A SEVERE MERCY: C. S. Lewis and a pagan love invaded by Christ. . . by Sheldon Vanauken

A SEVERE MERCY: C. S. Lewis and a pagan love invaded by Christ. . .

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An opening flashback has the author returning to his childhood home, since sold. Walking up the very long driveway a ""tiny breeze touched his face like a brief caress"" and he visualizes his mother in the drawing room ""half-reclining on the graceful old Duncan Phyfe sofa."" The family ambience established, the story begins. Boy meets girl; their great love is governed by a pact ""The Shining Barrier,"" ""raised. . . against a world of indecencies, of decaying standards."" They would share every interest in life, and decisions would be made on the basis, ""Does this enhance our love?"" Hence, in their opinion, no children. Égoisme à deux with a vengeance! Sailing, music, and intellectual development would be joint pleasures. And so to Oxford for a year's graduate work. Christianity had been a superstition to politely avoid, but some of their Oxford circle were committed Anglicans of the Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis-reading type and they had to come to terms with the question. The couple felt themselves drawn in, crossed the line, and pursued their new vocation with a typical admixture of self-regarding chic. On return to the US and the college town where he was to teach, culture shock set in. The Anglican tradition as represented by the local Episcopal church had little of the exotic appeal it had had at Oxford. He began to leave it in the realm of agreeable memories. She made the transition and talked, read, and worshiped with the natives of Lynchburg as she had with those of Oxford. Thus the ""Shining Barrier"" was breached. C. S. Lewis had entered the picture as the couple began to look seriously at Christianity and the man wrote to him for advice. As a counselor he was unpretentious, realistic, and patient. But the crucial question of hubris was never tackled until the woman's death two years after conversion. Lewis wrote acknowledging a letter-history of the Sacred Barrier: ""Your letter is a clear and beautiful expression of an experience often desired but not often achieved. . . . What would the grosser Pagans think? They would say there was excess in it. . . they would see the red light. Go up one; the finer Pagans would see each withdrawal from the claims of common life as unmanly, uncitizenly, uxorious. . ."" and so on. The book is unlikely to have been published but for the 17 letters from C. S. Lewis for which it is the setting.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Harper & Row