Charles Williams (British writer)

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Charles Williams
Charles Williams.jpg
BornCharles Walter Stansby Williams
(1886-09-20)20 September 1886
London, England
Died15 May 1945(1945-05-15) (aged 58)
Oxford, England
Genre Fantasy
Notable works War in Heaven
The Place of the Lion
The Greater Trumps
Descent into Hell
SpouseFlorence Conway

Charles Walter Stansby Williams (20 September 1886 – 15 May 1945) was a British poet, novelist, playwright, theologian, literary critic, and member of the Inklings.

Inklings informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England

The Inklings were an informal literary discussion group associated with the University of Oxford, England, for nearly two decades between the early 1930s and late 1949. The Inklings were literary enthusiasts who praised the value of narrative in fiction and encouraged the writing of fantasy.


Early life and education

Williams was born in London in 1886, the only son of (Richard) Walter Stansby Williams (1848–1929), a journalist and foreign business correspondent for an importing firm, writing in French and German, [1] [2] who was a 'regular and valued' contributor of verse, stories and articles to many popular magazines, [3] and his wife Mary (née Wall, the sister of the ecclesiologist and historian J. Charles Wall [3] ), a former milliner, [4] of Islington. He had one sister, Edith, born in 1889. The Williams family lived in 'shabby-genteel' circumstances, owing to Walter's increasing blindness and the decline of the firm by which he was employed, in Holloway. [4]

James Charles Wall (1860–1943) was a British ecclesiologist, historian and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society in the late 19th and early 20th century. He wrote many books, mainly on Church history, and was an early contributor to the Victoria History of the Counties of England magazine. He was born in Shoreditch on 15th July 1860 to James Wall and mother Mary Wall nee Williams.

In 1894 the family moved to St Albans in Hertfordshire, where Williams lived until his marriage in 1917. [5]

St Albans City in southern Hertfordshire, England

St Albans is a city in Hertfordshire, England, and the major urban area in the City and District of St Albans. It lies east of Hemel Hempstead and west of Hatfield, about 20 miles (32 km) north-northwest of central London, 8 miles (13 km) southwest of Welwyn Garden City and 11 miles (18 km) south-southeast of Luton. St Albans was the first major town on the old Roman road of Watling Street for travellers heading north, and it became the Roman city of Verulamium. It is a historic market town and is now a dormitory town within the London commuter belt and the Greater London Built-up Area.

Hertfordshire County of England

Hertfordshire is one of the home counties in England. It is bordered by Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire to the north, Essex to the east, Greater London to the south, and Buckinghamshire to the west. For government statistical purposes, it is placed in the East of England region.

Educated at St Albans School, Williams was awarded a scholarship to University College London, but he left school in 1904 without attempting to gain a degree due to an inability to pay tuition fees.

University College London, which has operated under the official name of UCL since 2005, is a public research university located in London, United Kingdom. It is a constituent college of the federal University of London, and is the third largest university in the United Kingdom by total enrolment, and the largest by postgraduate enrolment.

Williams began work in 1904 in a Methodist bookroom. He was hired by the Oxford University Press (OUP) as a proofreading assistant in 1908 and quickly climbed to the position of editor. He continued to work at the OUP in various positions of increasing responsibility until his death in 1945. One of his greatest editorial achievements was the publication of the first major English-language edition of the works of Søren Kierkegaard. [6]

Oxford University Press Publishing arm of the University of Oxford

Oxford University Press (OUP) is the largest university press in the world, and the second oldest after Cambridge University Press. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the vice-chancellor known as the delegates of the press. They are headed by the secretary to the delegates, who serves as OUP's chief executive and as its major representative on other university bodies. Oxford University has used a similar system to oversee OUP since the 17th century. The Press is located on Walton Street, opposite Somerville College, in the suburb Jericho.

Søren Kierkegaard Danish philosopher and theologian, precursor of Existentialism

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, social critic and religious author who is widely considered to be the first existentialist philosopher. He wrote critical texts on organized religion, Christendom, morality, ethics, psychology, and the philosophy of religion, displaying a fondness for metaphor, irony and parables. Much of his philosophical work deals with the issues of how one lives as a "single individual", giving priority to concrete human reality over abstract thinking and highlighting the importance of personal choice and commitment. He was against literary critics who defined idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, and thought that Swedenborg, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, Schlegel and Hans Christian Andersen were all "understood" far too quickly by "scholars".

