The place of the self in C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce: a marriage of the "two Lewises".
all those who perish in the wrath of God assemble here from all parts of the earth; they want to cross the river, they are eager; it is Divine Justice that spurs them on, turning the fear they have into desire. (2)
Lewis's general depiction of the possibilities open to the human soul, which find their trajectories in two diametrically opposed destinations, is in agreement with Dante's representation of heaven and hell as the final end of the opposite and ultimately irreconcilable desires of love and hatred for self, nature, and God.
However, this parallel, which indicates that Dante and Lewis share a common worldview rooted in an orthodox Christian anthropology and metaphysics, points to a fundamental distinction in their respective modes of representation of the economy of salvation and damnation. For in the Divine Comedy, as seen most clearly in the Inferno, the body is employed as a figure of sinful desire with corporeal and spatial images representative of sin itself. The very opacity of bodies indicates a resistance to the divine will, and the narrowing of the concentric circles of Hell symbolize the narrowing of desire in the direction of self and away from God. The body itself comes to symbolize the sin of which the soul is guilty as the contrapasso in turn fits the sin. For example, in canto XIII of the Inferno, the final end for suicides is to be severed from their own bodies, which will hang from trees, a punishment that mirrors the suicides' act of severing themselves from their earthly lives (see Inferno, canto XII, 103-8). Similarly, in canto XXVIII, Mahomet himself articulates the reason for his particular punishment, which has been incurred through the sin of schism: "'Because I cut the bonds of those so joined, / I bear my head cut off from its life source, / which is back there, alas, with its trunk'" (Inferno, canto XXVIII, 139-41). The point is that justice is done according to the overriding desire of the particular soul, which is confirmed by a comment Virgil makes in canto XIV of the Inferno to Capaneus, whose sin is blasphemy:
O Capaneus, since your blustering pride will not be stilled, you are made to suffer more: no torment other than your rage itself could punish your gnawing pride more perfectly. (Inferno, canto XIV, 63-66)
In contrast to this, The Great Divorce represents Hell as a place of wide open spaces, indicating the alienation and distance sin creates between souls. This is most clearly represented in the figure of Napoleon, whose palace was visited by two Ghosts after a journey that took "about fifteen thousand years." The house remains with "nothing near it for millions of miles." (3) The ephemeral nature of the inhabitants of Hell--their insubstantiality, indicated by the appellation of "Ghosts"--in contrast with the concreteness of the Solid People and the stark and unyielding reality of Heaven marks the contrast between Lewis's rhetorical strategy and Dante's mode of representation.
The difference between these two approaches is not due to some deep metaphysical or theological disagreement between Dante and Lewis. In an essay titled "Dante's Similes," Lewis analyzes lines 46-54 of the first canto of the Paradiso, in which Dante imitates Beatrice in gazing at the sun. Lewis's summary of the manner in which the simile works on three different levels indicates the deep metaphysical underpinnings that Lewis sees at work in Dante's poetics: "Dante and Beatrice are literaliter to the sun (and allegorice to God) what all reflected beams are to the original source of light and what Dante is literaliter to Beatrice and the human understanding allegorice to Wisdom and the whole universe (including beams of light and sources of light) is to the Unmoved Mover. The whole of Christian-Aristotelian theology is thus brought together." (4)
For Lewis, this is an example of Dante's entire poetic strategy, pointing to its grounding in a theological metaphysics to which Lewis himself is committed. But perhaps the deep theological and metaphysical agreement between Lewis and Dante can best be seen at the anthropological level when comparing what Virgil, Dante's guide through hell and purgatory in the Divine Comedy, and the Spirit of George MacDonald, Lewis's guide in Heaven in The Great Divorce, say about the human will in relation to the Divine. In canto XVIII of the Purgatory, Virgil explains the nature of love to Dante in the following manner:
Neither Creator nor his creatures ever, my son, lacked love ... While it is fixed on the Eternal Good, and observes temperance loving worldly goods, it cannot be the cause of sinful joys; but when it turns toward evil or pursues some good with not enough or too much zeal-- the creature turns on his Creator then. (5)
In The Great Divorce, when the Spirit of George MacDonald accuses the Ghost named Pam of lack of love because she refuses to let go of her idolatrous love for her son Michael, the narrator accuses the Spirit of "cruelty" and "inhumanity." The Spirit responds with the following argument: "There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him. And the higher it is the mightier it is in the natural order, the more demoniac it will be if it rebels" (Divorce, 96). This is this central point of departure for each--the decision to either align the human will with God or rebel against God--that links the world of the Divine Comedy with that of The Great Divorce.
