06 November 2013

5-Minute Duriez

I am in the process of reviewing three biographies of C.S. Lewis for Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal. I'll share selections from my longer reviews here. 

I really wanted to like C. S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship by Colin Duriez. The author is a kind person and a fine scholar/teacher. The is a pleasant retelling of Lewis' life-story, but it is sadly flawed. 

First, its writing style is quite poor, and the book is badly edited. There are odd, pervasive grammatical errors and frequent instances of strange syntax. Take this example: “The Inklings were a group of literary friends that coalesced around Lewis, and existed for around thirty years” (135) and then on the next page: “Of the more committed writers, Charles Williams's books were nearly all published before he joined the Inklings and breathed its atmosphere” (136). Is “Inklings” singular or plural? Why does that comma appear before “and existed,” when what follows is a dependent clause? Haven't we gotten away from misplaced modifiers yet? (CW's books were more committed writers? What?)
Furthermore, this claim about Williams' books is debatable: yes, he wrote some 36 of around 54 books before joining the Inklings (it is difficult to decide how to count some of his works, such as plays in collections), but the number of books per year went up significantly during that time: he wrote 18 books in those last 6 years of his life. Arguably, the quality and depth of his works also increased during those years. So that claim that Williams was pretty much done writing before meeting the Inklings is extremely misleading.
Yet there is much valuable information in this volume. The discussions of each phase of Lewis' beliefs are clear. I learned that George Orwell reviewed That Hideous Strength (176-7) and that Joy Davidman Lewis gave a lecture on Charles Williams to a group of Oxford students (215). There is a fascinating discussion of the theme of the Devil in the Inklings' works from the 1930s (172-77). The emphasis on friendship (though neither as consistent nor as well-developed as in Carpenter's or Glyer's books) is interesting. Overall, Duriez' biography is a sweet, simple, engaging look at Lewis and his friends, but it would have benefited from better editing and more rigorous scholarship.

No comments: