Yours, Jack… or C.S. Lewis… or Clive… or Brother Ass: The Many Signature of C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis signatureFor some time, my son has been carefully working on his signature, as I worked on mine growing up. Through sheer laziness, and lacking any artistry or loveliness, my signature is now a “B” with a line blurring to the right. It is nothing if not efficient, and my email signatures migrate from the formal “Sincerely, Brenton Dickieson,” to “Cheers, Brenton” when we know each other well. If we are friends, it will probably become, “Cheers, b.”

Because of the Signature Classic release of C.S. Lewis’ books, his signature has become relatively famous. Of his multiple thousands of letters, he mostly signed:

Yours sincerely,
C.S. Lewis

Letters_to_an_American_Lady cs lewisMy first introduction to Lewis’ letters was the little book edited by Clyde S. Kilby, Letters to An American Lady. The “American Lady” initially wrote to Lewis in 1950 for advice on her poetry. Their literary relationship grew, and he eventually found some way for his foundation to support her in difficult times—both in his Christian encouragement and financially.

Some think she was an irksome complainer who dominated Lewis’ time and tried his patience. It is true that she unloads a lot of her problems onto Lewis, and he had come to detest the burden of letter writing. I’m not so sure I agree, though, that there wasn’t genuine friendship there. Kilby edits the collection because of the solid spiritual direction in these letters. But there were also moments of tenderness and consideration on Lewis’ part. On Nov 16, 1956, he writes:

“You may as well know…that I may soon be, in rapid succession, a bridegroom and a widower. There may, in fact, be a deathbed marriage. I can hardly describe to you the state of mind I live in at present–except that all emotion, with me, is periodically drowned in sheer tiredness, deep lakes of stupor.”

As he moved towards his own death, he spoke of death and forgiveness with the American Lady. His last letter to her was light and self-deprecating, as was his style.

We see Lewis’ signature pattern throughout his letter collections. His first letters were “Yours sincerely, C.S. Lewis,” or even “most sincerely.” After a few letters, it became “Yours, C.S. Lewis,” intermittent at first, then most regularly. And when the American Lady shares her first name, Lewis does the same:

Dear Mary–

(I return the compliment by telling you that my friends [all] call me Jack) I am sorry the persecution still goes on. I had that sort of thing at school, and in the army, and here too when I was a junior fellow, and it does v. much darken life. I suppose (tho’ it seems a hard saying) we should mind humiliation less if [we] were humbler…

Yours
Jack

Yours Jack CS Lewis Paul FordAnd she is invited in to what is a pretty tight circle of people who called C.S. Lewis—then a famous children’s author and Christian essayist—his most intimate name, “Jack.” Paul F. Ford noticed that intimacy and titled his Lewis letter collection, Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis. It really is a collection worth reading.

While there were a few in the “Jack” circle, most of his letters were signed “C.S. Lewis,” or, occasionally, “C.S.L.”—especially on notes and postcards. Once, when the rush of business letters had overtaken Lewis, he signed a letter to his best friend Arthur Greeves like this:

Yours
C.S. Lew
(Nearly did it wrong!)
Jack

It seems he took the intimacy of his nickname seriously!

Letters of CS Lewis by Warren Lewis 1966Walter Hooper has pride of place for letter editor. C.S. Lewis’ brother Warren had collected excerpts from the correspondence files in his 1966 Letters of C.S. Lewis, which is especially important for his memoir in the introduction. While Warren Lewis, Clyde Kilby and Paul Ford only collected some of Lewis’ letters, Hooper has endeavoured to collect them all, and has added literary and historical annotations. At nearly 4000 pages, it is a tour de force.

As correspondence is a living history, not all letters are in Hooper’s three volumes. I have found five letters and a note not included, and I suspect over 20 or 30 years we might have reason for a supplemental volume. In reading one of these letter ruffled up from the past, I found a parallel with a letter to Sr. Penelope, Lewis’ literary friend and spiritual mentor. On Oct 9, 1941, he signed:

yours sincerely
Clive Lewis

This is odd. Lewis hated the name “Clive” and left it behind not long after he learned to walk, dubbing himself as “Jacksie” (no, we don’t know why). Moreover, Sr. Penelope is a good friend at this point. Why did he sign as “Clive Lewis?”

