Read Charles Williams: The Third Inkling by Grevel Lindop Online


This is the first full biography of Charles Williams (1886-1945), an extraordinary and controversial figure who was a central member of the Inklingsthe group of Oxford writers that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Charles Williamsnovelist, poet, theologian, magician and guruwas the strangest, most multi-talented, and most controversial member of the group.He was a pThis is the first full biography of Charles Williams (1886-1945), an extraordinary and controversial figure who was a central member of the Inklingsthe group of Oxford writers that included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Charles Williamsnovelist, poet, theologian, magician and guruwas the strangest, most multi-talented, and most controversial member of the group.He was a pioneering fantasy writer, who still has a cult following. C.S. Lewis thought his poems on King Arthur and the Holy Grail were among the best poetry of the twentieth century for 'the soaring and gorgeous novelty of their technique, and their profound wisdom'. But Williams was full of contradictions. An influential theologian, Williams was also deeply involved in the occult, experimenting extensively with magic, practising erotically-tinged rituals, and acquiring a following of devoted disciples.Membership of the Inklings, whom he joined at the outbreak of the Second World War, was only the final phase in a remarkable career. From a poor background in working-class London, Charles Williams rose to become an influential publisher, a successful dramatist, and an innovative literary critic. His friends and admirers included T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and the young Philip Larkin.A charismatic personality, he held left-wing political views, and believed that the Christian churches had dangerously undervalued sexuality. To redress the balance, he developed a 'Romantic Theology', aiming at an approach to God through sexual love. He became the most admired lecturer in wartime Oxford, influencing a generation of young writers before dying suddenly at the height of his powers.This biography draws on a wealth of documents, letters and private papers, many never before opened to researchers, and on more than twenty interviews with people who knew Williams. It vividly recreates the bizarre and dramatic life of this strange, uneasy genius, of whom Eliot wrote, 'For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world.'...

Title : Charles Williams: The Third Inkling
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ISBN : 9780199284153
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 464 Pages
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Charles Williams: The Third Inkling Reviews

  • Sørina
    2019-05-20 20:35 official biography of Charles Williams, Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, written by Grevel Lindop and published by Oxford University Press, is scheduled to be released tomorrow! I have had an advance copy for a few days now, and let me tell you: It has been worth the wait, and you will not be disappointed! I am awash in happiness as I read this book: it’s big, thick, thoughtful, and rewarding. It is top-notch scholarship written in a beautiful style. There are quite a few surprises about CW (pleasant and otherwise!), and layers and layers of rich detail. It is hard to review the biography itself without slipping into a review of CW’s character–so I will try to do the one first and the other second. This is only a mini-review, as I have not finished reading the book (I’ve only had it for 5 days and spent 1 of those on the road and another in the ER!) and plan to reread it carefully, making notes, etc., so I will review it again more thoroughly later. I also plan to write reviews focusing on various aspects for Books & Culture and for Sehnsucht: The C. S. Lewis Journal.grevelGrevel Lindop, poet and biographerSo, then: let me review the quality of Grevel Lindop’s research and writing in this book. I think it’s perfect. That’s saying a lot from critical old me. I have a hard time with weird prose styles, and lots of biographies are written in a strange, disconnected manner, with unrelated facts crammed into the same sentence. This is not. Grevel’s prose style is lovely! It’s smooth, precise, intelligent, and aesthetically pleasing. This is probably the result of his many years as a practicing poet. So that’s the first hurdle: the sentences are smooth and sweet, making the reading of this long book a pleasure.Then there’s structure. It is very difficult to shape a biography into a coherent, compelling narrative. I visited with Louisa Gilder on Monday evening, author of The Age of Entanglement, and we talked quite a bit about the shaping of biographies. Right now, Louisa is working with the manuscript of a biography about Edith Wharton. This MS was written in French, and after the author’s death, her widow asked the Edith Wharton estate and The Mount to publish the book. They hired Louisa to edit, reshape, revise, and polish the book for publication. The original material with which she’s working wasn’t all in chronological order, so she has had to revise it extensively. Anyway, Grevel has structured his biography beautifully. Each chapter has its own narrative arc, building to some high point or turning point in CW’s life. The book as a whole has a lovely progression, but without implying that the Life was moving toward some pre-determined climax. biographyAnd then there’s the research. This is meticulously done. It is thorough and far-reaching. In fact, the scholarship is so good that it gives rise to the only disappointment that I have experienced while reading this: There’s no gossip. I haven’t learned a whole lot of new, juicy facts about CW’s private life. If there isn’t evidence, Grevel hesitates to put forward speculation. There are a few times that he says something “may be” or “probably is” the case, but I trust these instances because they are so rare and restrained.As a work of biographical scholarship, then, The Third Inkling leaves nothing to be desired. I will read it and read it again and again and recommend it to everyone I think might have even the slightest interest. Bravo, Grevel! It’s been worth the wait!But then, there’s The Third Inkling himself. What does this bio tell me about CW? Do I feel differently about him than I did before? What has it revealed about his character that I didn’t know before?PhyllisPhyllis JonesIn short, it has confirmed all my worst suspicions. His affair with Phyllis Jones was uglier and creepier than I knew–she once wrote him a letter suggesting they go to a toy store and buy a cane and a delicate whip and then rent a hotel room for six hours of fun. She sat on his lap. They kissed. The volume and passion of their love letters is extensive. He even once threatened to renounce Christianity if she left him.His involvement with the occult was also more extensive than we have previously known. I won’t spoil the biggest surprise about that–read the biography to find out for yourselves!–but let’s say CW was involved with more groups and for much longer periods than we knew, and that his magical experimentation (as opposed to the purely mystical) was probably considerable.I’d also say, however, that this book helps me to understand CW much, much better. Perhaps I may judge his behavior and beliefs to be sinful or erroneous, but I can certainly see why he did and thought those things, given his background, upbringing, struggles, disappointments, and influences. And really, in the end, perhaps that is what a biography is for: to understand its human subject fully as a person, as someone I now know.Well done, Grevel!