Neither is it any perceived failure in Dante's poetic representation that leads Lewis to a different rhetorical approach. Consider Lewis's summary of Dante's poetic skill in the essay on "Dante's Similes" previously mentioned:
I think Dante's poetry, on the whole, the greatest of all the poetry I have read: yet when it is at its highest pitch of excellence, I hardly feel that Dante has very much to do. There is a curious feeling that the great poem is writing itself, or at most, that the tiny figure of the poet is merely giving the gentlest guiding touch, here and there, to energies which, for the most part, spontaneously group themselves and perform delicate evolutions which make up the Comedy. ("Similes," 76)
This is the highest praise one can lavish on a poem and poet; clearly Lewis didn't believe the conception of sin and its representation by Dante was in need of improvement.
However, there is a clue to explaining the differing employments of corporeality and spatiality in the Divine Comedy and The Great Divorce, discovered in Lewis's contrast between the medieval and modern conceptions of astronomy in The Discarded Image. In the context of an explanation of Dante's representation of heaven, Lewis points out that for the medieval mind, the universe is finite, whereas for the modern, it is infinite. This difference of conception results in a massive difference in cognition, which in turn results in opposing emotional responses:
Because the medieval universe is finite, it has a shape, the perfect spherical shape, containing within itself an ordered variety. Hence to look out on the night sky with modern eyes is like looking out over a sea that fades away into mist, or looking about on in a trackless forest--trees forever and no horizon. To look up at the towering medieval universe is much more like looking at a great building. The 'space' of modern astronomy may arouse terror, or bewilderment or vague reverie; the spheres of the old present us with an object in which the mind can rest, overwhelming in its greatness but satisfying in its harmony. That is the sense in which our universe is romantic, and theirs was classical. (6)
Lewis in effect has transposed the spatial understanding of the modern conception of the universe into the spiritual dimensions of Hell in order to effect the sense of terror and evacuation of form that arises in the contemplation of the vast emptiness of space. This is a vastly different conception of hell from Dante's; their differences owe not to a different set of metaphysical or theological conceptions, but to a different sense of the material universe that each occupies. What I want to suggest, and explore through a reading of the images employed to represent the possibilities of Heaven and Hell in The Great Divorce, is that the employment of concreteness and solidity to represent Heaven and emptiness and ephemerality to represent Hell are devices that employ modern conceptions of the world to critique the modern accounts of human nature in relation to reality.
My point of departure is Owen Barfield's interpretation of this work as exhibiting a joining of two apparently opposed "Lewises." (7) On the one hand is his "atomic" way of thinking, which is analytical, dominated by a rigor that follows the logic of cause and effect. The absolute distinction between good and evil and the realm of human freedom that gives rise to opposing choices are the supporting structures for this side of Lewis's thought (see "Reflections," 85). On the other hand is his "mythopoeic" thought, characterized by what he describes as "a sequence of shapes and patterns gradually changing into each other" ("Reflections," 86). Barfield goes on to argue that, for Lewis, these two realms were to be kept distinct from one another. As Barfield succinctly puts it: "Knowledge, or belief about matters of fact, was one thing; myth and all it stands for, another" ("Reflections," 87). Thus, according to Barfield, the atomic Lewis and the mythopoeic Lewis are split, divided by "the post-Cartesian reality principle, the great divorce between matter and spirit. However it might be in heaven, for man on earth to search for any link between myth and fact was for him a crucial error" ("Reflections," 87). From this, Barfield concludes that there is "something like a great divorce between the two Lewises" ("Reflections," 88). However, Barfield continues, in The Great Divorce these two elements are married in the representation of "heaven as a solid place" ("Reflections," 88). As such, Lewis "employs not only material shapes but materiality itself to symbolize immateriality" ("Reflections," 88). According to Barfield, The Great Divorce, as the product of Lewis's struggle to reconcile fact and myth, is "a symbol of imagination's relation to truth, a symbol of myth, a symbol of symbolism itself " ("Reflections," 89).
