Sunday, August 9, 2015

God's Patient Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman who Captivated C. S. Lewis

"A soul straight, bright and tempered like a sword. But not a perfected saint. A sinful woman married to a sinful man; two of God's patients, not yet cured.”
C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

The new biography of Joy Davidson Gresham Lewis by Abigail Santamaria arose from her interest in the woman who C. S. Lewis loved. Santamaria had turned to Lewis to help understand the tragic and senseless deaths of 9-11. She had seen the movie Shadowlands with Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins, which concerns their relationship, marriage, and Joy's death from cancer and its impact on Lewis. Who was this brilliant, brash, and complicated woman?

Santamaria shows Joy with all her failings and her wonders--Brilliant, self-centered, brusque, driven, manipulative, strong, and always a searcher.

Joy Davidson was born to Jewish immigrant parents. At age eight she announced she was an atheist. At eleven she entered high school and at age 14 college. She won the Yale Young Poets award. Concerned with social justice, Joy joined the CPUSA and was an ardent supporter of socialism. 

She tried her hand writing scripts in Hollywood believing that literature and the arts could educate and promote the values she believed in. 

Joy fell in love with a handsome, convivial folk singer who became a writer of pulp sci-fi and noir fiction. They had two children. Joy and Bill struggled to support the family by writing, too often neglecting the children and too often unable to properly feed them. They both drank too much. Seeking answers, they became involved with Dianetics, the pseudo-science/religion of sci-fi writer Ron L. Hubbard. 

Joy had a conversion experience, a moment of grace when one night Bill didn't make it home. Still seeking answers, Joy and Bill joined the local Presbyterian church. While Bill later took up Zen Buddhism, Joy read the works of C.S. Lewis and began a correspondence with Lewis. Joy fell in love with Lewis and was determined to met him.

What in the world drew the shy, celibate, middle aged scholar to allow Joy into his life, even to marry her, and finally learn the joys of erotic love because of her?

Lewis's love for Joy was unconditional. She was flawed; her tales about her marriage unreliable. She had gone to England to snare Lewis. People thought she was unfeminine, dumpy, and dowdy. She cursed. She was also his intellectual equal, willing to be completely herself with him and was able to see past his persona to the inner man. She was witty, she talked too much but always was entertaining, witty, and full of life. Joy was open and without artifice. She understood Lewis better than he did himself. Their love was transformative.

Joy had thyroid disease and as a teen underwent radium treatment. As an adult her cancer was undiagnoised. The cancer spread throughout her body and she was expected to have only weeks to live. Instead she beat the cancer and enjoyed three years of happiness with Lewis before the cancer returned with a fury. How Lewis and Joy dealt with pain and the limitations of ill health is inspiring. Their friends saw a marvelous marriage of equals truly in love. For in Joy, Lewis combined all the forms of love: Agape, Phila, pity, and Eros.


The author notes that Joy's life shows that redemption is possible, that in spite of human nature's self centered sinfulness, we can transcend to a spiritual transcendence.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman who Captivated C. S. Lewis
by Abigail Santamaria
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication: August 4, 2015
$28.00 hard cover
ISBN: 9780151013715