Finding that Elusive Title: The Many Names of The Great Divorce

your title hereI am about 50/50 when it comes to titling my own work. Sometimes the title is patently obvious; other times it is a struggle to come up with a pithy phrase that captures what I’ve just written. I have one novel that I haven’t been able to title for three years now.

Occasionally C.S. Lewis struggled with his titles. We know his very first book as Spirits in Bondage—now available free in the public domain. The original title, however, was Spirits in Prison, referencing 1 Peter 3:19. Lewis was disappointed when he realized that another author, Robert Hitchens, had written A Spirit in Prison a decade earlier. Lewis fussed over the problem:

“I don’t know whether I shall be able to find another that expresses so aptly to the general scheme of the book….” (Sep 18, 1918 letter to his father).

He struggled with the title and it was his father that finally suggested “Spirits in Bondage,” a phrase from Milton’s Paradise Lost. He rejected it at first as straying too far from the 1 Peter reference, but eventually used it. Personally, I think Spirits in Bondage is a more precise title—evocative of different kinds of restrictions than “prison” draws to my mind, specifically the kind addressed into the materialistic and spiritual struggles of the poetry—but I’m not sure that he was ever satisfied.

The title of C.S. Lewis’ first Christian book, The Pilgrim’s Regress, was completely evident to him. It was an allegory patterned after Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in which Lewis’ return—or regress—is essential to the story. His title of his first academic book, the one that established his career as a careful scholar, was not as easily settled. He wanted to name it The Allegorical Love Poem, and referenced it as such in his correspondence. The publisher decided to change it to The Allegory of Love—a more poetic title, perhaps, but one that does not represent the book as well. I have the feeling that it was a point of contention, and the editor of Lewis’ letters, Walter Hooper, notes that he was “eventually convinced” to make the change. I’m uncertain, again, if Lewis was fully content with the change, and he even signed a letter to Owen Barfield—to whom the book was dedicated—“Yours, The Alligator of Love,” a parody of the title.

Perhaps the most fortuitous struggle for a title is the one that would become The Great Divorce. This long novella appeared originally as a serial in an Anglican newspaper, The Guardian. The editors at The Guardian had printed some of Lewis’ essays, and so agreed to print The Screwtape Letters in 1941. The Letters were hugely popular, so when he had an idea for a weekly dream sequence about the choice between heaven and hell, they were pleased to publish it. Each week from November 10, 1944 to April 13, 1945, they printed a part of the story. We have been echoing some of that work since Fall 2014.

It must have been agonizing for the reader, as the chapters often remained unfinished for two or even three weeks, and the story hung in the imaginative air that entire time. The response, however, seemed good, and turned into what I think is one of Lewis’ best books, and certainly the best of his theological fiction.

When I went through the original publication of The Great Divorce at the library of General Theological Seminary in New York, however, I was surprised to see that The Great Divorce once bore a different title—two, actually, with a subtitle. Here is an ad I photographed which appeared a week before the first insertion of the story began. Note that it is named both Who Goes Home? and The Grand Divorce. Throughout the entire run these two titles are left in the byline and the contents listing on the first page, each time with the subtitle, A New Fantasy by C.S. Lewis.

Certainly the title Who Goes Home? reorients our understanding of the entire story. As a title, it affects me in an entirely different way than The Great Divorce. Who Goes Home? strikes me as the title of a short story printed on the program at a Senior Citizen’s Home chapel, or an American evangelical film from the 1980s with superbly bad special effects. It falls flat for me, an empty title for a full story.

Still, I wonder if the image of “home” could be an important idea in The Great Divorce. We see the theme of “home” pop up here and there throughout, though almost always with the same reference.

The “home” I imagined when I saw the original title was heaven—the great mountainous region far in the distance of the bright, real world in the novel. But that isn’t the reference to home typical in the book. We hear the phrase, “they’d be far happier at home” echoed, as well as the threat “I’ll go home.” In both of these cases, the reference to “home” is the Grey Town, the misty, sallow, threadbare ghostly town where the story begins. “Home” for these people is ethereal and permeable, and yet so real in that it is the voluntary prison in which the spirits live (or, perhaps, where the spirits are in bondage). Most of the ghosts who take a vacation from the dreary, misty Grey Town to the expansive Bright Country simply want to leave, to go home to their hell. Many don’t get off the bus. Heaven is far too real, so Hell has all the comforts of home.

There is one exception to the “home” image in The Great Divorce. It is the great goddess Sarah Smith, who tries to welcome the most narcissistic and manipulative of vacationers—this divided soul who demands of the great woman in the same abusive quality that was his standard on earth when she was his subjugated wife. Her response to her abuser is not to tower over him in her inherited greatness. Instead, she condescends to his ghostly substance and reduces herself to his level, bidding him to leave his mental games and follow her. He cannot, and as she rides away a cosmic entourage sings a hymn to the great, humble Lady:

The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy….
He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road where she must travel.
They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her toes in the dark.
She may walk among Lions and rattlesnakes: among dinosaurs and nurseries of lionets.
He fills her brim full with immensity of life: he leads her to see the world’s desire.

God is her home. It is neither the Grey Town of self-afflicted misery, nor the house on Earth where her husband held her in terror, nor the Bright Country where she calls the narcissist to follow—what we might call “The Sweet By and By.” God, in God’s fullest relational depth of the Trinity, is her home.

Clearly, the theme of “home” is not missing from the book. But neither is it central to the story. Perhaps “home” is a theme Lewis envisioned when he began the story, but it is not a fully developed idea. Quite apart from the flat or even saccharine quality of the title Who Goes Home?, it does not capture fully the central theme of the book.

The Grand Divorce as an alternate title comes as a response to William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. While Blake tries to bring together the either-or of the universe, Lewis thinks this to be a “disastrous error.” In the preface to The Great Divorce he references Blake, arguing that:

“You cannot take all luggage with you on all journeys; on one journey even your right hand and your right eye may be among the things you have to leave behind. We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree.”

The “divorce” is the central theme of the book. And although it is not mentioned in the story—the metaphors of a fork in the road or an evolutionary tree are also absent—the idea of choice is everywhere. The divorce between heaven and hell is made of the simple choices of everyday life: a choice to build into self, or a choice to die to self. These choices set one on a path that moves ultimately to the Bright Country or disappears eventually into the Grey Town.

Why did Lewis change the title from The Grand Divorce to The Great Divorce? We don’t have that conversation still extent in history—or at least I haven’t found it, and the publisher destroyed all of his correspondence with Lewis before 1954, so we are unlikely to discover more. In a letter to Sr. Penelope, one of his literary companions and spiritual letter-mentors, Lewis says that Who Goes Home? was already taken, so the name had to change (May 28, 1945). The stolen title was, I believe, fortuitous. The result is The Great Divorce.

One suggestion, made by Inklings scholar Sørina Higgins, is that Lewis borrowed the phrase, perhaps unconsciously, from a poem by Charles Williams. By this point, Williams was a close personal friend of Lewis and one of his favourite poets. Williams used the phrase “the great divorce” to refer to death in a collection of poems entitled Divorce.

Even though the context of “divorce” in Charles Williams is different than in C.S. Lewis, I suspect an influence—whether conscious or not. There were other uses of the title “The Great Divorce.” This was a media buzz phrase in the 1800s. In 1839, a Mrs. Sarah Jarvis petitioned the court for a divorce from her husband, a church minister, causing great controversy and public debate.

Perhaps the most infamous literal divorce in England was the case of Henry VIII, considered by Archbishop Wolsey. One of Lewis’ favourite authors, G.K. Chesterton, actually uses the phrase “The Great Divorce” in his 1917 book, A Short History of England. By the early 20th century, the phrase “great divorce” was being used as a superlative metaphor, like “the great divorce between life and practice” or “the great divorce between public and private religion.”

