A Severe Mercy: C.S. Lewis's Influence on a Moving and Tragic Love Story
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A Severe Mercy: C.S. Lewis's Influence on a Moving and Tragic Love Story

4.32 of 5 stars 4.32  ·  rating details  ·  7,446 ratings  ·  568 reviews
Sheldon and Davy Vanauken knew at once that they shared the most rare of loves. Basing their lives on a dogma of complete sharing and a unselfish focus on what was best for both, they created what they dubbed the " Shining Barrier" to safeguard their tiny, self-sufficient world of two from everything else. Then an Oxford don named C.S. Lewis came into their lives, bringing...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 1st 2011 by Hodder & Stoughton (first published January 1st 1977)
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Mar 03, 2009 booklady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: couples deeply in love; converts; those suffering the loss of a beloved
Recommended to booklady by: Karen L.
A Severe Mercy can almost be called a foreshadowing of A Grief Observed. But of course that is only from our perspective looking back on the four lives involved. Sheldon Vanauken wrote A Severe Mercy about the love of his life, Jean "Davy" Palmer Davis. It's a beautiful love story, one of the most idyllic I've ever read, perhaps too idyllic, but poignant and breathtaking all the same. The book traces their relationship from courtship through the early pagan (the author's term) years of marriage...more
Peyton Smith
Trying to condense this book into a tiny review will be rather difficult for me. This is THE FIRST book I recommend to anyone in any conversation any time literature comes up. By turns this book is one of the most romantic, beautifully written, intellectually stimulating, and downright entertaining books I've ever held in my two hands. For months after I finished the book I would see it sitting on my desk and grow sad thinking of how much I missed time with Sheldon and Davie. Countless times I'v...more
K.D. Absolutely
Thanks to Tata J for lending me another unforgettable book! This is the second love story that made me cry (honest). The first third of the book is your typical Nicholas Sparks story. It actually reminds me of The Notebook so as I thought it would be an easy read, I continued on. On the second part (after The Shining Barrier), C. S. Lewis as introduced. It had the feeling of a religious book and I got a bit thrown out and started complaining to my wife that the book is boring. However, this earl...more
Debbie Petersen
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sylvain Reynard
This book is the story of a remarkable and true love story between the author and his wife. Their paths lead them to Yale and then to Oxford, where they become friends with C.S. Lewis. Eventually, they end up in Lynchburg, VA, when Vanauken becomes a professor of English at Lynchburg College.

A line from this book ended up in one of my favourite Bruce Cockburn songs, "Fascist Architecture." See if you can find it.
This book is amazing. Anyone who has really loved someone, or aspires to real love will take so much from this. It also has some beautiful things to say about grief and loss. Poetically written and so inspired!
Jan 14, 2014 Josh added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Josh by: Sarah Baker
I hated these people for much of the book, though I feel bad for that now. Ridiculous in their idealism. Tried to establish principles to live by, and broke other principles in establishing those. Also incorporated convenient traditional and Christian principles to support the ones they already wanted to follow. Then they broke those when convenient, often without noticing (but with me noticing, margin-scrawling in crumbling pencil).

Also this story was about romantic love, and I only like that w...more
Aug 24, 2007 Beth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: reflective readers, the romantic, the grieving, even the skeptic of Christianity.
Shelves: walk-of-faith
The first half plus of the book I found enchanting and enriching. It was eye-opening to me as an on-looker at the beauty of relationships between man and woman, of the mystery of God’s drawing grace and penetration of skepticism (with some real kickers from Lewis about the threshold or leap of faith…see pg. 88). There is true depth and a special resonance with much of Vanauken’s musings for me, such as his thoughts of beauty. It seems to strike a human tone—many things in his book. After Davy’s...more
I was given this book after the sudden death of a good friend. Anyone who has loved and lost will relate to Sheldon, an incredible writer and observer, and have difficulty not shedding a few more tears. Sheldon got to a depth of feeling and humanity that I didn't expect in expressing love. I think many would be jealous of a couple who managed to stay in the summer of their love for 15 years and wish for their own "Shining Barrier" to ward off anything that would harm love's growth. Fans of C.S....more
Beautiful... Story of finding love, exploring that love, finding God, balancing (or not) that faith with human love, and then human love lost. This is a love story, which I am not prone to enjoy. But Vanauken is so expressive in his language that it fueled me to continue on. This is one for me to read again. Some quotes:

