Lewis’s friendship with and erican fan Joy Davidman, and her subsequent death from cancer, has been the subject of many articles and books, a play, a film, and television drama. For Lewis, Joy Davidman’s appearance in his life must have seemed extraordinary. Though he was now a famous writer, he was also fifty-four years old: a heavy man with a booming voice, shabbily dressed and awkward around women. (“I am tall, fat, bald, red-faced, double-chinned…and wear glasses,” he had written to a class of fifth-graders in America who had asked for a description of himself.) Joy was thirty-seven, a nonpracticing Jew and former Communist from New York, who had begun writing Lewis in 1950 and in 1952 came to England in order to meet him. She was small, dark, attractive, lively, tough, and outspoken. She also regarded Lewis as one of the greatest men of his time, whose works had inspired her conversion to Christianity. (The coincidence of her first name with Lewis’s private term for peak experiences of literature and nature may have appeared miraculous; it was also the hidden message in the title he later chose for his autobiography, Surprised by Joy.)
Joy Davidman was certainly a surprise to his friends. Some saw her as a vulgar and scheming husband-hunter, others as an intelligent, amusing woman who had rescued Lewis from loneliness and despair after Mrs. Moore’s death. When she moved to Oxford he began seeing her every day; soon he was paying her rent and the school fees of her two sons. Though he was still declaring himself a “confirmed bachelor,” in 1956, in order to prevent Joy from being deported from England, they were joined in a civil ceremony. But Lewis did not consider himself truly married in the Christian sense; he told one friend that it was “a pure matter of friendship and expediency…simply a legal form.” It was not until the following year, when Joy was apparently dying of cancer, that they were married by an Anglican priest in her hospital room.
As Lewis put it, rather embarrassingly, they “feasted on love
The priest who performed the marriage ceremony also prayed for Joy’s healing, and whether the cause was spiritual or psychological, the effect was remarkable. Joy’s cancer went into remission; and for the next three and a half years she and Lewis enjoyed a full life together. ” Joy went everywhere with him and he even tried to include her in the regular Thursday meetings of his all-male discussion group, the Inklings. As A.N. Wilson reports, those friends “who were forced to meet Joy did not enjoy it, and pretty soon made excuses to avoid meeting her again.” Lewis took her to Greece, which she had always longed to visit, and consulted her about his writing. But then Joy’s cancer returned, and she died in July 1959.
Most of them portray the relationship as a tragic but uplifting romance
Biographers and critics have tried her response to understand how Lewis could have chosen to devote his life to two such different but equally demanding women. One possible explanation comes from Lewis’s father, Albert, who wrote to Lewis’s brother that his younger son was “an impetuous, kind-hearted creature who could be cajoled by any woman who has been through the mill.” It is also true that both Janie Moore and Joy Davidman were evidently very much in love with Lewis and regarded him as a truly great man-something that is often irresistible. And both seem to have had an effect on his writing: the domestic heroine of Lewis’s science-fiction fantasy, That Hideous Strength, is named Jane, and the more active and adventurous girls in the later Chronicles of Narnia, like Aravis in The Horse and His Boy and Polly in The Magician’s Nephew, surely owe something to Joy Davidman.