seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of C.S. Lewis, Novelist & Poet

Clive Staples Lewis, novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, broadcaster, lecturer, and Christian apologist, dies in Oxford, England, on November 22, 1963.

Lewis is born in Belfast on November 29, 1898. When he is seven, his family moves into “Little Lea,” the family home of his childhood, in the Strandtown area of East Belfast. He was schooled by private tutors until age 9, when his mother dies from cancer. His father then sends him to live and study at Wynyard School in Watford, Hertfordshire. The school closes soon afterwards due to a lack of pupils. He then attends Campbell College in the east of Belfast about a mile from his home, but leaves after a few months due to respiratory problems. He is then sent to the health-resort town of Malvern, Worcestershire, where he attends the preparatory school Cherbourg House. It is during this time that Lewis abandons his childhood Christian faith and becomes an atheist. In September 1913, he enrolls at Malvern College, where he remains until the following June. After leaving Malvern, he studies privately with William T. Kirkpatrick, his father’s old tutor and former headmaster of Lurgan College.

Lewis holds academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J.R.R. Tolkien are close friends. They both serve on the English faculty at Oxford University, and are active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis’s memoir Surprised by Joy, he is baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. He returns to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he becomes an “ordinary layman of the Church of England.” His faith profoundly affects his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity bring him wide acclaim.

Lewis writes more than 30 books, which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologetics from many denominations.

In early June 1961, Lewis begins suffering from nephritis, which results in blood poisoning. His illness causes him to miss the autumn term at Cambridge, though his health gradually begins improving in 1962 and he returns that April. His health continues to improve and he is fully himself by early 1963. On July 15 of that year he falls ill and is admitted to hospital. At 5:00 PM the following day he suffers a heart attack and lapses into a coma, unexpectedly awaking the following afternoon. After he is discharged from the hospital he is too ill to return to work. As a result, he resigns from his post at Cambridge in August. His condition continues to decline, and in mid-November he is diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. On November 22, exactly one week before his 65th birthday, he collapses in his bedroom at 5:30 PM and dies a few minutes later. He is buried in the churchyard of Holy Trinity Church, Headington, Oxford.

Media coverage of Lewis’s death is almost completely overshadowed by news of the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, which occurs on the same day approximately 55 minutes following Lewis’s collapse, as does the death of English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World.

In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis is honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His works enter the public domain in 2014 in countries where copyright expires 50 years after the death of the creator, such as Canada.

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The Censorship of Publications Act

The Censorship of Publications Act is passed on July 16, 1929. The laws enacted by the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929 are introduced in an era of political isolationism and cultural and economic protectionism. Ireland’s culture is very moral and religious. Catholicism, the religion of 93% of the population, is the fundamental philosophy behind the censorship laws.

A main aim of the new legislation is to prevent the introduction of unwholesome foreign influences like materialism, consumerism and immorality from abroad. Specifically, this means works that are considered to be indecent or obscene, newspapers whose content relies too much on crime, and works that promote the “unnatural” prevention of conception or that advocate abortion. Irish writers who are found offensive are officially regarded as agents of decadence and social disintegration who are striking at the roots of family life and moral decency. For example, Father P.J. Gannon thinks that the Act is “but a simple measure of moral hygiene, forced upon the Irish public by a veritable spate of filth never surpassed.” He thinks that all literature must provide “noble ground for noble emotion.” President Éamon de Valera feels that the arts in Ireland are to be encouraged when they observe the “holiest traditions,” but should be censored when they fail to live up to this ideal.

Although the new laws are typical of censorship laws in many other countries in the 1920s and 1930s, they are implemented with an eagerness which gradually alienates and embitters many Irish writers. It causes some writers to leave the country. The author Mervyn Wall explains that during the 1930s there is “a general intolerant attitude to writing, painting and sculpture. These were thought dangerous, likely to corrupt faith and morals…One encountered frequently among ordinary people bitter hostility to writers…Obscurantism had settled on the country like a fog, so of course anyone who had eyes to see and the heart to feel, was rebellious.”

The Academy of Letters established by William Butler Yeats attempts to fight censorship with solidarity among writers, but it achieves little in this field. The fight against literary censorship is fought mainly by isolated figures. Seán Ó Faoláin, perhaps the most vociferous critic of the censorship laws, writes, “Our Censorship…tries to keep the mind in a state of perpetual adolescence in the midst of all the influences that must, in spite of it, pour in from the adult world.”

Among the first thirteen books to be banned, announced in the Iris Oifigúil in May 1930, are Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley, The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall and several books on sex and marriage by Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes. Surprisingly, none of James Joyce‘s writings are ever banned by the Board, while copies of his works are burned by the British Customs, and Ulysses is banned in the United States for several years.