Whatever the influence, the book appears not as The Grand Divorce: A New Fantasy but as The Great Divorce: A Dream. Both “great” and “grand” have ironic meanings, but I think “great” captures better the cosmic choice offered in The Great Divorce. In the end, I think Lewis makes the best choice of title. I, however, have not even found the right title for this blog! Sometimes titles are elusive.

This post is part of a loose series on The Great Divorce, published in The Guardian in 1944-45. 70 years later we are echoing the publishing dates. The story of Sarah Smith occupies much of the last month of the series in March-April 1945. Other posts on the Great Divorce include:

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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47 Responses to Finding that Elusive Title: The Many Names of The Great Divorce

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thanks for such a rich and thought-provoking post!

    Interesting thought of Sørina Higgins’s! Lewis seems not to have thought much of Williams’s earliest poetry (if we may rely on his “Preface” in Essays Presented to Charles Williams), but I can imagine him liking the unusual, positive, if misunderstandable-on-first-meeting, use of ‘Divorce’. (The known aiding back and forth of Lewis and Williams with titles is interesting: Lewis though of The Region of the Summer Stars for Williams’s second Arthurian volume. And your quotation of “The Happy Trinity is her home” makes me wonder if Williams’s play in that, and earlier, poetry with the “land of the Trinity” and “my true region” from the old Welsh Taliesinic poetry may have had its own contribution to this novel. By the way, what fun that hymn is! – do you know if it’s much commented on? A lot of what you quote seems like a free paraphrase of Psalm 91.)

    I wonder whether thoughts of a (general) MacDonaldian flavour went into ‘Who Goes Home?’ as title (though I have not yet read MacDonald’s Home Again: A Tale (1887; republished as The Poet’s Homecoming) myself, yet).

    It makes me think of something a conductor might call out, but I don’t know if that is relevant or irrelevant!

    The ambiguities of what/Who ‘Home’ refers to make me think of the renegade dwarfs (and others) in The Last Battle and their experience of the “Stable” – another exploration of some of the same matter, seven or eight years later? (‘Home is where the heart is’ in a most earnest sense?)

    I hope you will indulge my recalling Tolkien’s references in his letters to Christopher to seeing Lewis and hearing “2 chapters of his ‘Who Goes Home?’ – a new allegory on Heaven and Hell” on 15 May 1944 (Letter 69) and among the “chief entertainment” at the “Inklings meeting” on 25 May hearing “some excerpts from C.S.L.’s ‘Who Goes Home?’ – a book about Hell which I suggested should have been called rather ‘Hugo’s Home’ ” (Letter 72), a playful barb at their friend Dyson’s expense. Interesting here is the apparent bringing of the reference to Hell in particular, at least in the first instance.

    Do we know enough about when Lewis first drafted it to make any reasonable conjecture as to which chapters and excerpts these might have been. It is interesting, in any case, to read the beginning and end of Letter 69 as published with the thought in mind that Tolkien may have already been hearing some of it before this reference. Is this a ‘Who Goes Home?’-influenced letter?

    Finally, allow me to affirm the perception of Henry VIII’s doings while quibbling with its accuracy. To quote Stephen Neill in Anglicanism (Penguin, 1958), “What Henry wanted was not a divorce – that is a declaration that a marriage once made had now been broken – but a nullity, a declaration that, owing to a canonical impediment to marriage, no real marriage had ever taken place at all. Henry had a much better case than has often been admitted in modern times. This was, apparently, the first occasion in history on which a dispensation had been given by the Pope for the marriage of a man with his deceased brother’s widow. Many eminent scholars sincerely doubted whether even the Pope could give such a dispensation” (p. 37). Neill goes on to suggest that “If the Pope had from the first moment told Henry plainly that the dissolution of his marriage could in no circumstances be considered, he might have restrained Henry from the step he was bent on taking”. I don’t have a sense of how Lewis himself tended to refer to Henry’s ultimately getting a declaration of nullity in England with the exclusion of the Pope from any say in the matter.