The question of whether Barfield is right that Lewis accepted a form of the Cartesian split between mind and body, and so held that fact and myth were to be kept wholly distinct from one another, is a matter that cannot be decided in this article. But one of the reasons Barfield makes this claim is found in "The Preface" to The Great Divorce, in which Lewis warns his readers "to remember" that, though its purpose is didactic, the work "is a fantasy" (Divorce, 11). The suggestion here is that the moral elements are to be kept distinct from the fantastic. Barfield's interpretation also suggests that, in some manner, Lewis's own reservations about the relationship between fact and myth expressed in the "Preface" are at odds with the work itself, which does unify these two divorced principles. Barfield also seems to suggest that Lewis's moral sensibility--the iron-hard logic of the relationship between actions and meaningful consequences that determine a human being's end, for good or evil--is linked with the atomic Lewis, the realm of fact, and is distinct from the Lewis of myth. But this is not, then, to follow the Cartesian distinction between spirit and body that Barfield claims Lewis follows, as though Lewis were really a modern at heart. Nevertheless, Barfield's point that in making heaven solid Lewis is using a material form to symbolize an immaterial reality is the key to understanding the symbolic nature of The Great Divorce in a way that illuminates his conception of the self. Though not a Cartesian, there is in Lewis's thought a distinction between materiality and immateriality, one that derives from his Christian understanding of the world. And rhetorically speaking, didactic and mythological forms of narrative tend to operate differently, as is suggested by Lewis's comment quoted above. In this limited sense, I will accept Barfield's distinction between the atomic and the mythopoeic Lewises. More importantly though, Lewis's purpose in The Great Divorce is to respond to a major element of modernity that is founded on Cartesian thought--the belief that only what is empirically verifiable is real; but Lewis's insight springs not from a sense of a deep and foundational divorce between spirit and matter, but from their deep relationship.
In order to elaborate this notion of the self, I will trace Lewis's definitions of allegory, symbol, and fantasy found in some of his more scholarly works. But first, I will address what I see as Lewis's strategy in making heaven solid as an example of his use of materiality as a symbol for the immaterial. Here Lewis capitalizes on two contradictory positions in modernity: that reality consists of solid objects and that the subjective world of inner states of consciousness is all that one can know. Barfield's distinction between the atomic and mythopoeic Lewises is instructive here, not in its insistence on explaining Lewis's own mind, but in pointing to the two kinds of contradictory positions taken up by modernity. For moderns, the relationship between cause and effect is factual and inheres in bodies, while moral categories such as sin, responsibility, and the absolute divergence (or divorce) between good and evil would reside within the realm of fantasy, in the mythic or fictional side of this divide. This is the point made by "the fat ghost with the cultured voice" (Divorce, 38) who discourses with the Spirit Dick on theological matters, insisting on freedom of thought in matters of spirituality: "The suggestion at my age to the mere factual inquisitiveness of boyhood strikes me as preposterous. In any case, that question-and-answer conception of thought only applies to matters of fact. Religious and speculative questions are surely on a different level" (Divorce, 45). When Dick responds by inviting him to come and see the "Eternal Fact, the Father of all other facthood," the Ghost responds: "I should object very strongly to describing God as a 'fact.' The Supreme Value would surely be a less inadequate description." He continues by denying to know the meaning of the word "existence," claiming that "God, for me, is something purely spiritual" (Divorce, 45). This is the voice of modernity, severing material facts, which alone have existence, from all that pertains to the inner life of spirit and thereby leaving them freely floating in the realm of fiction. Clearly this dialogue undermines Barfield's claim that Lewis's moral logic is merely analytical and resides solely with his atomic side of thinking (see "Reflections," 84-85). The satire here is directed at those who prefer a "myth," though unreal, to a real God, indicating that for Lewis both morality and religious belief are factual. Barfield's strict distinction between the atomic and mythopoeic, though perhaps useful as a means of analyzing Lewis's use of figural language, is philosophically untenable and is itself a subject for satire in The Great Divorce.
My point is twofold. First, Lewis's strategy in The Great Divorce is to show the inherent contradiction of modernity's conception of reality and the place of the self in it: it supposes that facts are real but that the inner life of the self is free from that reality while nevertheless remaining the only thing that can be known and the only thing that remains significant. Second, Barfield's divorce between the atomic and mythopoeic Lewises, while highly suggestive, places the moral element of his thought on the atomic side, whereas for Lewis, it remains the bridge between the atomic and mythopoeic Lewises. In Lewis's moral anthropology is found the key to bringing these two elements together. Lewis's "great divorce" is not, as Barfield would have it, between body and spirit, but between good and evil, between which the human person remains poised, capable of choosing either. In the startling and rather violent collision of material solidity and spiritual energy in The Great Divorce is found the power of Lewis's critique of modern conceptions of the self. The strategy of employing physical images as spiritual symbols is the key to understanding how the human person remains the locus at which the great divorce between good and evil makes its dramatic appearance, and the place at which the atomic and mythopoeic ways of thinking are married.
