Friday, April 01, 2011

C. S. Lewis' Belgian Teenage Crush

It sounds like an April Fool's Day gag*, but it's not. At least, it's not mine.

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. I've been reading the first volume of C.S.Lewis' collected letters recently, which cover the still-extant letters from 1905 to 1931. I've just gotten through 1915, when Jack was seventeen years old and studying with Professor Kirkpatrick.

In a letter to his friend Arthur Greeves dated 2 February, he mentions a somewhat mysterious "She", an "awfully decent sort" that he is clearly quite taken with. A helpful footnote explains - from what source is not mentioned - that about that time a family of Belgian refugees had moved into the area where Jack was staying, and that the young Lewis "became infatuated" with one of the family's daughters.

This never-named young lady is mentioned a few more times in subsequent correspondence between Jack and Arthur, once on 16 February (where Lewis remarks that Greeves "perhaps [is] tired of my 'affaires'"), and again on 30 March to note that the two were exchanging letters.

The mysterious Belgian girl is mentioned one final time in letters between the two, on the first of October 1931. In it, the two are discussing their previous correspondence on Lewis mentions "suppressing . . . all letters that refer to my pretended assignation** with the Belgian".

So, then, it's "April Fools!" on us and Arthur Greeves, kind of. But how much is "pretended"? The footnote to the first letter suggests that the family of refugees at least existed, and Jack didn't make it up out of whole cloth. Personally, I think - or would like to think, at least - that he did make friends with the girl, and that his claims of "pretended assignation" refer to Jack exaggerating the romantic aspects of the relationship to his friend, completely unsurprising behavior from young men in any era.

*Which is, of course, why I'm posting this little tidbit today.

** "Assignation", in this context, apparently meaning the same thing as "Tryst". Or maybe, "Date"?


Andrew Rilstone said...

Might "pretended assignation" mean "the assignation I wanted to have, but didn't manage". (In the way that a "pretender to the throne" is someone who wants to be king, not someone who is under the delusion that he's already king.) i.e Could Lewis just be saying "There was a girl I fancied, but entirely failed to get off with" in a rather fancy way?

T. Everett said...

It could certainly be interpreted that way - the whole affair is very vague and ambiguous.