Tonight I am teaching on C.S. Lewis’ classic treatment, The Four Loves. I read this early in my adult encounter with Lewis (see my old review here), and again this spring when preparing for the course. The Four Loves is probably the most influential C.S. Lewis book that most people have never read. Sharp, quick, quotable from every page, it is certainly worth the reading. Instead, we tend to encounter it in bits and pieces in 140 characters on Twitter or in 22 minutes in church. It is occasionally difficult to tell which of two is the deeper treatment.
This past week I once again listened to the lecture series. With The Four Loves we have a unique experience. Mere Christianity, A Preface to Paradise Lost, The Discarded Image, Studies in Words, The Weight of Glory, Fern-seed and Elephants, The Abolition of Man, Spenser‘s Images of Life, and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century are each in some way based upon a series of lectures or talks. Even Miracles and a number of essays scattered throughout his books are tested in front of an audience first.
Excepting his epistolary books (like The Screwtape Letters, Letters to Malcolm, The Great Divorce and his non-Narnian fiction), and only two books were not tested in early stages before an audience: The Problem of Pain and Reflections on the Psalms. Of these, the former was read aloud chapter by chapter to the Inklings, and the latter was likely beta-tested in a household of critics (an authoress for a wife and an author for a brother). Surprised by Joy is notably private, and bursts into the world after long fermentation and to more than a few raised eyebrows among friends and faculty.
What makes The Four Loves unique is that we have both the audio lectures Lewis gave in 1958, and the book that followed not long after. Except for a few bits of early BBC recordings (see here) and a few bits here and there, we have none of these early lectures and very few of the papers that later became books. With The Four Loves we have that rich, Oxonian voice–with a tiny hint of Irish brogue–in a series of four lectures, and then a rigorously expanded treatment which we can now pick up in paperback or eBook.
The journey of The Four Loves did not begin well. Commissioned by the Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation in the US to record a series of talks, Lewis showed up at a London studio for the recording. Abigail Santamaria captures the moment in her Joy, showing how Lewis began with director Caroline Rakestraw.
“Today I want to discuss . . .” Jack began.
“Professor Lewis,” interrupted Rakestraw, “couldn’t you say instead ‘Let us think together, you and I about . . . ’?”
Jack replied that no, he could not.
“But we want you to give the feeling of embracing them.”
Jack said that “if they wanted an embracer they had the wrong man.” At one point she asked him to “sit absolutely silent before the microphone for a minute and a half ‘so they could feel his living presence’” (Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis, 330).
What happened next is a minor Lewis legend. Despite the fact that it was clear that sexual love would be part of the curriculum, the Episcopalian ministry found the content far too spicy to publish in the late 1950s.
Granted, his chapter on sex (eros) is provocative. He talks about rough play in sex, inverts the ideas of innocence and guilt,, and mocks the “ludicrous … solemnization” of “the whole business.”
Certainly, though, Lewis knew he was being provocative. He uses “bitch” for a dog-mama, and refers to smoking, drinking, and cards throughout the talks. “One doesn’t keep the packet after one has smoked the cigarettes,” Lewis says–a metaphor that grips twice, as it stands in for the person who uses another simply for sexual release. There is potty talk. And family love and affection (storge) are like gin. Gin works on its own, but makes a nice base for other drinks: so too with storge. And what, possibly, could Lewis have thought Americans would have made of this phrase:
… a man would have to be a coxcomb, why, a very turkey coxcomb, and a blasphemer, if he arrogated to himself as the mere person he is the sort of sovereignty to which Venus momentarily raises him.
After years of corresponding with Americans I can hardly think that Lewis would be surprised that Americans found these images to be provocative.
Eventually, in the 1970s I think, the Episcopal Media Centre released the tapes to the public. Today, I suppose, the talks would be no less controversial, except that the problem is that they are presented only from the male’s point of view, and has a pretty glib innocence about the rich intellectual culture out of which it emerged. Still, Word publishing and the Episcopal ministry felt they had to clean things up a bit. Evangelical prison ministry leader Chuck Colson warms the audience up, and they have photoshopped the cigarette out of Lewis’ hand for the front cover. For good measure this version adds “Featuring the vintage BBC recordings of C.S. Lewis”–which, of course, they are not.