    • On Williams: I don’t know any greater influence for Lewis in this WWII era work. The Land of the Trinity is I’m sure evocative for Lewis. That little poem has that brilliant line of the Trinity being her home. And Psalm 91 could haunt in the background. But is it a very good poem? I’m not sure. It seems too colloquial (for me) for the kind of praise that it is.
      I think David Clark’s little book is the only one on Great Divorce. It is an ignored book in the scholarly world.
      I haven’t read the MacDonald Home book. Well spotted. It goes on the endless list!
      We don’t have conductors! We have no trains, not since my childhood, and no passenger trains since the 50s. We have a recorded voice in French and English telling us the ferry is about to disembark–as if that was a word!
      I had thought of blogging on the funny exchange, but had not thought of connecting it to the source of the title (hell v. heaven). Well done. I may be unusual in even counting the home references, but few have seen the picture I took of the title. Most think of it (naturally) as The Great Divorce.
      On JRRT’s letters, with Carpenter as our chief light, we would say that Tolkien was not influenced by the conversation. With Diana Glyer lighting a different part of the same sky, the question you ask has some intrigue. I just don’t know Tolkien enough to answer.
      And when do we get the Collected Letters of Tolkien? An invaluable service to have what we have, but he is dead a generation ago.
      As to Lewis’ drafting, we have nothing. In fact, the book is a surprise. He wrote it quickly in early 1944 and immediately set it aside with almost no thought. He had ch. 9 done by 05/25/44 and the whole thing typed and to the publisher by 07/31/44. I don’t think he cared for it much, but I think it is one of his best.
      I don’t know if Lewis talked about the Church of England break, Henry VIII and all the rest. Je ne sais pas. Chesterton does give the detail that it is an annulment. The way Chesterton writes, this is a knife’s edge moment in history; it could have gone either way.


      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        “But is it a very good poem? I’m not sure. It seems too colloquial (for me) for the kind of praise that it is.” Good question and observations! I need to brood over it in context.

        “We don’t have conductors!” And I don’t have a real sense of what various English buses had, in the 1940s: I wonder if old movies might help (but which – a tempting byway…)?

        I’d certainly never properly attended to the ‘home’ references: thanks! (They still work without the title, but it would have helped the original readers – though others might, like I, not have twigged, even then!)

        Very good question about Tolkien’s letters, which I had only too vaguely asked myself! So many are excerpts, and what others are there, perhaps? (Compare, perhaps, the first and most recent editions of The Father Christmas Letters – what riches and delights yet await us?)

        “He had ch. 9 done by 05/25/44”, which was a bit more than half-way, then, when the Inklings were hearing “excerpts” on that date.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom Campbell says:

          I grew up in Belfast in the fifties and all the buses had conductors. The conductor would go up and down the aisle collecting the money and dispensing tickets. Originally they had a square dispenser that would dispense various ticket denominations. Then they went to a gadget that had a dial in it like an old rotary phone. They were also the bus disciplinarians to keep us unruly schoolboys and later in the evening drunks in line. The entrance to the bus was in often the back and had no door, just a platform for the conductor to stand in. We would risk life and limb by hopping on and off as long as it wasn’t going too fast. There were both single and double deckers. But I always surmised that Lewis had a single decker in mind. We also called some buses like that “charabancs”, especially if they weren’t city corporation buses, but were privately owned for use in bus tours. They could also be “heraldic” looking as Lewis mentions.