  • Richard
    2019-05-16 04:45

    Finally we have a very fine biography of the “Third Inkling” Charles Williams. Grevel Lindop enables us to experience the mercurial intellectual brilliance and charismatic personality of this genius. It must be stated, though, that Williams is a genius nearly forgotten. In his preface Lindop gives the reasons why this happened and outlines his objectives in the biography. Essentially he hopes that it will result in a reassessment of Williams as a literary figure--particularly as a major poet. Additionally, we learn a considerable amount about the impact Williams had as a critic, dramatist, lecturer, novelist, Rosicrucian adept, theologian, and spiritual Guru who founded a mystical order of companions for lay people. Lindop emphasises that the biography “ . . . is by no means an unmixed advocacy. “ He attempts {completely successfully in my opinion} to create a unified portrait so that “. . . a figure formerly regarded as somewhat mystifying becomes comprehensible, and much more interesting.” This process allows us to see a man whose fierce creative charisma seemed to necessitate certain disturbing sadomasochistic aspects. But a person who embodied a blazing sanctity and holiness also emerges. Younger women in particular found him hypnotically attractive and usually fell in love. At the same time he had problems with his marriage and his wife who clearly loved him had serious doubts about his ability to be a spiritual mentor and described the Rosicrucians with whom he associated during one phase of his life as "phonies". Grevel Lindop gives us a balanced narrative which reveals both the brilliance and darkness--the Yin and Yang--of this enigmatic friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien.One thing is certain--he was a visionary who seemed to unite opposites and lived life with an incredible spiritual and creative intensity. He died at the height of his powers but left behind a legacy that deserves to be remembered. It is to be hoped that this very fine biography will initiate a reassessment of “The Third Inkling”.

  • Mogg Morgan
    2019-04-25 02:55

    "You know, the only reason I don't appear is that it would be ... well, bad manners.' Charles Williams, in a post mortem dream to C S LewisA literary biography, superbly done by Grevel Lindop, who manages to makes interesting an important writer who has become obscure. "Remember that Adam has to say 'ankle' instead of 'anus' - the Censor insisted that the latter must not be allowed on the stage."If Williams ever climbed mountains they were all in the world of books. I still feel it is his handful of novels that will most endure, and even then the focus on christian theology is probably never going to seem as immediate as it once did. "I admire Charles Williams a good deal as a literary critic and as a 'Pillar of the Swiss' as Dylan Thomas would spoonerise but I don't give a fart for his poetry. This I endeavour to conceal." Philip Larkin to Amis quoted in "The 3rd Inkling"The account of his tantrik "love cult" was the most surprising aspect of story. "In Holy Cross/I, unexpectedly moved, laying you on the altar whole and bound and glorious in the Holy Ghost, " I wanted more of his Rosicrucian adventures. "Never interdooce yer Donah to a pal, 'cos the odds is ten to one he sneaks yer gal!" Donah is cockney slang for girlfriend, not sure why?Charles Williams "tantric cult", almost, & reminiscent of Hindu Sahaja cult of "hidden moon" (see Dimock) passionate but celibate circlesModernist poetry= Irregular line length, often no rhyme, fragmentation, density of texture, obscurity

