Sheldon Vanauken: His Story & Legacy, a post by Elaine Hooker

The Wade Center’s collection focuses exclusively on seven British authors; however, the depth of our collections is extensive and can include some remarkable related and contextual materials.

The Wade Center’s Sheldon Vanauken collection, although indirectly related to C.S. Lewis, preserves an important example of the personal influence of Lewis’s life and his writings. Sheldon Vanauken, one of C.S. Lewis’s many regular correspondents, exchanged approximately 24 letters with Lewis over a ten-year period between 1950 and 1960. Unbeknownst to the two men at the time, they would not only share a religious journey from nominal faith to atheism and back again to Christianity, but also the experience of caring for a spouse through illness and death and then grieving the loss as a widower.

VausbookAs historical resources, archives offer a unique “sneak peek” into various aspects of a person’s life. The Vanauken Collection contains typescripts and proofs of several works by Sheldon Vanauken (A Severe Mercy, Gateway to Heaven, and Under the Mercy) along with photographs of awards, photocopies of articles, reviews, and Vanauken’s review briefs and letter logs related to his literary work. Also included are biographical research materials on Vanauken from Will Vaus, author of Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “A Severe Mercy” (Hamden, CT: Winged Lion Press, 2012), which were incorporated into the Vanauken collection in Spring 2015 by Wade Center archival intern Lisa Krajecki. Two particularly unique items are a created facsimile of his wife Jean “Davy” Vanauken’s personal annotated King James Bible and one of her own watercolor paintings. Davy’s Bible is our “featured artifact” in this blog post, and its importance becomes evident once the story behind it is told.

Vanauken first wrote to Lewis in December 1950, during his “second look” at Christianity, having abandoned the faith of his childhood in the name of truth. Like Lewis, Vanauken had discarded the faith of his youth and become a “small, fierce atheist” (Encounter with Light, p.1). However, while a student at Oxford University, Vanauken decided he should revisit Christianity once more. During this time of questioning, he read Lewis’s books (among others), and wrote to Lewis with some of the theological questions that surfaced as a result of his reading:

  • Is faith a childish thing to be discarded when one matures intellectually?
  • Was the universe created by God, or did it just happen?
  • If God exists, can He be known intimately?
  • Is there proof that Christ was the Son of God?

Lewis recognized the deep questions of a serious searcher on a spiritual journey. He had, after all, been on such a journey himself. On December 23, 1950, at the close of only his second letter to Vanauken, Lewis writes:

“…I think you are already in the meshes of the net! The Holy Spirit is after you. I doubt if you’ll get away.”

Vanauken did eventually embrace Christianity as a result of a variety of factors including the influence of C.S. Lewis, and in particular the strong connection he shared with his wife Davy.

EncounterIt is interesting to note that the exchange of letters between Vanauken and Lewis were not unusual. C.S. Lewis conscientiously answered every letter he received. He viewed his correspondence as a devotional act and a Christian duty, and it grew into a task that occupied a great deal of his time and energy. The letters between the two and Vanauken’s own conversion story were first published in a booklet titled Encounter with Light by the Church of the Covenant, Vanauken’s church, in 1961. The story also appeared in a 1968 issue of His magazine (v.29, n.3, p.6-11), and two years later was published by the Wade Center; it is still available for purchase today. Vanauken later expanded the story of his journey to faith into chapter 4 of his autobiography A Severe Mercy, published in 1977 and winner of the National Book Award in 1980 in the religion/inspiration category.

A_SEVERE_MERCYA Severe Mercy expands the story begun in Encounter with Light, to include Vanauken’s relationship with his wife Davy, chronicling their intense love affair through their meeting, marriage, subsequent individual conversions to Christianity, and her eventual illness and death.

The love story of Davy and Van, as he was known to his friends, is an intense one. He describes them as being in love almost from their first meeting. After knowing each other ten months, they were secretly married and hoped to maintain their love in a perpetual springtime. They had intentions to share everything, keeping no secrets from each other. When they began to reexamine Christianity in Oxford, they both read the same books and discussed them with each other. However, Davy came to faith first. As Van describes it, she had a visceral experience of her own sin and guilt, and an emotional need for the absolution Christianity offered.

