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C.S. Lewis and the Irish Literary Canon

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Abstract

Only a handful of the over three hundred books written about the life and work of Belfast-born C.S. Lewis discuss his keen interest in the Irish literary canon. On one level, the tendency among commentators to concentrate on Lewis’s relationship to the English literary canon is perfectly understandable. After all, as a member of the English faculty at Oxford and later Cambridge and as someone educated at British public schools in England and Belfast, he was steeped in the work of English writers, and this left an obvious imprint on his literary output. However, as this chapter demonstrates, Lewis—who self-identified as Irish throughout his life—was significantly shaped by and/or shared particular preoccupations with the great Irish writers who came before him or emerged alongside him (including ones whose work he did not particularly appreciate).

Keywords

  • C.S. Lewis
  • Northern Irish Writers
  • The Chronicles of Narnia
  • Irish Identities
  • Ulster Protestants

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Notes

  1. 1.

    As quoted in Bresland, Backward Glance, 116. For several other instances of Lewis self-identifying as Irish, see Clare, “C.S. Lewis: An Irish Writer.”

  2. 2.

    Bresland, Backward Glance, 30–31, 42, 51, 58–64, 68, 76–77, 84, 88, 98–103; Bleakley, C.S. Lewis: At Home in Ireland, 77–81; Martin, ed., Reading the Classics with C.S. Lewis, 187–188, 191–192, 194–196, 199–200, 246–249; Jebb, Writing God and the Self; McGrath, C.S. Lewis, 12, 107, 134. Sandy Smith’s C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth is primarily concerned with the author’s biographical and familial links to Ireland; that said, he does briefly mention Lewis’s interest in the work of Jonathan Swift and Forrest Reid. (See Smith, C.S. Lewis and the Island of His Birth, 29; 149.) Swift and Reid are both discussed later in this chapter.

    For an overview of the “over three hundred books” written about Lewis, see Pavlac Glyer and Bratman, “C.S. Lewis Scholarship.”

  3. 3.

    See Lewis, “A Note on Jane Austen”; Lewis, “The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard.”

  4. 4.

    Ward, Planet Narnia.

  5. 5.

    Further to Lewis’s Britishness, it should be noted here that he also greatly admired the Scottish writers George MacDonald, Kenneth Grahame, R.L. Stevenson, James Boswell, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Henryson, and the Welsh metaphysical poets George Herbert and Henry Vaughan. Also, although both of his parents were born in Cork , Lewis was proud of his paternal Welsh forebears. His great-grandparents were Welsh farmers; their son emigrated to Cork , and he eventually worked his way up from “workman” to partner in a Belfast shipbuilding firm, Macilwaine and Lewis. (Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 3.)

  6. 6.

    Ibid., 24.

  7. 7.

    Wilson, C.S. Lewis, 22.

  8. 8.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 59.

  9. 9.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 174.

  10. 10.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 150.

  11. 11.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 645.

  12. 12.

    Lewis, Preface to Dymer, 147.

  13. 13.

    Brown, Ireland’s Literature, 160.

  14. 14.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 524; 531.

  15. 15.

    Ibid., 532; 530; 530; 530.

  16. 16.

    Ibid., 565.

  17. 17.

    Lewis, Perelandra, 10.

  18. 18.

    Hooper, Introduction to Poems, xii.

  19. 19.

    King , “Lost but Found.” These poems—and the ones that Heinemann dropped from Spirits in Bondage —were later reprinted in King’s 2015 critical edition of Lewis’s poetry (the source I will be citing in this chapter for quotes from Lewis’s verse).

  20. 20.

    Yeats, The Poems, 35; Lewis, Collected Poems, 92.

  21. 21.

    Yeats, The Poems, 35; Lewis, Collected Poems, 88.

  22. 22.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 93.

  23. 23.

    Yeats, The Poems, 16; Lewis, Collected Poems, 105–106.

  24. 24.

    Yeats, The Poems, 16; Lewis, Collected Poems, 91.

  25. 25.

    Yeats, The Poems, 17.

  26. 26.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 79; 80; 82; 116.

  27. 27.

    Ibid., 78; 91; 111; 59; 43; 56; 61.

  28. 28.

    Ibid., 76; 77; 99; 101; 102; 105; 105–106; 107; 108; 115; 45; 51–52; 66; 54; 55; 61.