        • Tom Campbell says:

          This link will take you to a page that has more information than you will need about Northern Ireland buses. But it does have some good photos of the conductors.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          The hymn really does seem largely a ‘version’ of Psalm 91: comparing the Book of Common Prayer Psalter, lines 2-4 correspond to verses 3-5, lines 6-7 to verses 6-7, lines 8-10 to verses 11-13, and line 11 to verse 16. (Is its colloquialism explained by its being modernly to a BCP or KJV Psalm as That Hideous Strength is to a Grimm’s FairyTale?) Striking in the context of your discussion of ‘home’ and the ‘roads’ imagery of the preface is line 7: “ten thousand choose the wrong turning: but she passes safely through” (which condition – though not exclusively – its first clause “A thousand fail to solve the problem” with an implicit ‘of which fork to decide for’). Fascinating (in both the general and immediate contexts) are its present and future tenses, as if she still is and can look to be confronted with dangers and threats. How good a poem is it, and how apt, here?


          • Tom Campbell says:

            Thanks for the link. Great pictures. I know Lewis travelled in Ulster even as an adult. If his family was anything like ours, he may have visited a lot of those places. Though I confess to not having seen some of them, and that is a loss. Royal Avenue looks the same except there are no horses. In my youth the horse drawn trolleys had been replaced with electric trolley buses. These are gone now too. But I do remember horse drawn carts still going in the early fifties. Our coal was delivered on one. I also saw the last of the cobblestone streets being dug up and the gas lamps (as in the Magician’s Nephew) being replaced by electric ones. We would swing from the bars of the gas lamp like the one that Jadis broke off and planted in Narnia. I was fortunate enough to catch the last wisps of the Victorian era as I think Ireland was the place of its dénouement. Only the grand Victorian buildings are left. But nothing says Victorian like a true, cast iron gas lamp.

            Liked by 1 person

        • “What riches await us?” That’s the cleverest part of the Tolkien estate. They time this slow roll out of Tolkien things. I do think the letters are clearly overdue. We won’t get a new generation of scholars (as Glyer, Jacobs, and McGrath for Lewis) until there are letters.
          Yes, the Inklings heard GD very quickly over that spring. Sometimes that mood struck Lewis and he was off.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I have no considered picture of Tolkien publication planning: I see the sense of giving priority to having sorted out the History of Middle-earth series before the latest three books published (with Christopher always making good use of the published letters), and I can imagine various approaches to more letters – by way of comparison with the publication of Lewis’s letters, for example (separate correspondences, revised selection, etc., while working toward comprehensiveness) – I have no idea what is where of Tolkien letters, in libraries, in private hands, or what might be involved in gathering them with an eye to being as complete as possible (or, again, what privacy aspects there may be). But he obviously put a lot of thought and energy into many of them, perhaps to the advantage of his pondering if to the disadvantage of actual rewriting, so there is likely to be inherent worth awaiting unveiling – which, as you say, can make an enormous difference to further scholarship.


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          Uh-oh, I’ve got the bit between my teeth on this hymn-pondering! I don’t have access to Moffatt to see what he did, or to the subsequently Lewis-aided Revised Psalter, but think the comparisons would be interesting while not expecting any of the amazing freedom seen here. (I ought to look up and compare the Perelandra ‘Magnificat’-analogue, too.) Even the form is like that of a Psalm for liturgical use, with the colons inserted: I’ve had a certain amount of practice with Anglican and Gregorian Psalm/Canticle-chant (though not as any kind of initiator) – I wonder if anyone has tried chanting it (and if so, to what: would it need its own setting? – nothing of the sort on YouTube, that I can find…).

          The only reference to Psalm 91 in Reflections on the Psalms is to verses 11-12 being applied to Christ in Matthew 4:6, with the observation “we may be sure the application was His own since only He could be the source of the temptation-story.” Here, this hymn is clearly not directly Christological. One thing it reminds me of is the resonance of Psalm 91 in Williams’s The Place of the Lion, when Anthony is unsuccessfully attacked by Foster and Wilmot. (Come to that, the Lizard and Horse of the preceding chapter remind me of the horse in The Place of the Lion, despite all their specific differences.) Perhaps we ought to call this something like ‘theotic’ or ‘Christiculogical’ with reference to the proper ‘divinization’ of Christians into “little Christs” (to quote Mere Christianity).