Number of Letters Lewis Wrote Per YearHe did use “Clive” for his signature a few times. He used it with a good college friend on Jan 12, 1920—again, an anomaly, perhaps an inside joke. And he used it with family, his “dear Aunt Lily” in 1926, and to “Cousin Coppack” on Aug 19, 1947.

The most frequent use of “Clive,” though, was for John H. McCallum, Lewis’ American editor from 1952 until his death. They wrote from time to time on business matters, but Lewis slowly went from “Dear Mr. McCallum” to “Dear McCallum” to “Dear Mac.” His signatures also moved, but stayed as “C.S. Lewis” for 8 years. Suddenly, he started signing “Clive.” I don’t know why. And on a day that “Clive” wrote to “Mac,” he also wrote to his old friend Mary van Deusen, signing “Clive.” Strange, but true.

collected-letters-c-s-lewis-box-set-c-s-paperback-cover-artSo we come back to Sr. Penelope. Only 15 times (in the letters we have) did Lewis sign as “Clive.” 8 of those are to “Mac,” and the rest single occurrences. Three more are in addressing Sr. Penelope. Besides the one noted above, another came a month later on Nov 9, 1941, and then ten days later on Nov 19. He wrote hundreds of letters to Sr. Penelope, so these three are a strange blip in his pattern.

Why did he do it? I don’t know. At this time he was going to confession for the first time, so he may have toyed with using his Christian name—the one he received at baptism—as his pen name, at least with Sr. Penelope who had inspired this movement in him.

Number of Letters Lewis Wrote Per 4-5 Year PeriodOr, perhaps he just did it for fun. His correspondence with Sr. Penelope is unique not only for its content, but because Lewis occasionally (in this period) signs his name as “Brother Ass.” A new nickname? Perhaps. It was most likely a private joke between Lewis and Sr. Penelope. “Brother Ass” was the term that St. Francis of Assisi used to refer to his own body. Lewis found the frustrations of “Brother Ass” more than inconvenient. Intriguingly, Lewis writes to Penelope of his inherent laziness. A bit hard to take from a guy who produced so much.

It could be that signatures become a thing of the past.  They are an odd thing, signatures. They are habit, the epitome of self-forgetfulness. But most of us can remember shaping them intentionally, knowing that a bit of our identity hides therein. It could be that signatures disappear as digital avatars replace literary ones. Until then, we still look for personality behind the quick slip of the pen.

Lewis Letter 1956

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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13 Responses to Yours, Jack… or C.S. Lewis… or Clive… or Brother Ass: The Many Signature of C.S. Lewis

  1. My two sons have alphabetically ordered names starting with A and B…so, obviously we considered C names (just in case) once and “Clive” made my list (in Lewis’ honor, of course), but I sure am glad I never had to be serious about it…I certainly can’t blame him for wanting to be referred to as C.S. or Jack! It’s certainly retro cool, though, (if anyone reading this has already named their progeny Clive.)

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  2. L. Palmer says:

    It’s really fascinating how many versions of names a person can have, and what it tells about the person and their friends. My sister, for example, goes by Katie and Katherine. Family and people who have known her a long time know her as Katherine, but the friends who know her more recently know her as Katie.

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    • I was thinking of this. Did Jane Austen see herself as “Jane” exactly? When I hear “Brenton” I think of me. Some folk around here call me “Brent,” but that is distant to me. “B” is a nickname that works.
      But Jane Austen has a character named “Jane” who is shockingly pretty–practically perfect in every way, except her shyness. I don’t know that I could could name a character “Brenton,” and certainly wouldn’t dare to make him the hero (as true as it may be of me!). I could name a character Brent without seeing him as me.

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  3. robstroud says:

    Thanks for the excellent and fascinating research!