Lewis's essay "Life" in Studies in Words provides us with a clue to this strategy. Here, we find biological life defined in modern thought not as a thing but as a power inhering in things. (8) Lewis points out that while the modern mind is seemingly opposed to Platonic abstraction, "the modern usage of one privileged abstract noun often reveals a state of mind ... which is startlingly close to the Platonic. If we want to know what it felt like to be Plato thinking about Beauty, we can get some inkling by noticing how people use Life (Biological)" ("Life," 295). Lewis's point here is that the word "Life" is used not as an abstract noun but as a word signifying a unified and transcendent force that nevertheless operates in each thing ("Life," 295-96). This must be true if the biological sciences have a unity--all life, from human beings to microscopic organisms, must share in this one eidos, or form, in order for science to be intelligible. At the same time, when asked to account for the use of the word philosophically, modern empiricism would argue the word is not properly a universal but a heuristic tag or, as Lewis puts it, "a linguistic gadget, a tool whereby we can conveniently manipulate the subject-matter of biology" ("Life," 294). Lewis goes on to point out that in modern writers such as Nietzsche and D. H. Lawrence, reverence for the "mystical sense of oneness" found in the pleasures and joys of life can only find their poetic power in reference to real experiences rather than as abstract or logical terms ("Life," 296-300). In this critique of the modern usage of the term "Life," Charles Williams's The Place of the Lion serves as an interpretive key with its Platonic conception of the world presented in a fantasy that reveals the reality of the spiritual world as over and above the material and in a concrete, experiential way, not an abstract, empty manner. The dualism of modernity, which implicitly accepts a deep division between humans and nature, between body and spirit, is nevertheless captivated by a notion of the unity of beings, albeit a flattened one, physically determined, and vaguely expressed by the word "Life." In Lewis's critique of this contradiction, we find a bridge between what Barfield refers to as the factuality of atomic thinking and the formalism of mythopoeic thinking, and the manner in which these two might be combined.
The bridge between these two realms is found in the human activity of symbolic thinking. According to Lewis, this is a permanent aspect of human nature. In The Allegory of Love, Lewis makes a distinction between allegory, which is defined as the attempt "to represent what is immaterial in picturable terms" by taking a human passion and giving it shape in the figure of a person who embodies that characteristic, and symbolism, which is a broader and deeper form of representing the immaterial world. (9) Lewis describes the possibility for this form of representation in the following way: "If our passions, being immaterial, can be copied by material inventions, then it is possible that our material world in its turn is the copy of an invisible world. ... The attempt to read that something else through its sensible imitations, to see the archetype in the copy, is what I mean by symbolism or sacramentalism" (Allegory, 45). Symbolism is broader than allegory in that allegory is a personification of a characteristic, a mode of rhetorical expression by which we find "accidents occurring in a substance," whereas "symbolism is a mode of thought" by which the mythological figure is represented as existing on its own, as a free-standing substance (see Allegory, 45-48). We get a sense of the depth of symbolism over allegory in Lewis's account of their differing strategies:
The difference between the two can hardly be exaggerated. The allegorist leaves the world of the given--his own passions--to talk of that which is confessedly less real, which is a fiction. The symbolist leaves the given to find that which is more real. To put the difference in another way, for the symbolist it is we who are the allegory. We are the "frigid personifications"; the heavens above us are the "shadowy abstractions"; the world which we mistake for reality is the flat outline of that which elsewhere veritably is in all the round of its unimaginable dimensions. (Allegory, 45)
Lewis's "Preface" to The Great Divorce then, in calling the work a "fantasy," is actually making a grand claim for its status as a form of symbolism in which sensible images are used to represent what is more real, the realm of spirituality. In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis claims that the one characteristic shared by myth and fantasy is their shared subject-matter--the "fantastic," which deals "with impossibles and preternaturals," a phrase repeated exactly in defining both myth and fantasy. (10) The use of solids in The Great Divorce to convey the idea of heaven as possessing a more concrete and more substantial reality than the physical world is clearly a form of symbolism as Lewis defines it. The process by which Ghosts are transformed into "Solid People" is symbolic of the act of symbolism itself. It indicates a form of mythological figuration that opens upon the spiritual realm and into "its unimaginable dimensions," an idea that is represented in the description of the landscape by the narrator as he first observes the wide expanse of Heaven in The Great Divorce:
Very far away I could see what might be either a great bank of cloud or a range of mountains. Sometimes I could make out in it steep forests, far-withdrawing valleys, and even mountain cities perched on inaccessible summits. At other times it became indistinct. The height was so enormous that my waking sight could not have taken in such an object at all. Light brooded on the top of it: slanting down thence it made long shadows behind every tree on the plain. (Divorce, 30)
