11 June 2012

Wade Report #2: The Text

My fellow researcher Brenton Dickieson has written a really lovely, detailed description of the Wade Center: I recommend that you read it to get the idea of just how amazing this place is! 

I've started reporting (if that's what you can call it) on my adventuresome week at the Wade center. But so far the thoughts have been merely personal. Let's get down to the professional


So, what was I doing in the Wade Center for the 3 ½ work days I managed to squeeze in this week? Well, I was transcribing an unpublished play by Charles Williams. Here is an initial report about what it is, what I learned, and what I might do with it. Inklings scholars are welcome to communicate with me with questions, advice, and other thoughts in response: iambic dot admonit at gmail dot com.

The play is entitled The Chapel of the Thorn: A Dramatic Poem. The MS from which I was working is dated, in Williams's hand, 24 August 1912. So its 100th birthday is coming up; depending on how things develop, perhaps you can join me for its online birthday party at the end of this summer? The centennial gives me a good personal deadline for some related goals—but more on that anon.

Since this work was finished in 1912, it is contemporaneous with Williams's earliest publication: The Silver Stair, a volume of poetry published with the support of Alice and Wilfrid Meynell by Herbert & Daniel. It's also probably the year he started the Arthurian Commonplace Book: a notebook in which he kept thoughts, ideas, and clippings related to the development of his great (unfinished) Grail myth. So this play is from that period. It's the phase in which he was trying to find his poetic style, but many of his distinctive ideas were already there, at least in nascent form. And this is before he got married, before he spent his ten years in the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, before he had his son, before he edited Hopkins' poems, 'way before he met The Inklings—all those experiences that honed and clarified his thoughts and (more dramatically) his style.

Very few people have read this play. I don't as yet know a whole lot about its provenance. I don't know how many people he showed it to in the early years. He did show it to his office mate, Frederick Page, and Fred wrote notes on the MS. CW took some of Fred's suggestions—just minor line edits, but its nice to know that CW was not intractable when it came to revision. And it was really fun to see their friendship, as it were, on those pages.

According to Alice Mary Hadfield (CW's sort-of biographer), CW sent the play to one John Pellow on 10 May 1924. At this stage, I don't know anything about Pellow. At some point, CW sent the MS to Miss Margaret Douglas. I'd like to know more about that. Then Margaret Douglas mailed it to CW's friend/student/disciple/ would-be Boswell, Raymond Hunt. He got it on 1 April 1942. Then in—I think—1973, Raymond Hunt donated it to the Wade. That little summary raises as many questions as it answers, but that's a paper for another time. And probably a different scholar.

I found I was surprisingly moved by handling the actual MS. Until the last hour of the week, I was working from a research photocopy. Then at 3:00 pm on Friday afternoon, I was handed the actual notebook. It is a small bound blank book, about 6”x8”x1”. The binding has mosty come off so that the stitching is visible. Several of the sections are loose and falling out. There is no cover. CW wrote only on the right-hand pages, and Fred Page wrote on a few of the left-hand, um, pages. 

More later on the actual CONTENT of this play!  


Steve Hayes said...

Interesting -- I'll be posting links to this on the Inklings and Charles Williams mailing lists, and in the alt.books.inklings newsgroup.

Pyegar said...

Wonderful that you are unearthing this and adding to our knowledge and understanding of CW's work.

jchristopher said...

When David Bratman edited _The Masques of Amen House_, he listed the play in his list of Williams' twenty plays at the first of the volume--of course, it was one of the four plays that have never been published. I'm not certain if the three others all still exist.

Iambic Admonit said...

Thanks for the posting, Steve, and for these comments, Pyegar & Joe.

Joe: The other three are all in the Wade:
- A Myth of Francis Bacon CW / MS-414
- Bethnal Green Pageant CW / MS-125
- The Devil and the Lady CW / MS-92

Do you know if anyone is working on a complete Collected Plays?