          Liked by 1 person

          • Now there’s a $5 word!
            I think you have a guest blog on the way here David–a look at Psalm 91 and the Sarah Smith anthem.
            I argued somewhere that “The Place of the Lion” was the final energy/model CSL needed to turn to fiction, so a connection is not unexpected. We might also note that Sarah Smith is “christological” for the animals–in the sense that humans are saved in Christ, animals are saved in humans.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Thanks! A guest blog is a tempting suggestion. Your having said, “It seems too colloquial (for me) for the kind of praise that it is” has gotten me started to try to think about its diction and imagery and specific characteristics in relation to the novel as a whole, about ‘Buses and Horses’ (with at least two Narnia horses galloping into mind, as well), ‘town’ and ‘country’, Dante’s Comedy and MacDonald’s (children’s) fiction (but how fuzzy I’ve gotten on MacDonald story details!). Whoa, boy! whoa! – this need reining in, or indeed dressage. But I’ll keep brooding and see what emerges, or can be licked into shape.

            Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Taking your note that “He wrote it quickly in early 1944 and immediately set it aside with almost no thought. He had ch. 9 done by 05/25/44 and the whole thing typed and to the publisher by 07/31/44”, some rereading lets me juxtapose the possibly interesting facts that Williams had sent The Figure of Beatrice to Eliot at Faber on 28 July 1942, it was published late in June 1943, and reprinted sometime in 1944: I don’t know (by heart) what was or might have been read to the Inklings from it,when, but there might have been a heightened attention to Dante in the background which made its contribution to Who Goes Home?

            Another possible contribution could have come from Williams switching from the “Noises That Weren’t There” version of his current novel, apparently abandoned in that form in September 1943 to the All Hallows’ Eve version eventually published. On 28 ctober 1943, Williams reported to a friend that Lewis “says of the opening of the new novel now that I have more in my little finger than all of them in their whole bodies”. One can entertain the beginning of Lewis’s novel as possibly partly response to the strange modern urban landscape and main characters who are both dead and capable of change in Williams’s novel. (Might there even be elements of hommage?) Williams’s novel appeared in January 1945.

            (I might add that Dorothy Sayers could not, I think, have come immediately into the conversation before Who Goes Home? was finished – at least, not as Dantean – as she only wrote Williams about how The Figure of Beatrice had impressed her and gotten her reading Dante on 16 August 1944.)


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Here I go again! The song of the “Nature or Arch-nature of that land” looks clearly a free version of or variation on Psalm 110:1-4 (taking the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer as my starting point again): compare verse one with sentences one and two, verse 2 with sentence 3 (here come those colons, too), verse 3 with sentence 4, and verse 4 with sentence 5. It seems prosier to me (as pre-brooding-over impression) than the Sarah Smith hymn, but similar – if also going further – in its exuberance and luxuriance of imagery, rhetoric, rhythm. (How might that be functional rather than incidental? Partly “Nature or Arch-nature” (compare, too, the earlier waterfall) contrasted with “Bright Spirits”, I suspect.)

            And I think in some way this prepares for the other – which may be implicitly pointed by MacDonald’s last words in the chapter: “if the risen body even of appetite is as grand a horse as ye saw, what would the risen body of maternal love or friendship be?”

            (MacDonald’s talking of lust “compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed” also makes me think generally of Williams’s treatment of Lancelot and Galahad in the late poetry and his anatomical geography and zodiac, and particularly his note to Lewis about the poem “The Last Voyage” and the line “the hollow of Jerusalem was within the hollow of his shoulders”.)


            • You Have to write this up David! Charts or graphs and everything! If you have nowhere else to put it…. here is great!
              Was the lust the issue for Lancelot or Arthur in Williams? I thought it was using people/holy things in unpeople/unholy ways.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Thanks again! It’s exciting to have something you thought you had a sense of, and suddenly start seeing more and more possible aspects that don’t seem merely fanciful! I’d like to try writing something, though I’ll have to see how I can resist my savoring sprawliness, and cast it in some focused form.