Controversy and the political correctness patrol aside, these are pretty wonderful talks. Someone gave me the CDs in 2012 and I found myself gasping for more at the end of them. Even if the book is a bit difficult at parts, the lectures are far too brief. Almost every line is quotable, and The Four Loves may be Lewis most misquoted book online.
Because of a time crunch, I cannot include all my favourite quotes in class tonight. But I thought I would include for you a delightful section from the first lecture, with a link to some of the audio below. Listen to and read this simultaneously, allowing the crackle of the recording and the distance of the voice to enhance the sensual layering of the language. It is all here: texture, taste, smell, sight, and sound. Soak it in.
I’d love for you to share your favourite quote (from either the book or the lectures), and links to your own blogs or reflections on The Four Loves.
Almost anyone, it seems, can be loved with storge: the ugly, the stupid, even the exasperating can be its objects. There need be no apparent fitness between those whom it unites. It ignores even the barriers between species. We see it not only between dog and man but, more surprisingly, between dog and cat. What’s common to all the objects of storge is that they are familiar. We can often identify the very day and hour when a friendship began or when we fell in love. But we never catch storge at the moment of its beginning. To become aware of it is to become aware that it’s already been going on for some time.
In our storge we’re rather like the dogs, who wag their tails at familiar people even if they’ve never done them any kindness, and bark at strangers even if they’ve never done them any harm. This apparently indiscriminate character in storge and its dependence on familiarity point to its animal and biological origins.…
My Greek lexicon defines storge as “affection,” especially of parents to offspring. And that, I’ve no doubt, is the original form of the thing, as well as the central meaning of the word. We understand the later, more remote ramifications of it if we start with the right basic image: a mother nursing a baby, a bitch or a cat with a basket full of puppies or kittens, all in a squealing nuzzling heap together, continuously moving yet somehow at rest, a warm animal smell, and all the noises.
But while the original form of storge is thus seen in the nursery or the basket, it branches out in all directions.
But however far storge travels from its source, it still retains from it a strong flavour. It’s usually the humblest of the loves; it gives itself no airs. Storge is modest–even furtive and shame-faced. Storge has a very homely face; so have many of those for whom we feel it. It is no proof of your cleverness or perceptiveness or refinement that you love them, nor that they love you. To have to produce storge in public is like getting your household furniture out for a move. It was all right in its native place, but it looks tawdry out of doors.
And the feeling of storge is so nearly organic, so gradual, so unemphatic, that you could no more pride yourself on it than on getting sleepy towards bedtime. It lives with humble un-dress, private things: the thump of a drowsy dog’s tail on the kitchen floor, the sound of a sewing machine, easy laughter and easy tears on some shrewd and wrinkled old face, a toy left on the lawn. It’s the most comfortable and the least ecstatic of loves. It is to our emotions what soft slippers and an easy, almost-worn-out chair and old clothes are to our bodies. It wraps you round like a blanket, almost like sleep; at its best gives you the pleasures, the ease and relaxation of solitude without solitude itself.
If we were talking about drinks, our section on gin would certainly have to note the fact that besides being a drink in its own right, gin is an excellent base or medium for several mixed drinks. Storge is similarly a base or medium for other loves. Being the oldest, most spontaneous form in which we go out of our self towards others, it is naturally taken up–both into friendship and into Eros. One might say it clothes them.
In the end, all those things about your friends–which had nothing to do with the friendship originally–become dear because they become familiar. As for Eros, I can think of few things more distressing than to experience it for more than a very short time without storge. Every good marriage, even every courtship, makes for its Eros, so to speak, a nest of storge, like the nest of rice you build for your helping of curry.
There are some Four Loves resources out there that readers might find interesting. Allacin Morimizu “The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis—Additional Gems from His Audio Recordings.” She has also done an “Illustrated Summary of The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis.” It is a difficult book to outline well, so this summary may help some readers.