  29. 29.

    Ibid., 83; 111; 43.

  30. 30.

    Ibid., 81; 102; 55.

  31. 31.

    Ibid., 78; 91; 43; 51; 54; 60.

  32. 32.

    Ibid., 84; 103.

  33. 33.

    Ibid., 90; 114; 115.

  34. 34.

    Ibid., 105; 109.

  35. 35.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 112; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 373.

  36. 36.

    For direct references to these legendary and mythological figures, see Lewis, Collected Poems, 54, 60, 77, 80, 95, 109. For an additional allusion to Manannán, see the reference to his kingdom, the “Country-under-wave.” (Ibid., 106.) For an additional allusion to Cuchulain, see “dare the glorious leap” (Ibid., 97)—presumably a reference to his Salmon Leap on the Isle of Skye. (That said, this could be an allusion to Fionn mac Cumhaill’s famous leap from the summit of the Hill of Allen.) For the Children of Lir, see the reference to the “three white swans” in Ibid., 114.

  37. 37.

    Ibid., 91; 83; 95; 95; 103; 109; 83; 109.

  38. 38.

    Ibid., 88; 87; 91.

  39. 39.

    Ibid., 115; 109; 90; 90; 103.

  40. 40.

    Ibid., 83; 115.

  41. 41.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 330. Patsy MacCann is a character in James Stephens’s The Demi-Gods (1919).

  42. 42.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 111; 82; 116; 59; 43; 56; 45.

  43. 43.

    Ibid., 45.

  44. 44.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 630. The early Yeats continued to be an influence on his post-Spirits in Bondage poetry. For example, in “an unfinished autobiographical poem … written shortly after his conversion to Christianity in 1931,” he alludes to Yeats’s “No Second Troy.” (Reyes, Introduction to C.S Lewis’s Lost Aeneid, 7. For the poem, see Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 77.)

  45. 45.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 302–303.

  46. 46.

    Lewis, Preface to Dymer, 147.

  47. 47.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 388. See also Bresland, Backward Glance, 96–97.

  48. 48.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 163.

  49. 49.

    Ibid., 164.

  50. 50.

    For evidence that Lewis read these two Joyce novels, see Green and Hooper, C.S. Lewis, 368; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 1440.

  51. 51.

    For more on this, see Carpenter, The Inklings, 21.

  52. 52.

    Lewis, Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’, 131–132.

  53. 53.

    Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 126. Lewis also once claimed that “most great English writers” were “member[s] of the middle class.” (Lewis, “Edmund Spenser, 1552–1599,” 121.)

  54. 54.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 937.

  55. 55.

    Stallworthy, Louis MacNeice, 160. See also Brown, “Louis MacNeice’s Ireland,” 81.

  56. 56.

    Lewis, Four Loves, 101.

  57. 57.

    For more on Lewis believing in such a God, see Hooper, Introduction to Poems, xii; Lewis, Grief Observed, 7–8.

  58. 58.

    Beckett, Endgame, 55. For more connections between the work of Lewis and Beckett, see Jebb, Writing God and the Self.

  59. 59.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 173; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 65.

  60. 60.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 190.

  61. 61.

    Lewis, Mere Christianity, 35; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 190; Lewis, All My Road Before Me, 62; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 286.

  62. 62.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 102.

  63. 63.

    Wilson, C.S. Lewis, 17.

  64. 64.

    Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 84.

  65. 65.

    Lewis, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 7.

  66. 66.

    Aquino, “Shaw and C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy.”

  67. 67.

    Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” Essay Collection, 13–14.

  68. 68.

    Ibid., 13.

  69. 69.

    Ibid.

  70. 70.

    Ibid.

  71. 71.

    Ibid., 13–14.

  72. 72.

    Ibid., 14.

  73. 73.

    Ibid.

  74. 74.

    Ibid.

  75. 75.

    Ibid.

  76. 76.

    Ibid.

  77. 77.

    Carpenter, The Inklings, 217–222.

  78. 78.

    Pearce, C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, 6–8.

  79. 79.

    Lewis, “Membership,” 334.

  80. 80.

    Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island, 30; 31.

  81. 81.

    Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 121.

  82. 82.

    Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island, 78. As the word “Ive” in this quotation demonstrates, Shaw always omitted apostrophes from contractions, except where it would cause confusion, e.g. “can’t” versus “cant.”

  83. 83.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 78.

  84. 84.

    Ibid.

  85. 85.

    Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island, 81.

  86. 86.

    Lewis, “Edmund Spenser,” 126.

  87. 87.

    Shaw, John Bull’s Other Island, 11.

  88. 88.

    Lewis, “Edmund Spenser,” 126. The actual quote from Dr. Johnson is “the Irish are a fair people” (emphasis mine). See Boswell, Life of Samuel Johnson, 199.

  89. 89.

    Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 356.

  90. 90.

    Shaw, Doctor’s Dilemma, 52. See also Lewis, “Vivisection,” 694.

  91. 91.

    Lewis, “Vivisection,” 696. See also Shaw, Doctor’s Dilemma, 53.

  92. 92.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 65.

  93. 93.

    Shaw, Getting Married / Press Cuttings, 65.

  94. 94.

    Lewis, “The Sermon and the Lunch”; Lewis, Four Loves, 42–45.

  95. 95.

    Lewis, Mere Christianity, 45.

  96. 96.

    Shaw, The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet / Fanny’s First Play, 145. An additional possible indication of Shaw’s influence on Lewis relates to the other play in this volume—The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet . Lewis uses Shaw’s unusual (archaic) spelling “shew” instead of “show” in Arms and the Exile, his unfinished translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid. (Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s Lost Aeneid: Arms and the Exile, 153.) The title of Lewis’s translation comes, like the title of Shaw’s Arms and the Man (1892), from the first line of The Aeneid—or, at least, from the first line that we know was by Virgil. (There are four introductory lines that did not appear in manuscripts until the ninth century.)

  97. 97.

    Lewis, “Membership,” 340.

  98. 98.

    Shaw, Man and Superman, 35.

  99. 99.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 1088.

  100. 100.

    See Bloom, Anxiety of Influence.

  101. 101.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 281, 293.

  102. 102.

    Other Lewis poems which arguably touch upon characters from Stephens’s The Crock of Gold include “The Philosopher,” “The Ass,” and “The Autumn Morning” (which, as noted above, mentions leprechauns).

  103. 103.

    Stephens, Crock of Gold, 11.

  104. 104.

    Stephens, Crock of Gold, 83.

  105. 105.

    For a summary of the commentators (including J.R.R. Tolkein) who view The Chronicles of Narnia as an unsatisfactory “hodge podge,” because they draw on an array of mythological and literary sources, see Ward, Planet Narnia, 8–9.

  106. 106.

    Stephens, Crock of Gold, 166; Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 41.

  107. 107.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 859; Lewis, “Period Criticism,” 488.

  108. 108.

    Lewis, “Period Criticism,” 490.

  109. 109.

    Ibid., 488.

  110. 110.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 1569.

  111. 111.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 14.

  112. 112.

    Lewis, “On Science Fiction,” 454, 457; Lewis, “On Juvenile Tastes,” 476; Lewis, “Hamlet,” 105; Lewis, “Addison,” 154, 158–159, 163; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 755; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 308; 405, 477; 689; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 294, 345, 519, 1569–1570.

  113. 113.

    Lewis, Collected Poems, 362.

  114. 114.

    Lewis, All My Road Before Me, 221.

  115. 115.

    Lewis, “Addison,” 154.

  116. 116.

    For more on their negative views of Swift, see Glendinning, Jonathan Swift, 258.

  117. 117.

    Lewis, “Edmund Spenser,” 123; Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 173.

  118. 118.

    Clare, Bernard Shaw’s Irish Outlook, 65. I am summarising arguments made in duPlessis, “ecoLewis.”

  119. 119.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 405.

  120. 120.

    Lewis, All My Road Before Me, 220.

  121. 121.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 207.

  122. 122.

    Lewis, “Is Theology Poetry?” Weight of Glory, 99; Lewis, Screwtape Letters, 99; Lewis, “The World’s Last Night,” 96; Lewis, “On the Reading of Old Books.”

  123. 123.

    Lewis, “Learning In War-Time,” 584.

  124. 124.

    Kiberd, Irish Classics, 107–123.

  125. 125.

