Joy Incarnate

Published September 2, 2009

I WAS INTRODUCED to Joy Davidman through  C.S. Lewis, whose Christian conversion and reflections on the human condition propelled him into fame. Many experiences of grief have been solaced by A Grief Observed, which Lewis wrote upon the death of Joy Davidman, whom he loved and wed late in life. Unless you have read Davidman’s biography,  And God Came In (1983), by Lyle Dorsett, you probably know Davidman from Lewis, or as portrayed in Shadowlands, the play and film.

Davidman, an American Jew, was an atheist, Communist, poet, critic, essayist, and novelist, well published in the 1930s through early 1950s. Her Christian conversion story, The Longest Way Round is included in this book.  

[pullquote]In the 1940s, she was married to William Lindsay Gresham, also a writer; they had two sons. Her letters in the late 40s will sound familiar to women pursuing careers while parenting, housekeeping and paying bills.

In 1953, her marriage to Gresham fraying, Davidman took a personal sabbatical in England to be with friends and  to meet Lewis. While she was away, Gresham had an affair with her cousin. When Davidman returned home, she ended the marriage, then moved to London with her sons.

Her letters describe her life in London and Oxford. Gradually, her letters introduce Jack (C.S.) and Warren Lewis. An astute critic, she makes many trenchant observations, such as this about the Church of England:  “…While I like Christianity well enough, I hate Churchianity; as far as I can see every organized church in the world ends by either missing the point and tangling itself in trivialities, or by contradicting the point altogether.” (Gresham, February 14, 1956.)

Out of My Bone, with its fine documentation, is important for scholars. General readers will find it reads as easily as Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road.  Most importantly, we meet Davidman, a woman who demanded the best of herself in her living, writing and in her dying.

Mary Louise Meadow is a retired priest from the diocese of Toronto.


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