A woman’s quest for faith and love.
In this impressive debut biography, Santamaria traces the life of Helen Joy Davidman (1915-1960), a woman who likely would be a historical footnote if not for her marriage to the noted writer C.S. Lewis. In the 1993 film Shadowlands, director Richard Attenborough portrayed their love affair. Poet, essayist, critic, and novelist, Davidman was a rebellious, abrasive, precociously intelligent woman with no social skills: “She’d look at you intensely and ask inappropriately intimate questions out of the blue,” one acquaintance recalled. It’s no wonder that she felt herself an outsider, even as a child. Her parents, secular Jewish immigrants, prized education and pushed her to excel. She became a teacher but hated it. In 1938, searching for a community with like-minded political views—and also hoping to meet men—Davidman joined the Communist Party. While she participated in meetings and social events, she devoted herself to her true vocation: writing. She won a Yale Younger Poets Award, contributed to the Marxist journal New Masses as well as other venues, and even went to Hollywood to write screenplays. By 1946, she and her husband, William Gresham, became deeply disillusioned with Marxism and gave up their Communist Party membership. Joy shifted her focus to religion, first thinking she would “become a good Jew,” then enthusiastically embracing L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. But suddenly she discovered C.S. Lewis, whose writings on Christianity she found compelling. She wrote to him and soon fell obsessively in love, traveling to England with the aim of marrying him. Her marriage to Gresham, roiled by his alcoholism and infidelities, ended in divorce. Although Lewis first bristled, he warmed to her attentions and was devastated when, months after their marriage, Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer.
With access to unpublished documents and family papers, Santamaria has fashioned a compelling narrative, remaining cleareyed about her subject’s many personal failings.