  • Leaflet
    2019-04-23 22:00

    I'll start by saying that I was sorry when this book ended. It was excellent and well researched. Just a couple of quotes from the book, this one by one of his pupils: I would sit there, entranced by his amazing personality. He was fire and air, immensely exciting; poetry seemed to take on a whole new meaning.And by another pupil: He was, I suppose, the most remarkable person I ever met in my life, the most unusual person.[...] He didn't in the least make you feel how inadequate you were in comparison with him, he somehow kind of lifted you up there into this other plane with him, which was just so lovely.Bonus Fun Fact: "At some point the future actor Christopher Lee, then working as an office junior in London, attended Williams's lectures and visited him at the Press [Oxford University Press]."

  • Colin Duriez
    2019-05-15 03:01

    A ground-breaking and compelling biography establishing, after years of neglect, Charles Williams as a poet, writer and critic of major importance. Grevel Lindop's research into the arcane complexities of Williams's often troubled life and soul is of astonishing depth, as he vividly captures the making of a unique poet admired by the likes of T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Dorothy L. Sayers, and who became a dynamic part of the Oxford Inklings circle of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien.

  • Sharon
    2019-05-03 22:37

    I know I am reading an excellent biography when I find myself skipping to last chapter to find out how it ends.Charles Williams was a weird, brilliant, spiritual, charismatic and creepy writer from England between the world wars. He is remembered now as a minor member of the Inklings, the convivial group of writers that included CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. But Williams' friendship connected some of the most brilliant writers of his day: TS Eliot, WH Auden, Dylan Thomas, Christopher Fry, as well as Lewis and Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and others. The namedropping alone may generate interest, but Williams own work is the real fascination. In this biography, Grevel Lindop shows the connecting themes and obsessions that run through his work and life. Central to it all is Williams' theology of romantic love and his fascination with magic, a fascination that crystallized into peculiar, ritualized relationships with young women that he used to fuel his work. Williams saw himself as a spiritual pioneer, someone introducing exciting new spiritual insights into Christianity. Or he may have simply been a pervert. Lindop draws you into Williams' life and personality in a way that shows you both the deep appeal he had for his "disciples" and the danger of being exploited that the young women around him faced.Williams' novels were very important to me when I was young, and I had always tried to set aside the rumors about him. Lindop makes this impossible. He successfully shows that the affairs and the BDSM were not a side facet of Williams: they were the core of his life and work. For better or for worse, there is no Charles Williams without it.

  • Jonathan Walker
    2019-05-05 01:45

    A superlative biography. Thoroughly researched, clearly written, and making a strong case for the importance of its subject. It also offers many new discoveries about Williams' private life. Some of these are surprising, shocking even, but there is no prurience: Lindop is always at pains to explore their connection to Williams' creative practice.Readers attracted by the subtitle may come away feeling a little disappointed, since the Inklings only constituted a small part of Williams' event-filled life, but the appearances by T. S. Eliot, Auden. Dorothy L. Sayers, et al., more than make up for this.