            I think they way Williams works it out, clearly in the late poetry, is with Arthur succumbing to temptations (however partly hidden from himself) to “use” both Guinevere and the Grail in “unpeople/unholy ways” which somehow contributes to Guinevere and Lancelot doing the same with respect to each other. I think there is an implication that otherwise, something like what MacDonald says of Sarah Smith in chapter 12 might have been true of Guinevere : “Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was a kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives” – and, analogously, of Lancelot and women. And I suspect that Helayne would have been treated not only as the destined mother of Galahad, but the destined bride of Lancelot (had Arthur not ‘fallen’). In his commentary, Lewis makes a point of noting Lancelot’s concupiscence, as things actually work out. It is not only love of, but lust for, Guinevere, and a mad, murderous hate for Galahad, which I suspect may have its share of injured pride that the exclusivity of Lancelot’s (adulterous) coupling has been subverted. (And Arthur’s concupiscence takes, I think unconsciously, the form of incest because of Morgause’s undefined resemblance to himself, begetting Mordred who grows up to open ambitions which may include cuckolding his father.)

            Another possible bit of context struck me in pondering MacDonald’s discourse on “Pity” in chapter 13. You noted above that Lewis “had ch. 9 done by 05/25/44 and the whole thing typed and to the publisher by 07/31/44.” Rereading in Tolkien’s letters, I see in Letter 57 of Thursday 30 March 1944 he says to Christopher of Lewis, the day before, “The indefatigable man read me part of a new story! But he is putting the screw on me to finish mine.” Tolkien’s story is The Lord of the Rings, about which, on Christmas Eve of the same year, he could observe (Letter 93), “Williams […] is reading it all”. I take it Lewis’s “new story” is Who Goes Home, to which Tolkien clearly refers on Saturday 15 April (Letter 60), writing of having on Thursday heard “the concluding chapter of C.S.L.’s new moral allegory or ‘vision’, based on the mediaeval fancy of the Refrigerium”. Now, what struck me is, that the “Pity” theme of The Lord of the Rings might well have been in Lewis’s mind, and indeed in his and Tolkien’s or general Inklings’s conversation, when he came to write chapter 13.


            • “savoring sprawliness” would be okay, if you do it well, so that the reader can peak over your shoulder in the research process. I’ve done that.
              “Pity” is one of the themes highlighted in the films of LOTR, so I can no longer remember what balance or energy of “pity” there was in the books. I am rereading them now, so I can think about that. Lewis would have liked the wordplay of pity + piety, still linked in the medieval world but now separate. As you write, it seems to me the Williams Arthur is like Milton’s Adam, a Lord whose moral centre determines all. If Arthur hadn’t have fallen, none of the other sins would have had much consequence.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            The “Pity” theme was introduced fairly early in drafting the first part of the story – see History of Middle-earth, volume 6, chapters 3, 15, 19, and 22 – unfortunately I don’t have access to the later volumes to see how it was carried through in draft.

            Having finally finished rereading The Great Divorce, it almost seems like a compendium of interaction with Williams novels: the chessmen and table with The Greater Trumps, the dawn imagery with Williams’s use of it in Descent into Hell (among various elements in that novel, indeed), maybe even the Lady Julian and Archdeacon Julian Davenant’s reading of her in War in Heaven – though I wonder if there is an interaction with Eliot’s Little Gidding, here, as well (and in the siren which ends the book – and the encounter with MacDonald compared not only to Virgil and Beatrice but Eliot’s “familiar compound ghost”, for that matter) – assuming that by the time Lewis was writing Eliot’s use had already given a new impulse and broadening to the interest in her work throughout the first third and more of the century.


          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Reading on through the 1964 edition of the Poems, I note the undated “The Saboteuse” about “Pity” which contrasts “Pity” and the misuse of “her own” name in waking “destruction / Against her”.