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  4. Beth Campen says:

    I have so enjoyed your postings, especially the ones that remind me of the delightful times my husband and I, and later our children, enjoyed on Clyde and Martha Kilby’s front porch as he shared with us his joy as different ones of his books were published. In fact we got the first autographed copy of “C.S.Lewis and His World” because we were at Clyde and Martha’s house when the first copies of this book arrived. I also remember how incredibly sad I felt when one day when he noted how little he, Clyde Kilby, had done in life compared to men like Lewis and Tolkien. I found tears coming as I thought, even then in the late sixties, of all the students whose lives he had touched as one of the best teacher/professors Wheaton has ever had. If it were not for Clyde Kilby’s passion for Lewis and Clyde’s friendship with Marion E. Wade, a man who also loved Lewis and had asked Clyde (who had ten years of business experience before he went back to graduate school to earn his Phd in literature) to join him in the founding of ServiceMaster, there would be no Marion E. Wade collection today. You probably already know that Clyde spent his own money on the first items that began the collection. On the day that the collection was dedicated as The Marion E. Wade Collection and housed at the Buswell Library instead of Blanchard Hall, I used a personal leave day and brought several of my high school students to the dedication. How Dr. Kilby acted that day had a profound affect on one young woman, in particular, who was already moving from agnosticism to Christianity. Here we were in a new library on a hot day, and the air conditioning did not work. Lots of dignitaries were there. What made a deep impression on her that day, and in fact on all the young people there that day, was Dr. Kilby’s grace. It was a topic of conversation on the way home. And several times before she graduated, this young woman told me that she could not get over his grace. She could not compute that in addressing the problems that day, Dr. KIlby who had an international reputation as a C.S. Lewis and Tolkien Scholar, did not yell, did not blame or accuse, but instead treated everyone one with respect and grace. Ultimately her experience that day had was one of the events that God used to bring her to Him. Beth Campen

    On Thu, Mar 13, 2014 at 11:47 AM, A Pilgrim in Narnia wrote:

    > Brenton Dickieson posted: “For some time, my son has been carefully > working on his signature, as I worked on mine growing up. Through sheer > laziness, and lacking any artistry or loveliness, my signature is now a “B” > with a line blurring to the right. It is nothing if not efficient,” Respond > to this post by replying above this line > New post on *A Pilgrim in Narnia* > Yours, Jack… or > C.S. Lewis… or Clive… or Brother Ass: The Many Signature of C.S. Lewis by > Brenton Dickieson > > [image: C.S. Lewis signature]For > some time, my son has been carefully working on his signature, as I worked > on mine growing up. Through sheer laziness, and lacking any artistry or > loveliness, my signature is now a “B” with a line blurring to the right. It > is nothing if not efficient, and my email signatures migrate from the > formal “Sincerely, Brenton Dickieson,” to “Cheers, Brenton” when we know > each other well. If we are friends, it will probably become, “Cheers, b.” > > Because of the Signature Classic release of C.S. Lewis’ books, his > signature has become relatively famous. Of his multiple thousands of > letters, he mostly signed: > > Yours sincerely, > C.S. Lewis > > [image: Letters_to_an_American_Lady cs lewis]My > first introduction to Lewis’ letters > was the little book edited by Clyde S. Kilby, *Letters to An American > Lady* . > The “American Lady” initially wrote to Lewis in 1950 for advice on her > poetry. Their literary relationship grew, and he eventually found some way > for his foundation to support her in difficult times–both in his Christian > encouragement and financially. > > Some think she was an irksome complainer who dominated Lewis’ time and > tried his patience. It is true that she unloads a lot of her problems onto > Lewis, and he had come to detest the burden of letter writing. > I’m not so sure I agree, though, that there wasn’t genuine friendship > there. Kilby edits the collection because of the solid spiritual direction > in these letters. But there were also moments of tenderness and > considerati

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    • Oh, what a great response Beth! I’m so pleased you read this blog and took the time to respond. I would love to take this response–expand it if you wish–and create a blog around it. My career was begun at the Marion Wade Centre, and I began with the Letters to An American Lady. My email is junkola [at] gmail [dot] com if you are interested.

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  5. Pingback: Two Letters, Two Brothers, Ten Years Apart | The Dad Poet

  6. Pingback: The Charm of Mystery: An Encouragement to Christian Teachers in Secular Schools | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  7. Christina Rosen says:

    I hace a print marked c.carroll on bottom. Every time I look online all that comes is lewis carroll is this one of his signatures?

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  8. Pingback: “I’m a Sad Ass at the Moment” C.S. Lewis’ Words with Sr. Penelope (From the Vault) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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