The effect of this description is to point to a reality beyond the sensible realm by using images taken from a sublime landscape but which remain vaguely drawn, thus allowing the reader to imagine a world both like and unlike the images used to represent that greater reality. The natural description recalls the kind of natural imagery used by English Romantic poets such as Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Shelley; this is not surprising, considering that in his account of symbolism, Lewis referred to Romanticism as the "greatest expression" of symbolism in the history of Western literature (see Allegory, 46). In contrast with this, the process by which Ghosts become thinner and less real is a figural representation of the mode of allegory, the transformation of a reality into a fiction. This is represented by the wraith-like character of the Ghosts, the weakness of their senses, and the pain they experience among the natural landscape of Heaven, as well as by the insignificant smallness of Hell in relation to Heaven. (11) It can also be seen in the process by which the Ghosts become a form of their worst character flaw and in losing their substantiality in a process of abstraction become a "frigid personification" of an action. The Spirit of George Macdonald explains this in his discussion of the "silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling" (Divorce, 73). The possibilities are still open to her between becoming a real woman or becoming a mere grumble. To the question asked by the narrator: "But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?" the Spirit of George Macdonald responds:
The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye'll have had experiences... it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine." (Divorce, 74)
Thus, the two possibilities in The Great Divorce between Heaven and Hell are represented in the two figural processes of symbolism and allegory, the one pointing through images to a world more real than the physical, and the other to a fictional realm in which a person is reduced to a thin shadow of itself, its substance reduced to an accident.
In The Allegory of Love, symbolism is, as we have seen, a form of representation that finds its metaphysical source in a sacramental vision of the world whereby sensible images are imitations of a higher spiritual reality; symbolism is in an attempt "to see the archetype in the copy." According to Lewis, "Symbolism comes to us from Greece. It makes its first effective appearance in European thought with the dialogues of Plato" (Allegory, 45). It is astonishing how often Plato is mentioned in Lewis's works when speaking of forms of thought or literary modes that convey the structure of reality. Lewis's sacramental vision of reality, as a symbolic mode of figuration, is grounded in a Platonic metaphysics. The place of the self in The Great Divorce is discovered in a Platonic world. George Macdonald, to whom Lewis refers in The Allegory of Love as a "mystical and natural symbolist," is, in personae dramatis, the commentator on the nature of this world. As such, the Spirit of George Macdonald is the voice of symbolic representation. And while the conception of the self in The Great Divorce is founded upon a Christian anthropology rooted in the conflict between good and evil as articulated by St. Paul and St. Augustine, and not in the Platonic division between body and soul, the choice each soul must make in time opens upon eternity, and this distinction is rooted in Platonic metaphysics. Following Lewis's comment on the origins of sacramental symbolism in Plato, he gives three Platonic ideas that illustrate the notion of the relationship between imitation and its reality: "The Sun is the copy of the Good. Time is the moving image of eternity. All visible things exist just in so far as they succeed in imitating the Forms" (Allegory, 45-46). George Macdonald's explanation of freedom, located in the crossroads of the link between copy and reality, choice and the Good, time and eternity, reveals even as it conceals the mystery of these conjunctions.
If ye put the question from within Time and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who choose it will have it. But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of things as it will be (for so ye must speak) when there are no more possibilities left but only the Real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears. Time is the very lens through which ye see--small and clear; as men see through the wrong end of a telescope--something that would otherwise be too big for ye to see at all. That thing is Freedom: the gift where-by ye most resemble your Maker and are yourselves parts of eternal reality. But ye can see it only through the inverted telescope. It is a picture of moments following one another and yourself in each moment making some choice that might have been otherwise. Neither the temporal succession nor the phantom of what ye might have chosen and didn't is itself Freedom. They are the lens. The picture is a symbol: but it's truer than any philosophical theorem (or, perhaps, than any mystic's vision) that claims to go behind it. For every attempt to see the shape of eternity except through the lens of Time destroys your knowledge of Freedom. Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two. And wouldn't Universalism do the same? Ye cannot know eternal reality by a definition. Time itself, and all acts and events that fill Time, are the definition, and it must be lived. The Lord says we were gods. How long could ye bear to look (without Time's lens) on the greatness of your own soul and the eternal reality of her choice? (Divorce, 121-22)
This philosophical explanation points away from itself to the symbol that conveys the reality; in this, the Spirit of George Macdonald echoes Lewis's claim in An Experiment in Criticism that the tendency to explain mythologies by allegorizing them is a failure--the symbol is the most fitting lens through which the real is represented (see Experiment, 44).