Although chiefly remembered as a novelist, Williams also published poetry, works of literary criticism, theology, drama, history, biography, and a voluminous number of book reviews. Some of his best known novels are War in Heaven (1930), Descent into Hell (1937), and All Hallows' Eve (1945). [7] T. S. Eliot, who wrote an introduction for the last of these, described Williams's novels as "supernatural thrillers" because they explore the sacramental intersection of the physical with the spiritual while also examining the ways in which power, even spiritual power, can corrupt as well as sanctify. All of Williams's fantasies, unlike those of J. R. R. Tolkien and most of those of C. S. Lewis, are set in the contemporary world. Williams has been described by Colin Manlove as one of the three main writers of "Christian fantasy" in the twentieth century (the other two being C.S. Lewis and T. F. Powys). [8] More recent writers of fantasy novels with contemporary settings, notably Tim Powers, cite Williams as a model and inspiration. W. H. Auden, one of Williams's greatest admirers, reportedly re-read Williams's extraordinary and highly unconventional history of the church, The Descent of the Dove (1939), every year. Williams's study of Dante entitled The Figure of Beatrice (1944) was very highly regarded at its time of publication and continues to be consulted by Dante scholars today. His work inspired Dorothy L. Sayers to undertake her translation of The Divine Comedy. Williams, however, regarded his most important work to be his extremely dense and complex Arthurian poetry, of which two books were published, Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), and more remained unfinished at his death. Some of Williams's essays were collected and published posthumously in Image of the City and Other Essays (1958), edited by Anne Ridler.

<i>Descent into Hell</i> (novel) book by Charles Williams

Descent Into Hell is a novel written by Charles Williams, first published in 1937.

T. S. Eliot English author

Thomas Stearns Eliot,, "one of the twentieth century's major poets" was also an essayist, publisher, playwright, and literary and social critic. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States, to a prominent Boston Brahmin family, he moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25, settling, working, and marrying there. He became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39, renouncing his American passport.

J. R. R. Tolkien British philologist and author, creator of classic fantasy works

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and academic, who is best known as the author of the classic high fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

Williams gathered many followers and disciples during his lifetime. He was, for a period, a member of the Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He met fellow Anglican Evelyn Underhill (who was affiliated with a similar group, the Order of the Golden Dawn) in 1937 and was later to write the introduction to her published Letters in 1943. [9]

When World War II broke out in 1939, Oxford University Press moved its offices from London to Oxford. Williams was reluctant to leave his beloved city, and Florence refused to go. From the nearly 700 letters he wrote his wife during the war years a generous selection has been published; "primarily… love letters," the editor calls them. [10] But the move to Oxford did allow him to participate regularly in Lewis’s literary society known as the Inklings. In this setting Williams was able to read (and improve) his final published novel, All Hallows' Eve, as well as to hear J. R. R. Tolkien read aloud to the group some of his early drafts of The Lord of the Rings . In addition to meeting in Lewis's rooms at Oxford, they also regularly met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford (better known by its nickname "The Bird and Baby"). During this time Williams also gave lectures at Oxford on John Milton, William Wordsworth, and other authors, and received an honorary M.A. degree. Williams is buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford: his headstone bears the word "poet", followed by the words "Under the Mercy", a phrase often used by Williams himself. [11]

Personal life

Williams' grave at Holywell Cemetery in Oxford Grave of Charles Williams at Holywell.jpg
Williams' grave at Holywell Cemetery in Oxford

In 1917 Williams married his first sweetheart, Florence Conway, following a long courtship during which he presented her with a sonnet sequence that would later become his first published book of poetry, The Silver Stair. [12] [13] Their son Michael was born in 1922.

Williams was an unswerving and devoted member of the Church of England, reputedly with a tolerance of the scepticism of others and a firm belief in the necessity of a "doubting Thomas" in any apostolic body. [14]

Although Williams attracted the attention and admiration of some of the most notable writers of his day, including T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, his greatest admirer was probably C. S. Lewis, whose novel That Hideous Strength (1945) has been regarded as partially inspired by his acquaintance with both the man and his novels and poems. Williams came to know Lewis after reading Lewis's then-recently published study The Allegory of Love ; he was so impressed he jotted down a letter of congratulation and dropped it in the mail. Coincidentally, Lewis had just finished reading Williams's novel The Place of the Lion and had written a similar note of congratulation. The letters crossed in the mail and led to an enduring and fruitful friendship.


Williams developed the concept of co-inherence and gave rare consideration to the theology of romantic love. Falling in love for Williams was a form of mystical envisioning in which one saw the beloved as he or she was seen through the eyes of God. Co-inherence was a term used in Patristic theology to describe the relationship between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ and the relationship between the persons of the blessed Trinity. [15] [16] Williams extended the term to include the ideal relationship between the individual parts of God's creation, including human beings. It is our mutual indwelling: Christ in us and we in Christ, interdependent. It is also the web of interrelationships, social and economic and ecological, by which the social fabric and the natural world function. [17] But especially for Williams, co-inherence is a way of talking about the Body of Christ and the communion of saints. For Williams, salvation was not a solitary affair: "The thread of the love of God was strong enough to save you and all the others, but not strong enough to save you alone."[ citation needed ] He proposed an order, the Companions of the Co-inherence, who would practice substitution and exchange, living in love-in-God, truly bearing one another's burdens, being willing to sacrifice and to forgive, living from and for one another in Christ. [18] According to Gunnar Urang, co-inherence is the focus of all Williams's novels. [19]


He is writing that sort of book in which we begin by saying, let us suppose that this everyday world were at some one point invaded by the marvelous.