A few months later, on March 29, 1951, Vanauken declares that he wrote in his notebook:

“I choose to believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost—in Christ, my lord and my God. Christianity has the ring, the feel, of unique truth. Of essential truth. By it, life is made full instead of empty, meaningful instead of meaningless…A choice was necessary: and there is no certainty. One can only choose a side. So I—I now choose my side: I choose beauty; I choose what I love. But choosing to believe is believing. It’s all I can do: choose.” (Encounter with Light, p. 23-24)

Three years later, Jean “Davy” Vanauken was diagnosed with terminal liver disease. She died six months after her diagnosis. Vanauken was left alone to reconcile his grief and his Christian faith. Vanauken’s correspondence with Lewis is part of how he processed this loss, very much like Lewis would later do in A Grief Observed.

Perhaps as Vanauken grieved, he also created the artifact now retained in this archive, the annotated King James Bible fashioned after the one belonging to Jean “Davy” Vanauken. Notes inside the Bible explain that Davy’s Bible was threadbare and falling apart, so this one was remade by transcribing her marks and notes from that volume to this. This Bible also contains a loose insert near the title page with passages from Matthew written on it, as well as several glued inserts. Click on the images below to enlarge them.

IMG_1617

The Bible Vanauken used to transcribe Davy’s annotations following her death.

Bible002

Title page of the Bible.

Bible001

Inscriptions in the Bible.

Bible005

Sample page showing the careful annotations in the Bible.

To learn more about Sheldon Vanauken and his life see the following materials in the Wade Center’s collections:

Books by Sheldon Vanauken:

  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Encounter With Light. Wheaton, Ill. : [s.n.], [1970; reprinted ca. 1978].
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. A Severe Mercy. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1977.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Gateway To Heaven. San Francisco : Harper & Row, 1980.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy For The Southern Confederacy. Columbia, S.C. : Southron Press, 1985.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Mercies: Collected Poems. Front Royal, Va. : Christendom College Press, 1988.
  • Vanauken, Sheldon. Under The Mercy. Nashville : T. Nelson, 1985.

Books about Sheldon Vanauken:

  • Vaus, Will. Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “a Severe Mercy.” Hamden, CT : Winged Lion Press, 2012.

February Artifact of the Month: First edition of Lewis’s “The Four Loves,” a post by Elaine Hooker

It’s February. Images and messages about love are everywhere as Valentine’s Day approaches. Fittingly, the First British edition of C.S. Lewis’s The Four Loves is our February “Artifact of the Month.” This somewhat lesser known work by Lewis includes his own insights into various aspects of love, and was written with help from his wife, Joy Davidman Lewis. However, Lewis’s thoughts on love began to take shape long before Joy came into his life.

First edition of THE FOUR LOVES (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960).

First edition of THE FOUR LOVES (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1960).

On May 4th, 1940, in the midst of World War II in Britain, C.S. Lewis wrote in a letter to his brother Warren, “I pray every night for the people I am most tempted to hate or despise … and in the effort to make this real I have had to do a good deal of thinking.”

Lewis then goes on to outline his thoughts on love, many of which form a framework for what was eventually included in his book The Four Loves published two decades later in 1960.

In this volume, Lewis categorizes love into four distinct types: affection — or in Greek, storge (pronounced store-gay), friendship — philia in the Greek, eros — sexual love, and charity, or agape (in his May 4 th letter to Warren, Lewis notes that agape was hardly used in classical Greek, calling it “a new word for a new thing.)”

In much of The Four Loves, Lewis argues against the idolatry of erotic love and of family love, which he calls “the great error” of 19th century literature, also saying: “Browning, Kingsley and Patmore sometimes talk as if they thought that falling in love was the same thing as sanctification.” (Four Loves, Introduction) Lewis encourages us to broaden our understanding and practice of love away from narrow cultural proclivities.