    For Lewis quoting from “The Deserted Village,” see Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 658; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 352.

  126. 126.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 101; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 69, 70, 174.

  127. 127.

    Goldsmith, Goldsmith: Selected Works, 828.

  128. 128.

    For Lewis’s tributes to Burke and/or quotes from the chivalry-related Marie Antoinette apostrophe from Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, see Lewis, “Addison,” 161; Lewis, “William Morris,” 227; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 767; Lewis. “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” 288. See also Lewis, “The Necessity of Chivalry.”

  129. 129.

    Lewis, “The Necessity of Chivalry,” 717.

  130. 130.

    Lewis, “Delinquents in the Snow,” 745.

  131. 131.

    Lewis, “Reply to Professor Haldane,” 76–77.

  132. 132.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 3, 630.

  133. 133.

    Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 135.

  134. 134.

    As Conor Cruise O’Brien explains, “the great feminist Mary Wollstonecraft … took exception to his usurpation of the pronoun we to mean the English.” (O’Brien, “‘Setting People on Thinking’,” 99).

  135. 135.

    O’Brien, Great Melody. Michael Brown does an excellent job of exploring these tensions within Burke (and scrutinising O’Brien’s analysis) in Brown, “The English Identity of Edmund Burke.”

  136. 136.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 2, 34–35.

  137. 137.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 465.

  138. 138.

    Ibid., 439.

  139. 139.

    Clare, “C.S. Lewis: An Irish Writer,” 27, 29–30.

  140. 140.

    Ward, Planet Narnia, 45; Lewis, Allegory of Love, 197.

  141. 141.

    For the importance of Ireland to Sterne and Tristram Shandy, see Clare, “Under-regarded Roots.”

  142. 142.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 332.

  143. 143.

    Ibid., 241. For Lewis explaining that he loved dipping into Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, see Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 142.

  144. 144.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 953.

  145. 145.

    Lewis, Four Loves, 33; Lewis, All My Road Before Me, 369; Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 120; Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 953.

  146. 146.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 241.

  147. 147.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 223.

  148. 148.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 702–703.

  149. 149.

    Osborn, “Deeper Realms.” Lewis mentions O’Neill’s Land Under England in Lewis, Preface to Dymer, 147.

  150. 150.

    Nicholson, “Bram Stoker and C.S. Lewis.”

  151. 151.

    Power, “Lord Dunsany.”

  152. 152.

    Bresland , Backward Glance, 99–103; Corrigan, Helen Waddell, 168–169, 205, 287. Lewis knew MacNeice and Waddell from their time studying at Oxford University. And he spent quite a bit of time with the important—if somewhat neglected—gay novelist Reid during his return trips to Ireland, in the company of their mutual close friend, Arthur Greeves (who was also gay).

  153. 153.

    Of the writers previously discussed in this chapter, all were raised or primarily raised in the Church of Ireland, with the exceptions of Reid and Waddell (who were from thoroughly Presbyterian backgrounds) and Joyce and O’Neill (who were both raised Catholic ).

  154. 154.

    Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 342.

  155. 155.

    For Lewis’s engagement with Moore and Plunkett, see Lewis, Collected Letters, Vol. 1, 303, 545, 560; Lewis, All My Road Before Me, 307–308.

    I should explain my decision to label George Moore as “Catholic” here . Moore was raised in a Catholic Big House in Co. Mayo, and therefore his oeuvre has often been more of an inspiration to (and had more in common with) writers from Irish Catholic backgrounds, such as James Joyce and Frank O’Connor. It is true that Moore converted to Protestantism as an adult. However, given that he was a known atheist, most Irish people felt that Moore’s very public professions of conversion were simply the latest manifestation of his love of controversy and publicity, and that he had no intention of actually becoming an active, practicing member of the Church of Ireland. Indeed, as Adrian Frazier notes, the wider Irish public simply regarded the post-conversion Moore as a “bad” Catholic , not an actual Protestant . (Frazier , George Moore, 333.)

  156. 156.

    For more on Lewis’s “Ulster novel,” see Bresland, Backward Glance, 65–70.

  157. 157.

    Lewis, Surprised By Joy, 24.

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Clare, D. (2021). C.S. Lewis and the Irish Literary Canon. In: Irish Anglican Literature and Drama. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-68353-5_5

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