"The actual thing - inloveness - requires something like a spark leaping back and forth from one to the other becoming more intense every moment, love building up like voltage in...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
J. Alfred
I have a lot to say about this book, so I offer congratulations and a hearty pat on the back to anyone who reaches the end of the review. Now then:
Summary: this is the story of two wildly intelligent persons who fall in love, go to Oxford, meet my hero C.S. Lewis, and become Christians. Then Davy, the wife, dies from a terrible lingering disease. Scene.
As far as romance goes: by both poetic and theological (as a Calvinist, I believe that my wife and I were literally created for each other) incli...more
This book was lent to me by a very dear friend. It's not a book I would normally read. It's interesting because at the beginning of the book, I was kind of irritated by the author and his views on the purpose of life and his ideas of what love should be like. Rather than finding it romantic, I thought a relationship of his type would be suffocating and obsessive! Still, I plowed along. I enjoyed the boating and the conversion to Christianity and the great insights from his friend, C.S. Lewis. I...more
not sure whether this is a love story, an autobiography, a treatise on aesthetics, an apologetic of Christianity, a manual on dealing with grief, or a book of poetry and literature...but I was awfully pleased to read of CS Lewis using the designation "corking good" in reference to another author.

My only beef is that the author examines his grief so scientifically and philosophically that, should I find myself in a similar position, I would not draw any comfort from his hypotheses.

On the other...more
This is a book that I absolutely love, about a couple who decide to live with their love as their God. It's a pretty amazing relationship, and along the way, they encounter the Living God. It's such a lovely story (and it's true!) and heartbreaking at the same time.
The only caveat is that the beginning of the book is dreadfully slow. I urge anyone who starts reading this book to press on past Sheldon's little stroll down memory land, and wait for the good stuff.
And, as an added bonus, our good...more
Rachel Crooks
Although I got irritated with Vanauken's self-congratulatory narrative style, in the end I found that he allowed the joke to be on him, which I liked him better for :), and which truly made this story great.
The story begins with the author's marriage to Davy, who is his best friend. Early on, the couple decides at all cost to preserve their "inloveness": to let nothing come between them - not material possessions, or other people, or even personal selfishness - they decide that if either has a...more
The writing style of this book is similar to that of C.S. Lewis (perhaps minus some of the humor), who was a good friend of the author. Included are many letters from Lewis, which add to the character of the book.

I found this book to be greatly enriching. The language and style I enjoyed (though I admit I am not a great judge of writing quality), but it was the content drawn from the author's life and the depth of his reflections on his experiences that gave such richness to the book.

The book l...more
A book that currently receives MY 5 star rating has to have all of this going for it. 1) It has to be well-written. 2) It has to NOT BE an idealized vision of reality. 3) It must possess some of *history* in it. 4)It must in some way conform to my worldview. 5)It must have something of "The Inklings" in it. This book rates 4 stars. In four areas, it excelled. However, the one aspect of it that I found irritating throughout was the idealism inherent in Sheldon and Davy's pre-Christian (and to som...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 10, 2011 Relstuart rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Relstuart by: Megan Spilker
Read the first chapter. The authors mind is like still waters running deeply. Full of words, dreams, and memories. His thoughts of beauty and joy ring true with thoughts that run in my spirit. His aesthetic experience reflects the way I often feel looking at the a sunset or stars. It is good to recognize, even in a book written by someone you never may meet, a kindred heart. I feel great confidence I shall enjoy this book. I stopped myself at the end of the first chapter so I can savor the book...more
Elizabeth Moore
Severe mercy. That’s a rather chilling way to describe something containing so much hope and freedom.

Mercy can often be misunderstood, thrown down and trampled upon by our raw emotions. How can something so good cost so much? Isn’t mercy the act of setting free; a pardon from a much deserved punishment? Why then this sting? Could it be that mercy comes at a high price? Perhaps. And if so, does it come at the expense of the giver or the receiver?

