Joy Poet, seeker, and the woman who captivated C. S. Lewis

Abigail Santamaria

Book - 2015

"The first full biography of Joy Davidman, known primarily as C.S. Lewis's late-in-life bride, but who here receives her much deserved rescue from that shadow"--

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BIOGRAPHY/Davidman, Joy
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Subjects
Published
Boston : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2015.
Language
English
Physical Description
xv, 413 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 391-395) and index.
ISBN
9780151013715
0151013713
Main Author
Abigail Santamaria (-)
Review by Booklist Reviews

C. S. Lewis' biographers view Joy Davidman (1915–60) as having deliberately captured as well as captivated him. Although Santamaria is never hostile, her candid presentation doesn't dispel the desperate-schemer image. Indeed, Davidman seems to have been chronically desperate. Possessed of a virtually eidetic memory for writing, she was a contrary young woman who countered her parents' middle-class attitudes by embracing communism. She won a Yale Younger Poets award, parlayed that into six months in Hollywood, and married a fellow leftie writer. With him she had two sons, traded Marxism for Christianity and then Dianetics, and drank and spent too much. She ran away to England to meet the sf novelist and Christian apologist she adored for his writing. Lewis initially resisted, but she prevailed and, after diagnosis with irreversible cancer, married him and inspired his last novel and the classic reflection, A Grief Observed (1961). Santamaria makes no case for Davidman's scant literary accomplishments but uses her letters and unpublished, journal-like sonnets to try to sympathize with the pathetic, crass woman who somehow blessed Lewis' life. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

A poet busy in New York literary circles in the 1930s–1940s, a frequent contributor to the Communist publication New Masses, born Jewish in the Bronx but an atheist who turned to Dianetics, Joy Davidson does not seem the type to become the wife and spiritual partner of renowned Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. But after converting to Christianity and sailing to England in 1952 to meet the man whose works had so influenced her, Davidson became an integral part of his life. Love, marriage, and deep intellectual friendship; Santamaria's first book, six years in the making, and the first big biography of Davidson. [Page 70]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Santamaria's debut is sure to get attention from C.S. Lewis scholars and fans. Written for a general audience, this is the first full biography of Joy Davidman (1915–60), wife of C.S. Lewis (1898–1963). During her research, Santamaria accessed never-before-seen material held by the family. Starting with Joy's childhood in a middle-class Bronx neighborhood, the narrative traces her lonely school years, the development of her writing career, and her romance with the Communist Party. We learn of her marriage to writer William Lindsay Gresham, the birth of their children, their financial problems, interest in Dianetics, and conversion to Christianity, and the slow dissolution of their union. Readers discover that Joy's correspondence and eventual marriage to Lewis began as a deliberate seduction. Her flaws and mistakes are presented sympathetically but without excuses. VERDICT Fans of Lewis and the movie Shadowlands, a dramatized version of his life with Joy, may be disappointed by the lack of romance and shocked by how calculating she was. However, those who want to know the real Davidman will discover a woman in search of purpose and meaning who finally finds it in the faith and person of Lewis. [See Prepub Alert, 2/9/15.]—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis [Page 104]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

If not for Joy Davidman's marriage to C.S. Lewis, it's unlikely that anyone would be reading a book about her. Nevertheless, debut author Santamaria does her best to fill in Davidman's scattered life, starting with her days as a student at Hunter College in the early 1930s; her infatuation with the Communist Party and poems supporting the cause; her first marriage, to author William Lindsey Gresham, in 1942; and the birth of their two sons. The marriage was rocky, with Davidman dissatisfied with life as a conventional housewife and Gresham struggling with alcoholism. The couple dallied with Dianetics before Joy, already interested in C.S. Lewis's writing, became smitten with him after the two began corresponding. As her marriage dissolved, she left for England hoping to start a relationship with Lewis. Joy succeeded, divorcing Gresham in 1954 and marrying Lewis in 1956. Though Santamaria describes their relationship as "blissfully happy," some details indicate that Lewis may have been more ambivalent (he buried their wedding announcement in the Christmas Eve edition of the Times, where few would notice it). Readers enchanted with the version of Davidman and Lewis's romance presented in the film Shadowlands may be disappointed that the facts don't fully support what Santamaria calls "one of the 20th century's greatest love stories." B&w insert. Agent: Sarah Burnes, the Gernert Company. (Aug.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

Draws on new documents and years of interviews to profile C. S. Lewis' wife, tracing her active role in mid-20th-century New York literary circles, shifting religious perspectives and intellectual relationship with Lewis. A first book. 20,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Draws on new documents and years of interviews to profile C. S. Lewis' wife, tracing her active role in mid-twentieth-century New York literary circles, shifting religious perspectives, and intellectual relationship with Lewis.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

"The first full biography of Joy Davidman, known primarily as C.S. Lewis's late-in-life bride, but who here receives her much deserved rescue from that shadow"--

Review by Publisher Summary 4

The first full biography of Joy Davidman, known primarily as C.S. Lewis’s late-in-life bride, but who here receives her much deserved rescue from that shadow

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The first full biography of Joy Davidman brings her out from C. S. Lewis’s shadow, where she has long been hidden, to reveal a powerful writer and thinker. Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis’s memoir, A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves. A poet and radical, Davidman was a frequent contributor to the communist vehicle New Masses and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she was an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life. Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces. Their relationship—begun when Joy wrote to Lewis as a religious guide—grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story. 

Review by Publisher Summary 6

The first full biography of Joy Davidman brings her out from C. S. Lewis's shadow, where she has long been hidden, to reveal a powerful writer and thinker. Joy Davidman is known, if she is known at all, as the wife of C. S. Lewis. Their marriage was immortalized in the film Shadowlands and Lewis's memoir, A Grief Observed. Now, through extraordinary new documents as well as years of research and interviews, Abigail Santamaria brings Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis to the page in the fullness and depth she deserves. A poet and radical, Davidman was a frequent contributor to the communist vehicle New Masses and an active member of New York literary circles in the 1930s and 40s. After growing up Jewish in the Bronx, she was an atheist, then a practitioner of Dianetics; she converted to Christianity after experiencing a moment of transcendent grace. A mother, a novelist, a vibrant and difficult and intelligent woman, she set off for England in 1952, determined to captivate the man whose work had changed her life. Davidman became the intellectual and spiritual partner Lewis never expected but cherished. She helped him refine his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, and to write his novel Till We Have Faces. Their relationship'begun when Joy wrote to Lewis as a religious guide'grew from a dialogue about faith, writing, and poetry into a deep friendship and a timeless love story. 

Review by Publisher Summary 7

The first full biography of Joy Davidman, known primarily as C.S. Lewis's late-in-life bride, but who here receives her much deserved rescue from that shadow