In early reviews of The Four Loves, Lewis was praised for his erudite thinking and compelling articulation of the four types of love. The chapter on friendship is especially strong. Lewis points out our modern tendency to ignore friendship, calling it the “least natural” of the loves and the least necessary, while also pointing out its intrinsic value:

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no ‘survival value’ rather it is one of those things which give value to survival .” (Four Loves, Chapter IV)

The Four Loves is dedicated to Chad Walsh, who was then a professor of English at Beloit College in Wisconsin, an Episcopal priest, and one of Lewis’ earliest American correspondents. Walsh began writing to Lewis in 1945 to praise him for his novel Perelandra. This initial letter marked the beginning of a long friendship that later led to Lewis’s introduction to Joy Davidman (this letter is now part of the Chad Walsh Collection at the Wade Center). After meeting through Walsh’s encouragement, Joy and Jack became friends, and were eventually married in a civil ceremony in 1956 and again by a priest in 1957 when Joy was bedridden with bone cancer. You can read more about this relationship in former Wade Director Lyle Dorsett’s book And God Came In.

The British first edition of The Four Loves was published by Geoffrey Bles on March 28th, 1960. The next month, Joy and Jack Lewis took a final trip together to Greece. They planned the trip before receiving word of a recurrence of Joy’s bone cancer, which had previously gone into remission. Joy died just a few months after returning from this trip on July 13th, 1960. The American edition of The Four Loves , to which Joy held the copyright, was published on July 27th. Many of Joy Davidman’s personal papers relating to her personal life and her writing career can be found in the Joy Davidman Papers, housed at the Wade Center.

The Wade Center also holds a copy of a British first edition inscribed in August of 1960 by C.S. Lewis to Bill Gresham, Joy’s former husband.

Inscription from C.S. Lewis to Bill Gresham, August 1960.

The Four Loves is believed to be one of several works that Joy helped Lewis write, and their relationship certainly shaped his understanding and experience of love. He briefly describes the surprising turns their relationship took in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths on September 24th, 1957 saying:

“It is nice to have arrived at all this by something which began in Agape, proceeded to Philia, then became Pity, and only after that Eros. As if the highest of these, Agape, had successfully undergone the sweet humiliation of an incarnation.”

Joy's plaque at the Oxford Crematorium.

Joy’s plaque at the Oxford Crematorium, with a poem by C.S. Lewis.

Related resources:

Dorsett, Lyle W. A Love Observed: Joy Davidman’s Life & Marriage To C.S. Lewis. Wheaton, Ill. : Harold Shaw Publishers, 1998. (former title: And God Came In) Call number: PS3507.A6659 Z6 1991

Lewis, C. S. Reinforcing The Spiritual Outreach Of The Church: A Series Of Ten Radio Talks On Love. Atlanta, Ga. : The Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation, ©1959. Call number: BV4639 .L45 R4 1959

Lewis, C. S. Four Talks On Love. Atlanta, Ga. : The Episcopal Radio-TV Foundation, ©1970.
Sound recording of Lewis’s voice. Call number: CSL-V / SR-10

Sibley, Brian. Through The Shadowlands: The Love Story Of C.S. Lewis And Joy Davidman. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Revell, 2005. Call number: PR6023.E926 Z8481 1985

Shadowlands by William Nicholson. Adapted into a television movie in 1985 and a film in 1993. Call numbers: CSL-D / VR-2 and 6.

Cataloging the Wade: An update from Elaine Hooker

Elaine Hooker, Wade Center Catalog Librarian

Elaine Hooker, Wade Center Catalog Librarian

Wade Catalog Librarian Elaine Hooker shares some of her thoughts and experiences on undertaking the monumental task of cataloging the Wade Center’s collections. Her work will, for the first time in its history, allow researchers from around the globe to access descriptions of what is in the Wade’s holdings.

Since its founding in 1965 by Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, the Wade Center’s collection has grown from 15 Lewis letters into a world-renowned and extremely deep collection of manuscripts (1,600), correspondence (26,500), articles (21,000), and other materials, which include over 18,000 books by and about the seven Wade authors, and several thousand books that the authors themselves owned.

Like most of the best things in my life, my involvement with the Wade Center has been an unexpected gift. Being daily surrounded by the output of seven brilliant minds has formed me in ways I continue to ponder. I find the way that each author’s scholarship influenced the others endlessly fascinating. My sensibilities tend to lean towards the personal and the intimate as shaped by scholarship and the intellect, and I have been struck by how well one can get to know these authors and who they were by their output collected at the Wade, which includes not only various editions of their own works, but books about things that interested them, books they owned, and books written and owned by people they loved. Not only is their work a gift to us, but who they were is a gift to us. And they continue to speak, shape, and influence us today.