The convergence of the Romantic aspect of the natural imagery employed to represent Heaven in The Great Divorce with the mode of symbolic representation here outlined indicates the dramatic point of intersection at which the self and reality coalesce for Lewis. I have tried to show how the role of desire operates in this work, indicating the dual trajectory open to human choice with its diametrically opposed ends. A retreat into self yields the unreality of human subjectivity enclosed upon itself and given to the soul that chooses it in contrast with the self that goes beyond itself and, in doing so, attains to reality in its highest form, which is God. The movement outside of the self is represented symbolically in the dramatic coming together of human desire and its object to make a world. It is in this sense that The Great Divorce, as a mode of symbolic representation, is a work of Romanticism.
In tracing this distinction between symbol and allegory, one can discover in Lewis's fiction a development from the allegorizing mode of The Pilgrim's Regress to the symbolic mode of The Great Divorce. Looking back ten years after the publication of The Pilgrim's Regress, Lewis in his "Afterword to the Third Edition" notes the subtitle, "An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism," in an attempt to assess the merits of the work. It would take a discussion that would go beyond the scope of this article to explain all the links between The Pilgrim's Regress and The Great Divorce, but the subtitle alone indicates the terms that such a discussion would address. In short, the latter work is an updated version of the former, with the allegorical elements subsumed into the symbolic in a more effective manner in The Great Divorce, but nevertheless still operative as a means of conveying the role of desire in leading to the good in both works.
The point I wish to fasten upon for the purposes of my final comment here is the term "Romanticism," which Lewis claims in the "Afterword" to be misleading, because of the many false senses in common usage that would mislead the reader. But Lewis goes on to explain what he meant by "Romanticism" in the subtitle of The Pilgrim's Regress, as originating in a childhood experience of "intense longing" evoked by nature, with two major characteristics. The first is one in which the longing itself, despite or even because of its lack of attainment, is one that is desired: "This desire, even when there is no hope of possible satisfaction, continues to be prized, and even to be preferred to anything else in the world, by those who have felt it. This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth." (12) The second refers to "the peculiar mystery about the object of this desire" that escapes comprehension and can be mistaken for other objects of desire that fall short of the original (Pilgrim's, 203). The allegorical structure of The Pilgrim's Regress plots out the course of discovering the inability of all natural and human objects to satisfy the original desire, while affirming the origin of that desire (Pilgrim's, 203). Thus the moral point of Lewis's allegory is made clear: "It appeared to me therefore that if a man diligently followed this desire, pursuing false objects until their falsity appeared and then resolutely abandoning them, he must come out at last into the clear knowledge that the human soul was made to enjoy some object that is never fully given--nay, cannot even be imagined as given--in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal experience" (Pilgrim's, 205). Lewis goes on to point out that the regressive dialectic of working through all of the false objects of desire, which is at the heart of the drama of The Pilgrim's Regress, leads to a "dialectic of philosophical progress" that "became a defence of Romanticism (in my peculiar sense) as well as of Reason and Christianity" (Pilgrim's, 205).
Part of this dialectic involves a critique of the false objects of desire, which does not simply reject them wholesale, but instead sublimates them and transforms their meaning, much like the view of erotic desire presented in Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium: "The dialectic of Desire, faithfully followed, would retrieve all mistakes, head you off from all false paths, and force you not to propound, but to live through, a sort of ontological proof " (Pilgrim's, 205). For Lewis, "this lived dialectic" is presented as an argument in allegorical form, from the evidence of desire itself, for the existence of God. The argumentative strategy takes on Freudian psychoanalytic theory, which figures in The Pilgrim's Regress as the most forceful articulation of a false account of human desire, from the standpoint of desire itself, and on grounds that Freud would be forced to acknowledge. As Reason, the allegorical figure who slays the Giant form that is representative of the Freudian view of desire, claims, the argument for God as a form of wish-fulfillment, seen as the false projection of an object that can satisfy human desire, is self-contradictory in that it uses reason to show that all reason is a form of rationalization, which when applied to Freudian psychoanalysis implies that the denial of God is itself a form of wish-fulfillment, projected in order to avoid the responsibilities one must face in believing in God (see Pilgrim's, 62-65). The form The Pilgrim's Regress takes in representing this dialectic of desire is one of allegory, in which the path to a supernatural satisfaction for desire is traced, with the false desires presented along the way symbolically in a series of images depicting what reality would be like if these false views were adopted. As such, the frame for the work is allegorical, while the drama of regression, of representing the philosophical contours of false desires and their objects of satisfaction, appears in symbolic form as a means of critique. It is in this way that The Pilgrim's Regress is a "defence of Romanticism": the final end cannot be represented symbolically, but is presented as the necessary goal, the final end, which makes sense of the entire allegorical journey. Given the nature of desire, only the real existence of an object outside of this life can explain the fact of desire itself. Lewis's The Pilgrim's Regress is a Romanticized allegorization of the ontological argument, based upon the existence of desire itself.
