  • Does “Retreat” suggest an Arthurian topic? Possibly Arthur's retreat from France back to England after receiving news of Modred's treachery?
{Then Joe Christopher read a poem of his own composition as “hypothetical passage” of how Lewis could have written an Arthurian poem to represent events in World War I! So much fun!}
Possibly Guinevere's retreat to a nunnery after her adultery with Modred? Like a spiritual retreat?
Possibly Arthur's leaving this world as a retreat to Avalon?
  • How about “Venusburg”? Venusburg is a German myth about an underground world of sexual satisfaction; i.e., in Wagner's Tannhauser. In fact, the opera was originally titled Venusburg. How can this be Arthurian? Well, in Layamon Arthur says: “I will fare to Avalon, to the fairest of all maidens...” Maybe Lewis drew on his own love affair with Janie Moore.

II. Jonathan Himes: “Feminine Leadership: Lewis's Reason and Spenser's Britomart”
Analyze Lewis's choice of a female virgin as “Reason” in The Pilgrim's Regress in light of accusations of sexism. Source in Spenser's Britomart from The Faerie Queen.
Britomart is heroic, wears armor, beats a knight at a joust. She is beautiful, vigorous, not a prude. She has a “careless modesty.” She shows that women can be so much more than either extreme of seductress or life-long virgin. She shows other women how to withstand objectifying lust. Her sexuality is masked to others and to herself: she disguises herself as a man and actively rides out to seek her beloved. She meets men on common ground by beating them in fights, then amazes them when she reveals her beauty. Yet she has erotic desire: she has keenly felt the pangs of love.
The quest in Pilgrim's Regress involves learning lessons about lust. However, Lewis: “the sins of the flesh are the least bad.” The passions of eros are far from the desires of sehnsucht that drive John to seek the island in the West. Lewis's knightly woman who rescues John from the mountain of Enlightenment is not a personification of Virginity. She is a personification of Reason. She remains aloof, not meeting John on equal terms as Britomart does. Reason exists prior to value judgments. Her younger sisters, Philosophy and Theology, could tell about the lands beyond. She can only tell him what he already knows. Is sexual desire a copy of his desire for the islands? Or vice versa? Or are both copied from our love for the Landlord? Lust is the breaking of the vision, not its consummation.
Like Britomart, Reason tells John to “man up.” Why did Lewis dress up Reason in the guise of a female knight? Why is Reason the virgin warrior, not Wisdom? Defamiliarizing, stark, pure effects of reason. A startling picture. Teaches young men how to be more masculine.

III. Richard James: “Further Responses to Lewis's Lost Aeneid
Many of Lewis's works have been published after his death, and he has a long multimedia output. The “Lost” Aeneid.
This presentation goes through Lewis's personal copy of Virgil's Aeneid, making observations:
  • Lewis drew maps in it.
  • He wrote down the dates when he finished reading and re-reading it: he read it 10 times!
  • He wrote summaries (“the argument”) at the beginning of each book.
  • He wrote many annotations and marginalia

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