            And, somewhat analogously with the Psalm variants, I realized that the “Evolutionary Hymn” (first published on 230 November 1957) is an ironic parody of James Edmeston’s 1821 Trinitarian hymn, “Lead us, Heavenly Father”. I wonder if anyone has ever sung it to Dr. Filitz’s ‘Mannheim’ or Samuel Webbe’s ‘Tantum Ergo’? – neither Mino Cho’s nor David Newman’s compositions posted on YouTube seem to exploit these possibilities. Probably any Anglican congregation could, while any choir familiar with Anglican chant could tackle the Psalm variants.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Tom Campbell says:

    How about: “‘The Great Divorce’ – an amicable settlement.”?


  3. WriteFitz says:

    I wouldn’t say the title is quite as important (in this day and age) as the cover, but it’s neck and neck. My publisher is considering renaming my forthcoming book. When she mentioned it I sort of blacked out…or maybe just freaked out. Anyway, I think we are understanding each other better, but I still await the final decision! It’s interesting to hear some of Lewis’ angst in this department. Thank you!


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  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    The diction of Lewis’s adaptation of Psalm 91:

    Finally catching up on the BBC series, The Adventure of English, I was struck by Katherine Duncan-Jones’ discussion in the fourth episode, “This Earth, This Realm, This England” (first broadcast 13 November 2003) of the diction and imagery of sonnet 20 of Sir Philip Sidney’s Astrophel and Stella, where Cupid is characterized as “that murthering boy”,

    Who like a thief, hid in dark bush doth lie,
    Till bloody bullet get him wrongful prey –

    rather than bow and arrow, very modern, contemporary imagry of ambush with firearm.

    I can imagine Lewis being consciously playfully thinking of such Elizabethan ‘modern’ features – though I’m still not sure why and how he’s using such-like, here.


    • That’s a nice Sidney line. Don’t tell anyone, but I detested the Arcadia and I think I mental slept through part of it. It was my first pastoral, and I haven’t gone back. I did not see “bullet,” but I probably would have wondered if it existed as a pre-tech word (like “track” or “machine” or “arm” or “plastic”). It almost sounds onomapoetic though, doesn’t it? Here the bullet swishing through the air and hitting the wooden target: bullet!


  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Re-enjoying Dorothy L. Sayers’ Clouds of Witness, I sat up with a jolt at re-encountering the title of the last chapter: “Who goes home”.

    So, this is some sort of fixed phrase! But where does it come from?

    Well, a search apparently sufficiently ‘advanced’ led me to “Some Traditions and
    Customs of the House” (of Commons), as revised in August 2010, and its discussion of the phrase!:

    “Two Doorkeepers (one behind the Speaker’s chair and one in Members’ lobby) simultaneously
    shout ‘Who goes home?’ when the House rises. This is often explained as an invitation to
    Members to join together in bands to cross what in the past were the dangerous unlit fields
    between Westminster and the City or to hire boats homeward on the Thames as a party in order
    to save the individual fares (the same may apply to taxis nowadays).”

    Here (p. 6):

    Click to access g07.pdf

    This makes sense in Sayers’ last chapter, at the end of book and successful action, outside the Houses of Parliament at night.

    What of Lewis’s use? Something that immediately springs to mind is the sort of master imagery characteristic of Sir David Lyndsay’s Satire of the Three Estates (from which Lewis soon took epigraph and title of That Hideous Strength), though of other works as well, a Parliament as an image of human life in the world together. Here, the invitation to the ‘members’ would be to share a bus rather than boat, walk, or taxi, escaping danger – to go ‘Home’, indeed.


    • I haven’t read Dorothy L. Sayers’ Clouds of Witness, and I didn’t know that saying was a thing. It makes Lewis’ first try at “Great Divorce” a little less lame, but not much!
      Do you think Lewis knew of either the chapter/book or the parliamentary tradition? He never references that book of Sayers, though he respected her work (he didn’t prefer mysteries).


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