I’m not here to answer these questions. I would...more
Katelyn Beaty
Would God take your beloved's life if it were the only way you would turn to him? Honestly the idea repels me, but it's a central theme of VanAuken's memoir of his blissful marriage to his wife Davy, who dies of a mysterious illness several years into their marriage, after the two have become Christians. The first 60 pages tell of their intense love and the 'shining barrier' they build to protect it. Christ destroys it, as both turn to him after falling in with a 'we love Jesus but we are very i...more
Jenny Wells
Reread. Still treasured. Different meanings. Recommended it as a read to my friends/book discussion group and don't know how they'll respond. Lots of theology, including themes of suffering, grief, and loss of which some goes over my head and might make others give up. But the depth of heart understanding draws me every time into themes of the depth of love between man and God, on earth as it is in heaven.

Love, such an over-used word in our culture, feels real in Vanauken's descriptions and I f...more
I went into reading this book ready to be amazed, and though i was not sorely disappointed, there were times when I wondered when its amazingness would set in. I have to say my favorite parts are the correspondences from C.S. Lewis, and that, though I did not expect Sheldon and Davy's love story to be particularly inspiring, it was written in a way that I felt exaggerated its authenticity and originality (though I do concede it would be awesome to live on a boat). In addition, I was a bit disapp...more
I'm not sure what to say about this book. I received it from my dear friend Anne years ago. It was one of her favorites. And while reading it, especially the last part after Davy dies and her husband is grieving, I had to think of Anne's passing and her husband's way of grieving. That, more than their becoming Christians, more than their 'pagan' lives and the Shining Barrier, is what impressed me with this book. (I will admit some of their devotion to each other was a bit different than I am use...more
Hmm...this is a good book, but unfortunately, it's not really my type. If the star rating worked outside of personal opinion, then I would give this book 4.5 stars. But I didn't "really like" this book...I thought it was just okay. But it's not you; it's me, Mr. Vanauken.

There are a lot of deep, powerful thoughts in here about love, beauty, joy, and pain...I liked Davy and Van, but for some reason, I didn't connect with the book itself. Or maybe I just wasn't in the right mood to be reading this...more
Book #36 for 2012 - There is much I could say about this book (but I won't bore you to tears.) I found parts of it good and interesting but other parts
l-o-n-g and boring. It's the true story of a couple who comes to be Christians after meeting and speaking with C.S. Lewis. I found it interesting that they were able to put aside their "intellectualness" and come to be Christians but, at times, I almost felt like they were saying "see, we're smart and we still believe in God." It bugs me when peo...more
Reagan Ramsey
I absolutely loved this book. It is one of the most amazing love stories I've ever read, because they're such intellectual equals to start with. They don't just fall in love with each other, they want to fall in love with all the things that interest and appeal to the other. It gives you hope in the power of unconditional love.
And the second half is even more powerful and profound, when they move to Oxford and meet C.S. Lewis, the wife becomes a Christian and the husband struggles with his huma...more
May 02, 2008 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Sarah by: Kevin
This book is dear to me, as it's one of the first my fiance and I shared. It's the spiritual autobiography of the love between Sheldon Vanauken and his wife Jean ("Davy"), and it is probably the most heartbreakingly beautiful book I have ever read. It tells the story of their love from idealistic courtship days to World War II to graduate studies at Yale and Oxford, to Davy's illness and eventual death in Lynchburg and Charlottesville, Virginia. Most significantly, it recounts their conversion t...more
Sarah Jo
One of my top ten. An honest look at life, beauty, grief, love, and The Christ. A human story that knocked the wind out of me.

"This idea of the burden of possessions we held to - and years later when we got our first glossy new car, we hit it severly with a hammar to make it comfortably dented."

"'How could an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself?'"

"The position was not, as I had been comfortably thinking all these months, me...more
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“It is, I think, that we are all so alone in what lies deepest in our souls, so unable to find the words, and perhaps the courage to speak with unlocked hearts, that we don't know at all that it is the same with others.” 38 likes
“A man in the jungle at night, as someone said, may suppose a hyena's growl to be a lion's; but when he hears the lion's growl, he knows damn well it's a lion.” 18 likes
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