My own credentials include a B.A. in English language and literature from Furman University in Greenville, S.C., a liberal arts school about the same size as Wheaton College, and a Master of Science in Library Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This path was born of a desire to use every bit of knowledge I had gleaned throughout my educational career in service to others.

First day of the Wade Center cataloging project, August 2011. Pictured: catalogers Nicole Swanson (nee Long) and Karl Pettitt.

First day of the Wade Center cataloging project, August 2011. Pictured: catalogers Nicole Long Swanson and Karl Pettitt.

Once upon a time (and not so long ago), in order to use a book from the Wade, you had to ask the archivist if the Wade had the item that you needed or wanted. Since the beginnings of the collection, Wade staff have diligently collected and organized information pertaining to the seven authors, but this information wasn’t publicly searchable or accessible off-site. In 2011, the Wade Center began an initiative to professionally catalog the collections according to nationally recognized library standards and make those descriptive records publicly accessible by scholars worldwide. The Wade Center’s first Catalog Librarian, Nicole Long Swanson, set up cataloging procedures and workflows and cataloged examples of various formats of materials, including all materials published prior to 1850.

Coincidentally, I came to the Wade Center in 2012 with a desire to offer my services as a cataloger just as the cataloging initiative was getting started. I began cataloging dissertations, and then continued helping to catalog general materials after Nicole took a new position. Currently, all of the dissertations, large runs of periodicals, all of the archival collections, and approximately 66% of the book collection are cataloged. After the book collection is fully cataloged, we will continue cataloging our audiovisual materials, and offer increased access to our photo collections and other artifacts.

The book "Irene Iddesleigh" by Amanda McKittrick Ros was read aloud at Inklings meetings in C.S. Lewis's Magdalen College rooms at Oxford University. Each reader was to read a selection from the book aloud and see how long they could keep reading without bursting into laughter.

The book “Irene Iddesleigh” by Amanda McKittrick Ros was read aloud at Inklings meetings in C.S. Lewis’s Magdalen College rooms at Oxford University. Each reader was to read a selection from the book aloud and see how long they could keep reading without bursting into laughter.

Since joining the initiative, I have delighted in daily discoveries–from doodles penciled by G.K. Chesterton in the margins of his schoolbooks, to the book the Inklings read to each other until they burst out laughing. I’ve seen annotations in the back of A Grief Observed showing Clyde S. Kilby figuring out that N.W. Clerk was a pen name being used by C.S. Lewis before this was publicly known. And I’ve seen the map plotting out Kilby’s travels through England to meet with the players in these stories that led to important connections and acquisitions in future years.

Dr. Kilby's copy of "A Grief Observed" (Greenwich, CT: Seabury Press, 1963). Here he has written the reasons for (right page) and against (left page) C.S. Lewis being the author of the book before the fact was publicly known. "N.W. Clerk" was a pen name Lewis used.

Dr. Kilby’s copy of “A Grief Observed” (Greenwich, CT: Seabury Press, 1963). Here he has written the reasons for (right page) and against (left page) C.S. Lewis being the author of the book before the fact was publicly known. “N.W. Clerk” was a pen name Lewis used.

KilbyMap_72dpi

Map of England used by Dr. Clyde Kilby for his travels making connections on behalf of the Wade Center. National Atlas: Road Maps & Town Plans-Great Britain. London: George Philip & Son Ltd., 1968.

I’m thrilled that such discoveries can now be more easily shared by researchers worldwide. My thesis in library school was about information-seeking behaviors. Sometimes researchers know exactly what they want and are easily able to identify who has those resources. But as an information professional, I have learned much about the equal importance of other techniques, often compared to pearl gathering, or following the “bread crumb trail” left by other researchers. Professionally cataloging the Wade Center’s collections exponentially increases the ways in which researchers can interact with and glean information from the collection.

As we near 2015, I can finally see an end of this project on the horizon. And yet, I sense that this end is just the beginning of one discovery leading to another and another for myself and for those who find themselves drawn into the ageless story woven by these creative and faithful writers.

Elaine at work examining a volume with Sarah, a Wade Center volunteer.

Elaine at work examining a volume with Sarah, a Wade Center volunteer.