I’m prepping the post on All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis, but I thought it was worth delaying it until next week to talk about Mrs. Moore, or “D.” Lewis kept a diary from 1922-1927, largely at the behest of Mrs. Janie Moore/D, with whom he lived at the time, along with her school-age daughter Maureen.
Moore was the mother of one of his school friends, who passed away while they were both deployed in World War I. After Lewis came back, he lived with Moore and her daughter for thirty years, maintaining a close relationship with Mrs. Moore until her death in 1950. That time period covers a substantial portion of his life and writings.
Lewis’s own mother died when he was young, and Maureen remembers Lewis and her brother promising each other to look after their parents, should one of them die in the war. So, that much seems readily understandable. However, I confess to giving the book a certain sidelong look when the back cover and introduction first started talking about him living with this woman for so long. She would’ve been in her forties when they met, hardly a simpering old lady. Lewis helped support her and Maureen for a long time, even while he was in school and quite poor himself. He could’ve lived very well on the allowance from his father, but keeping a house and two semi-dependants ate that up extremely fast. Of course, that could be readily understandable too.
However, it turns out Walter Hooper, the literary executor for the Lewis estate and one-time assistant to Mr. Lewis, also thinks they were an item. He says as much in the introduction. He quotes letters between Warnie and Albert Lewis (his brother and father) talking about how the relationship makes them uncomfortable but they don’t know what’s really going on with “Jack’s affair.” The choice of the word “affair” is probably purposeful. They considered the notion of Mrs. Moore blackmailing Jack, or that she was just using his good nature to weasel money out of him, but they don’t know — they just know the relationship is peculiar. That answers my main question, “Was that common, is it just modern sensibilities making it look weird?” No, it’s not just modern sensibilities.
The introduction also mentions a time in 1917 when Lewis visited his friend Arthur Greeves. Afterward, he wrote to Arthur: “Since coming back & meeting a certain person I have begun to realize that it was not at all the right thing for me to tell you so much as I did. I must therefore try to undo my actions as far as possible by asking you to try & forget my various statements & not to refer to the subject” (9). Hooper believes this indicates Lewis talked about their relationship and thought better of it.
There’s another bit in the diary that raised my eyebrows — Arthur was visiting them in 1922, and spent the first night on a camp bed in Lewis’s room. The next day, the diary says this: “In the evening D, Arthur and I had started three handed bridge when Mary came in and made a fourth. We had a good evening of it, enough to make D and me sleepy. Arthur moves into the back room tonight” (58). Knowing the diary was meant to be read aloud to D, well… hey-hey.
I’m not sharing all this to be salacious or scandalous. The introduction just kind of ticked me off with its plain statement that Lewis and Moore were probably lovers, promptly followed by religious dithering about how “this story may have begun in self-indulgence, cynicism and sin, but it ended as an enduring exemplum of Christian charity,” apparently referring to his affection for and attendance on her until her death at 78. Crazy thought, maybe they were lovers and he cared about her as a person. Older people can’t be the recipients of love, they have to be the recipients of charity? Or maybe it’s the exceedingly unhealthy attitude Christians have toward sex, wherein a non-Christian couldn’t possibly have a fulfilling sexual relationship, and a Christian couldn’t possibly have had one in the past. On the other hand, maybe they were never lovers at all — he often referred to her as “mother,” and the idea has strong overtones of revisionist history, possibly originating in A.N. Wilson’s 1990 biography.
I just wish there was more information. Yes, the lack is mainly coming from him — he wouldn’t want it bandied about (and for that I send my sincerest posthumous apologies), and I don’t recall him talking about his pre-Christian life in much detail, although he readily admitted that he’d engaged in sexual activity and all that sort of thing. But we only see glimmers of people even when we interact with them every day. For someone who died long ago and is mostly known through public writings, that problem is much more pronounced. We just don’t know very much. A quick search of the internet reveals some people saying “Aha! Lewis was a perv!” and others turning Mrs. Moore into some sort of nagging old woman who ran his life. It looks like that interpretation comes from Warren Lewis, who lived with them for a while in the later parts of the relationship, so maybe there’s something to it. I don’t know, but neither do all these other people. It could be anything.
I wish I didn’t have to stop reading about this cool, interesting, frighteningly intelligent guy and start reading about some Christian. I’m sure it won’t feel like that when I actually get started on the post-conversion materials, it’s not like they’re boring, and I’d never presume to say he would’ve been better off living a certain way, but I wish to high heaven we had more glimmers of Atheist Lewis. Heck, I wish we had a whole posse of alternate-universe Lewises to have toweringly brilliant conversations with each other, but in this particular instance I feel like I’m mourning for a real person who existed, but who never got the chance to say his piece.
Images from www.sullivanfiles.com.
6 thoughts on “Interesting Carictars: The Scandal of C.S. Lewis and Mrs. Moore”
I’m interested to hear what your take will be on Ruth Pitter. Some say Lewis almost married her before meeting Joy. Another fascinating person to think about. Lewis sure loved to surround himself with strong women.
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Well I feel foolish commenting about Lewis to you yesterday, clearly you are a Lewis authority, where as I’m just a fan.
I’ve heard the gossip about Lewis and Moore, and I wonder. Lewis had a very philanthropic side to him, perhaps he really did just care about her and people took it the wrong way, then and now.
I’ll be back to follow along with your project. Lewis is a complicated historical figure, I think what we don’t know about him could still fill many volumes.
Haha, no, I’m not an expert! I may be by the time I finish this project, but I’m just a weird fan. I’ve read most of his stuff before, but this project is about getting a more comprehensive look at his life and writings, and I know a lot less about his life than his writings.
The more I read about it the more I tend to agree with your theory. It seems like every person who commented on the relationship, then and now, had a different theory, and I wonder if it wasn’t just a lovely friendship that (almost necessarily) looked really strange from the outside. There are also some pretty plausible theories that it was romantic/sexual a few times in a specific period, but not during the rest of it — mostly based on his conversion, which sounds like people trying to explain the relationship away and keep Lewis “pure,” but at the same time knowing a bit about his theology, it’s entirely plausible. (Also I think the “horrible old nag” stuff comes from when she was much older, and had severe dementia. Lewis took it much differently than the others looking on, presumably because he KNEW it was dementia and cared enough to be patient.)
At any rate, glad to have you following along!