C.S. Lewis on Charles Williams's novels [20]






Literary criticism


Other works


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  1. Higgins, Sørina (12 June 2013). "Under the Cathedral: CW's early life 1886–1908". The Oddest Inkling: An exploration of the works of poet Charles Williams (1886-1945). Word press. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  2. Zaleski, Philip; Zaleski, Carol (2015). The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Macmillan). p. 223. ISBN   0-37415409-0.
  3. 1 2 Lindop, Grevel (2009). Bray, Suzanne; Sturch, Richard, eds. Charles Williams and his Contemporaries. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 3. ISBN   1-44380565-3.
  4. 1 2 Lindop, Grevel (2015). Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. Oxford University Press. p. 6. ISBN   0-19928415-6.
  5. Charles Williams blue plaque in St Albans
  6. Paulus, Michael J., Jr. (2009), "From a Publisher's Point of View: Charles Williams's Role in Publishing Kierkegaard in English", in Bray, Suzanne; Sturch, Richard, Charles Williams and His Contemporaries (PDF), Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, ISBN   978-1-4438-0565-0, archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2014, retrieved 10 January 2012
  7. Samuelson, David N. (1985). Bleiler, E.F., ed. "Charles Williams". Supernatural Fiction Writers : Fantasy and Horror. New York: Scribner's: 631–38. ISBN   0-68417808-7.
  8. Carretero González, Margarita; Hidalgo Tenorio, Encarnación (2001). Behind the Veil of Familiarity: C.S. Lewis (1898–1998). Peter Lang. p. 305. ISBN   0-82045099-5.
  9. Williams, Charles (1943). "Introduction to The Letters of Evelyn Underhill". iHug. NZ: Longmans, Green & Co. Archived from the original on 21 April 2006.
  10. King, Roma A, Jr, ed. (2002). To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to his wife, Florence, 1939–1945. Kent, Ohio; London: Kent State University Press. p. 4.
  11. Arbor field (3 February 2011). "Under the Mercy". The Inklings. Google Blogger. Retrieved 25 March 2016.
  12. Higgins, Sørina (13 November 2013). "The Silver Stair, 1912". The Oddest Inkling. Wordpress. Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  13. The Silver Stair. London: Herbert & Daniel, 1912.
  14. 1 2 Hopkins, G. W. S. "About Charles Williams: Biography of Charles Walter Stansby Williams (1886-1945)". Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-50. Oxford University Press; reproduced by permission online by The Charles Williams Society.
  15. Williams, Charles (1961). The Figure of Beatrice: A Study in Dante. New York: Noonday. p. 92.
  16. Prestige, G.L. (2008). "XIV: Co-Inherence". God in Patristic Thought. Wipf & Stock. ISBN   978-1-55635779-4.
  17. Marshall, Ashley (2007). "Reframing Charles Williams: Modernist Doubt and the Crisis of World War in All Hallows' Eve". Journal of Modern Literature. 30 (2): 67. JSTOR   4619328.
  18. Newman, Barbara (2009-01-01). "Charles Williams and the Companions of the Co-inherence". Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. 9 (1): 1–26. doi:10.1353/scs.0.0043. ISSN   1535-3117.
  19. Urang, Gunnar (1 June 1971). Shadows of heaven: religion and fantasy in the writing of C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J.R.R. Tolkien. Pilgrim Press. p. 70. ISBN   978-0-8298-0197-2.
  20. Lewis, CS. You tube (audio). Google.
  21. "Et in Sempiternum Pereant". Project Gutenberg of Australia. Retrieved 2017-09-22.
  22. Glen Cavaliero, "A Metaphysical Epiphany? Charles Williams and the Art of the Ghost Story," in The Rhetoric of Vision, ed. Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 1996 (pp. 93–97).
  23. "War in Heaven".
  24. "Many Dimensions".
  25. "The Place of the Lion".
  26. "The Greater Trumps".
  27. "Shadows of Ecstasy".
  28. "Descent Into Hell".
  29. Williams, Charles (1945). All Hallows' Eve. Faber & Faber.
  30. "All Hallows' Eve".
  31. David Llewellyn Dodds, "The Chapel of the Thorn, an Unknown Dramatic Poem by C. Williams," Inklings Jahrbuch 5 (1987): 134.