Dianna's Reviews > Letters to an American Lady

Letters to an American Lady by C.S. Lewis
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Apr 13, 2009

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Read in April, 2009

I haven't read as much C.S. Lewis as I would like (I've read neither all of Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters, horror of all horrors), but I've very much liked his more autobiographical works - Surprised by Joy and A Grief Observed particularly. I first read some of Lewis' letters in A Severe Mercy where Sheldon Vanauken begins a correspondence and friendship with him - an influential one, to say the least.

These letters, however, are a another kettle of fish altogether. They are one side of clearly a voluminous correspondence of thirteen years, and nothing is seen of what was written to him. But, somethings do come out, looking at his responses. In truth, I would certainly think that they started as fan mail - and of a strange sort. Come, do tell me if you were writing to your favorite author would you mention that your back hurts, your friends are mean, your dog is sick, and you can't find a job? Or, persist in writing him long letters to which he can't help but respond in short and say, 'I really do hate writing?' And, have him say almost plaintively for three years in a row, please do not write (or expect an answer!) during Christmastide!

And yet, there is something very comforting in Lewis' continued kindness, seen from his reactions to her letters to him. He assures her of his continued prayers, doles advice, and even supports her via a stipend from his American publisher. There is the hint of the scholarly professor who got up early, wrote his books on the side, can laugh at a joke, and misses his long walks but wouldn't trade his health for that of his dying wife's. Indeed, one of my favorite parts of the book, however, was a letter written by Joy Davidson Lewis (writing in his place, when he was conducting exams at Cambridge) - there you can see some of the spark that hides behind the bare 'H' in A Grief Observed. And that strikes me as one of the more telling parts of this correspondence - yes, this may have been a marvelously one sided conversation at times, but whether it be simple responsibility, kindness, or Christian charity, it continued for thirteen years, even when he himself was facing a great deal of pain and personal grief.

One of the questions that came to me while reading this book was why were these letter published as a collection? Indeed, their very ordinariness was appealing, I suspect, but really, how did they reflect said "American Lady"? And what becomes obvious is this: these were some of the first letters given to the Marion Wade Center at Wheaton College right when they were beginning to collect writings by Lewis and others of his circle. Their publication - and the collection's curator who as the book's editor has an obvious admiration for Lewis - did much to recommend the rather new center and its collections, I would think. And who can begrudge them that?

There is nothing particularly special about these letters, no great insights or bursts of wisdom. But there is a steady stream of kindness, wisdom, and patience, one that makes me rather jealous I never had the chance to write to him myself.
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