  • Andrew Marr
    2019-04-20 01:55

    Charles Williams (1886-1945) is primarily known in the shadow of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as the subtitle of Grevel Lindop’s excellent biography suggests. Lewis’s admiration was a mixed blessing as his uncritical admiration of Williams’s writings and character seem to have caused a backlash as Williams’s faults in both areas emerge. As far as I’m concerned, Charles Williams wasn’t just the “third” inkling, he was a visionary theologian, poet, and novelist in his own right and a charismatic figure who could overwhelm many of the people he ran into or who ran into him.Coming from humble stock, Williams could not afford a university education. Howwever, he held a humble job as toiler at the Oxford University Press OUP) in London but the work he did put him in touch with many major figures of his time. Williams did editorial work on many of he anthologies of poetry published by the OUP during the time he worked there and so had a hidden but important influence on the cultural life of the English-speaking world. One of many important contributions he made was his strong advocacy of the works of Søren Kierkegaard that resulted in the publication of many of Kierkegaard’s works in English for the first time. T.S. Eliot was a good friend who admired Williams’s work and helped get some of his novels and poems published.Williams’s involvement with the occult is well-known. This book fills in the known details. Williams was involved in two ways. One was the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross in which he was initiated by A.E. Waite, a contact he made through his work at the OUP. The other was a small group that met that the home of an Anglican priest, Arthur Lee for discussions. Both involvements were with fellow-Christians. A life-long Anglo-Catholic, Williams valued ritual very highly and that was obviously one attraction to the Fellowship. Also, as one born with a mythical vision, the rich symbolism in occult lore fascinated him, with the Kabbalah holding a high place The big and, to some degree, most scandalous element in Williams’s life were the complicated and enigmatic relationships with his wife Michel (a nickname of Charles that she accepted, maybe even embraced) and Phyllis Jones. Perhaps the greatest of the merits of Linkdop’s work is the light he can throw on these relationships through his study of the many voluminous letters and other accounts that survive. Williams’s marriage is often written off as a failure, loveless, matter, but Lindop shows how a strong level of mutual affection undergirded their troubled relationship. More problematic is Phyllis Jones, the young librarian at the OUP. Many brief sketched is Williams’s life paint the affair as a middle-aged man panting over a younger woman. There is much, much more to it. For one thing, the documents make it clear that the affair was a two-way street where, most of the time, Phillis was as anxious to keep it going as Charles. Most troubling was Williams’ sadistic streak that became a regular, if ritualistic practice. This surfaces in the documents first in the relationship with Phyllis Jones who seems to have welcomed it. If someone like Lois Lang-Sims had been the first woman after Michel in Williams’ life, maybe it would have remained a fantasy that was not expressed. Even so, large numbers of people, especially women but many men as well, after attending his evening lectures would seek Williams out to confide in him and ask for direction in their lives. As with all of Williams’s known relationships with women, the relationship with Phyllis was highly erotic but chaste in the sense of intentionally falling short of genital activity. Also, as with these other relationships, there was a strong mythological element. Women who became close friends with him received a new name for him that reflected a higher vision of the person than the earthly reality. As an avid reader and profound commentator on Dante, he saw Beatrice in many women. Again, it was Lois Lang-Sims who called him on the problematic aspects of this idealization. (Lang-Sims wrote up her experiences with Williams in a book called Lalage.)As a biography, this book mainly provides the story and personal profile of the man behind the writings. Every surviving work is noted and briefly discussed for a page or two with pointed an illuminating comments. The two great themes that pervade the poetry, theology & novels that can be called theological thrillers are 1) the Affirmative Way of romantic love and 2) Coinherence. The latter is the living of the Trinity. Williams became convinced that St. Paul’s admonition to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6: 2) meant that we should literally carry the emotional burdens of other people, such as bearing the fear a person is experiencing so as to relieve that person’s fear. This is a challenging and daunting task and can seem spooky to some, but there is something to it. It becomes crystal clear that when we pray for another person in need, we do indeed bear that person’s burdens in Christ.For all his serious fault, Williams had elements of sanctity, a brilliant mind and, most importantly, a deep sense of self-critique. Few people with such a dark side know that dark side as well as Williams did. Lindop points out that In his best novel Descent into Hell, Williams not only portrays his ideal self in the poet and playwright Stanhope but also his darkest side in the devilish Wentworth. A valuable contribution to the study of Charles Williams.

  • Jasper Gardner
    2019-05-10 01:46

    Interesting book, if a bit overburdened by quotes, about a truly strange and fascinating man. The title and cover are click-bait though, as the vast majority of the book does not at all deal with the Inklings.