Lewis himself was dissatisfied with this work, as the "Afterword to the Third Edition" indicates; I want to suggest that The Great Divorce was written as a response to this dissatisfaction. Both can be classified as works of Romanticism, in accord with Lewis's own definition stated above: a narrative depicting the path of desire that is awakened through an intense longing for an object that cannot be attained through the course of the narrative, but that points to an end beyond it. Wordsworth's Immortality Ode articulates the Romantic search for recovery of a lost experience of intense joy presented in the form of a question: "Whither is fled the visionary gleam? / Where is it now, the glory and the dream?" (13) But with this loss comes, at the end of the poem, a "song of thanks and praise."
for those obstinate questionings Of sense and outward things, Fallings from us, vanishings, Blank misgivings of a creature Moving about in worlds not realized, High instincts before which our mortal nature Did tremble like a guilty thing surprised; But for those first affections, Those shadowy recollections Which, be they what they may, Are yet the fountain-light of all our day, Are yet a master-light of all our seeing; Uphold us, cherish us, and make Our noisy years seem moments in the being Of the eternal silence--truths that wake To perish never, Which neither listlessness nor mad endeavour, Nor man nor boy, Nor all that is at enmity with joy Can utterly abolish or destroy! (Ode, 143-63)
But while the narrative of The Pilgrim's Regress remains within the limits of this world, The Great Divorce breaks out of these confines in attempting to give a vision of the end of the Romantic quest with a picture of its final trajectory presented. An example of this is seen in the Ghost who wishes to be rid of the sin of lust, represented by a Lizard whispering in his ear. When he finally submits to the death of the Lizard at the hands of a "flaming Spirit," the Ghost is transformed into a young man and the Lizard into a stallion, which he rides into the landscape of Heaven. The Spirit of George Macdonald summarizes the transformation in terms of desire that recall the Romanticism of The Pilgrim's Regress:
Nothing, not even the best and noblest, can go on as it now is. Nothing, not even what is lowest and most bestial, will not be raised again if it submits to death. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. ... What is a Lizard compared with a stallion? Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed. (Divorce, 102)
In this passage we find a critique of the Freudian account of desire, revealed in the image of the Lizard, a representation that corresponds to those presented in The Pilgrim's Regress in the images given to the prisoners in the cave who are shown what the Freudian reduction of desire to materiality would look like if fully grasped and lived. (14) But the image of the stallion presents a positive image of desire transformed into a spiritual one. This advance over the form of representation found in The Pilgrims' Regress is achieved by the decision to represent desire at the end of its trajectory rather than in its journeying course. The transformation is brought about by a repositioning of the allegorical and symbolic elements of the narratives in relation to one another. In The Pilgrim's Regress, the allegorical frames the symbolic: the narrative structure itself is allegorical, while the various figures that represent false philosophical ideas and false objects of desire are employed symbolically to represent the false nature of the thing itself. This procedure is very much like that of Dante's Inferno, which reveals the nature of sin by disclosing it in its true nature. In The Great Divorce, once the dream is entered (through the frame of fantasy mentioned in the "Preface" and indicated at the awakening of the narrator at the end of the narrative), which ushers the reader into the realm of choices made in the afterlife, the level of symbolic representation has been attained.
What is revealed, in symbolic form, is the nature of all choices, for good or evil, unveiled in images that partake of the reality they represent. As such, the focus has been shifted from the representation of false desires and the disclosure of their true meanings, which is confined to what is given in this life, to the representation of their ultimate meaning, which is fulfilled in the coagulation of desire in sin or the sublimation of desire in unity with God. In a further transformation, symbolic representation is employed to show desire's achievement of its final good while allegory indicates desire's collapse within itself. This is what Barfield means when he says that The Great Divorce is "a symbol of imagination's relation to truth, a symbol of myth, a symbol of symbolism itself " ("Reflections," 89). To be more precise, it is a symbol of desire itself, disclosing how, according to the "flaming Spirit" who asks permission to kill the Lizard and so release the Ghost from the sin of lust, each moment and each choice affects the rest (see Divorce, 98). In this way, The Great Divorce is a symbolic representation of desire at its end, the mature form of Lewis's Romantic imagination. One might also restate Barfield's thesis on the two Lewises: rather than being divided by the Cartesian split between body and spirit, there is a division between the early and later Lewis, with the former (in The Pilgrim's Regress) employing allegorical representation to indicate by a kind of negative theology of desire the final end of human desire, and with the latter (in The Great Divorce) employing symbolic representation to give a vision of the sublime end of human desire. In short, there are two Lewises linked by a Romantic sensibility (as Lewis defines it) but distinguished by their modes of representation: the early allegorical Lewis and the later symbolic Lewis.
I have attempted to give some sense of the meaning of Owen Barfield's provocative claim that The Great Divorce is "a symbol of symbolism itself." The underlying significance of this claim is found in Lewis's conception of symbolism as a form of sacramental vision undergirded by a Platonic metaphysical cosmology. It is this vision, linking material and immaterial reality, which brings together the two Lewises: the atomic and mythopoeic. It is in this strategy that Lewis confronts the fundamental contradiction of modernity, which holds that all reality is empirically verifiable while the only thing that can be known is the self. Against this, Lewis presents a view of the self that is open to reality, but has choice in determining its own relation to the world. What the subjective relativist would call one's worldview, Lewis would call the hell of one's own self, chosen above the reality given to it. The unfolding of the self in time, in the succession of moments that open the self to reality, is the key anthropological structure that links human beings to a world and unfolds the relation between time and eternity. The self itself is an enormous reality, terrible and wonderful in its possibilities, revealing the deep significance and shuddering power of the Spirit of George Macdonald's words: "This moment contains all moments" (Divorce, 98).
(1.) A section of my discussion of The Great Divorce was originally presented at the C. S. Lewis Summer Institute's Oxbridge conference on August 4, 2008, at Cambridge University. I am grateful to Scott Key for the opportunity to present my work there. I am also grateful to Joseph Pearce, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Mark McCullough, and the students who participated in the C. S. Lewis reading group held during the Fall Semester of 2008, at Ave Maria University. My reading of The Pilgrim's Regress emerged from the discussions and debates that took place during those meetings.
(2.) Dante, Inferno, trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971), canto III, 122-26. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(3.) C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1974), 22. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(4.) C. S. Lewis, "Dante's Similes," in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966), 73-74. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(5.) Dante, Purgatory, trans. Mark Musa (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981), canto XVIII, 91-102.
(6.) C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 99.
(7.) Owen Barfield, "Some Reflections on The Great Divorce," in Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis, ed. G. B. Tennyson (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1989), 88. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(8.) C. S. Lewis, "Life," in Studies in Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967), 294. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(9.) C. S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), 44-45. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(10.) C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961), 46, 50. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(11.) Lewis probably got this idea from the image at the end of Book I of Milton's Paradise Lost, in which the fallen angels convene a Pandaemonium, squeezing their seemingly gigantic spiritual forms into a space of very small magnitude.
(12.) C. S. Lewis, "Afterword to theThird Edition," The Pilgrim's Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism (Grand Rapids, MI: William Eerdmans, 1992), 202. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(13.) William Wordsworth, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Child-hood, in The Poetical Works of Wordsworth, ed. Thomas Hutchinson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1932), 587-90, ll. 56-57. All further references to this work will appear as in-text citations.
(14.) An example of this occurs when John, the hero whose desires are followed in the course of the narrative, is thrown into a prison, which represents the theory of the Freudian reduction of desire to materiality. The image of his fellow prisoners revealed in their corporeality discloses the world of Freudian psychoanalysis as it would look if really accepted and lived. This is presented in the angle of vision of the Giant (the allegorical representation of the Zeitgeist of the Age), whose eyes have the
property, that whatever they looked on became transparent. Consequently, when John looked round into the dungeon, he retreated from his fellow prisoners in terror, for the place seemed to be thronged with demons. A woman was seated near him, but he did not know it was a woman, because, through the face, he saw the skull and through that the brains and the passages of the nose, and the larynx, and the saliva moving in the glands and the blood in the veins: and lower down the lungs panting like sponges; and the liver, and the intestines like a coil of snakes. And when he averted his eyes from her they fell on an old man, and this was worse for the old man had a cancer. And when John sat down and drooped his head, not to see the horrors, he saw only the workings of his own inwards. (Pilgrim's, 48)
The Giant's gaze represents the reduction theory of Freudian psychoanalysis, which when adopted, reduces the human experience to bodily functions. Lewis's allegory gives, in the form of a symbol that performs the Freudian reductive thereby disclosing its true meaning, a phenomenological vision of what human experience would be like if the theory were lived in the horror of experience seen as merely corporeal existence.