  • Rachel Motte
    2019-05-10 22:41


  • Joel Zartman
    2019-04-26 22:44

    Lindop’s biography of Charles Williams makes sense of him, which is no small feat. I do not say Lindop explains Williams in an easy and unsatisfying way that resolves all the enigmas, but he puts the enigmas into context, and shows where they are continuous with what we can understand. It really is an extraordinary work on an extraordinary person. Williams was a complex fellow, and untangling everything, considering he left a lot of scattered and private evidence that Lindop has carefully dug it up, cannot have been easy.Williams was admired by T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis and W. H. Auden, in his day. He was admired by another handful of people you will not recognize, but has never been much of a majority taste, nor is he—because he is difficult and resists popularization—ever likely to be. Still, to be admired by those who did says much, and this biography serves to provide a greater understanding and a better appreciation of the man.It is no small book, but for all that it is not expansive. There is not much of Lindop in it. It could easily be curtly factual; what saves it is careful organization and a deft touch. You realize how many quotations you’re reading, how many excerpts from letters to which few still have access, and you start to think that it is going to be too much. But it is all carefully arranged, and the inclusion of each quotation is obvious and interesting, not to mention new material (I have to wonder if Lindop hasn’t spoiled all the joy that having Williams’ letters published would give, though). Because this is the first full biography, it has to be factual, to stick to its case rather than being expansive and reflective. Lindop does pause to reflect, but in succinct, lapidary ways. And everything else he did was so well done that one is left wishing he had expanded more, just to understand a bit more about the extraordinary biographer.It is common for people not to exercise sympathetic imagination in dealing with Williams and just to be disturbed, the way Alan Jacobs is in The Narnian. Misgivings abound, and they are warranted, but they should not prevent appreciation. The life of Williams gave itself to wild innuendo. Lindop is tremendous for not doing this (though he used it to market the book on twitter): he relates everything with equanimity, unflinching from the extent of what can be known, drawing the negative conclusions when warranted. He figures out how many degrees Williams advanced in his secret society, what some of the rituals were like, how it spilled out into his life and writing, and what it served to accomplish. But he remains anchored to what he can definitely say, what is factual, and draws good conclusions from it. The emerging result is believable, comprehensible, and adds up: we can see how far things went (far enough), but no farther. One is not surprised to read, when Williams unexpectedly dies, of his friends rushing around gathering up his stuff, sending letters away, making sure his secret life is not divulged too soon. And it shows how careful Lindop has been to research it.Williams was drawn to ritual. He wanted symbols, meanings, he wanted to know and to handle these things skillfully. He joined societies, he researched witchcraft and wrote a book on it. But more than information, he wanted to undergo things, to immerse himself in order to understand, unflinching and if his relationships with women (physically chaste, if not symbolically so) are anything to go by, in reckless and unheeding ways. Lindop’s thesis is that Williams was a major poet, and what he was doing was developing his skill, going wherever it took him, even when in life he lost his way. I am being persuaded he is right—not that anybody should follow that approach, but that it is what Williams was doing. It is a full picture of greatness and weakness both. Williams at last gained recognition even as his life descended into confusion at the end. As Lindop tell it, it was nevertheless a life worth reading about.

  • Chris Zull
    2019-05-19 04:48

    With access to an abundant wealth of writings, notes, correspondences, etc., Mr. Lindop is able to paint what is likely to be the most complete portrait of Charles Williams we will ever have. This in an outstanding biography that brings to life a uniquely brilliant, but profoundly odd and confounding, man of letters. For all of the faults to be found both in Williams's life and in his works, I will never cease being fascinating by the more than considerable strengths of both the artist and his art.

  • Michael Joosten
    2019-04-22 22:56

    I come to Williams enticed by the title: The Third Inkling--a Tolkienist following up the trail. It's a bit unfair to Williams (one gets the sense from the book that Williams suffered more than a few such indignities) to put it that way--he had a full life before and beside the Inklings, and where Tolkien and Lewis were at the height of their powers and on the cusp of their development as the Inklings came about, Williams was maturing into his final stages--benefitting, no doubt, from their influence, but not as formed by it.The limitations of the title notwithstanding, Lindop's biography is well worth the read. Charles Williams is fascinating individual and his life is a reminder of just how broad the human experience can be. In several respects, he seems to be the anti-Tolkien: his fascinating with the occult, his many emotional affairs with younger women (and elements of sadism therein!), his general LACK of self-definition in World War I--all this stands in direct contrast, but one gets the sense anyway that one would want to meet him.

  • Mandy
    2019-04-30 22:55

    This is a perfectly adequate and comprehensive cradle to grave biography of the previously rather neglected writer Charles Williams, meticulously researched, well-written, with a good balance between scholarship and anecdote. I enjoyed learning more about him and about his circle of friends and acquaintances, but was less interested in the work, although the author does his best to encourage interest. Nothing much else to say, really – the books does all that a good biography should.

  • Joanne McPortland
    2019-04-22 01:39

    This biography of Williams is exhaustive and at times exhausting, but it offers many insights into this brilliant, disturbed, charming and frustrating personality. The book is--like the man--at times moving and at times a difficult slog. In the end, CW remains as much a mystery to the reader as he was to himself and those who loved him, which is perhaps exactly how it should be.

  • Andrew Stout
    2019-05-21 04:31

    A brilliant and revealing biography. Lindop has put together a detailed and fascinating portrait of a complicated man. I enjoyed it as much or more as any other Inklings related book.

  • Rose
    2019-05-03 03:56

    Well researched, interesting biography but only covers the other Inklings slightly. Good discussions of Williams' poetry and novels. Nice selection of photos and art.

  • Lesley
    2019-05-07 01:34

    This was an absorbing read, very thoroughly researched, about a complex character, and didn't shy away from the ambiguities of his life.