Grevel Lindop

Poet, biographer, critic, essayist and writer on just about everything

CHARLES WILLIAMS: Restoring a Lost Poet

For too long, the major poetry of Charles Williams has been hidden away – obtainable only in expensive or rare second-hand editions. But that is about to change. I’ve just finished working through the proofs of The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams – which I’m editing with Arthurian and Celtic scholar John Mathews.

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The book will contain the full texts of Williams’s two major collections – Taliessin Through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944) – together with all the other poems on Arthurian themes that Williams published during his lifetime.

At last, readers new to Charles Williams (1886-1945), or those who know only his remarkable spiritual thrillers (War in Heaven, The Place of the Lion, All Hallows Eve and the rest) will be able to sample these remarkable, deeply original and thrillingly vivid poems on the Arthurian world and the Grail, which have been almost unobtainable for so long.

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‘The Damsel of the Sanct Grael ‘ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The poems are deeply original. Portraying Logres – Arthurian Britain – as an autonomous kingdom within the Byzantine empire, they depict the establishment of the kingdom, many of the most dramatic events of its history (Merlin’s summons to Arthur to become king; the Battle of Mount Badon; the achievement of the Grail; the madness of Lancelot; the Table’s fall through the treachery of Mordred; and much more) in a wholly original modern style.

The poems are challenging at times – they use a modernist style as demanding as that of T.S. Eliot or the late W.B. Yeats – both of whom admired Williams’s writing, though Yeas probably knew only his prose. But they open world of magic and vision to the reader. As critic Naomi Royde-Smith wrote at the time, the poems, if you let them work on your imagination,

become at once lucid and alarming. They take on the concrete value of a popular ballad…the efficacy of a rune. The mind cannot escape from them. In sleep they return, not with the echoes and remembered imagery of their own themes, but evoking other shapes and other associations. It is as if, steeped in the lore of Taliessin, the poet had acquired a bardic gift and, whether he knew it or was involuntarily possessed by it, had exercised it in the physical inspirations and respirations proper to the full exercise of his manifestly occult prosody.

The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams will be published first as an e-book, and later, we hope, as a physical volume. It won’t be available for some months yet but we are moving on steadily towards publication. It’s another step, following my biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, towards bringing Williams back into the mainstream as an important and indeed central twentieth-century writer.

Not Just the Lake Poets!

I’ve recently updated my Literary Guide to the Lake District, so that this comprehensive and entertaining guide is now easier to use and more helpful than ever. One of the fullest and most readable guides to the Lakes, it now gives websites, where these exist – and they usually do – for all properties that are open to the public and that have literary connections.

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Castle Crag and Gowder Crag, Derwentwater between

Arranged in five easily-followed routes so that you can drive or walk to any location with a minimum of trouble, or simply check out places as you get to them, the book is a guide to the places in the Lakes where writers have lived, or that they’ve written about, from Roman times up to the present; and it goes far beyond what you’d expect.

Of course the usual suspects are there. The Guide will take you, if you like, to every place that Wordsworth, or Coleridge, or Beatrix Potter, or Arthur Ransome wrote significantly about. But did you know that Thomas Hardy went boating on Windermere, rather than waste his time attending George V’s coronation? That Oscar Wilde lectured on Beauty in the Cumbrian coastal town of Maryport? Or that James Joyce wrote, in Finnegans Wake, about a monument in Penrith Churchyard? Or that First World War poet Edward Thomas was a keen walker in the Lakes and wrote a poem about a friend’s house there?

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Greta Hall, Keswick – Coleridge’s home from 1800 to 1803

The literary connections of Lakeland are rich and incredible, and this book will open them up for you – as it did for me when I researched it! I’ve been over every mile of the Lakes on foot for many years, and exploring its writers, both famous and little-known.

To quote some reviews, ‘The book is a joy and will be my constant companion’ (Angela Locke, Cumbria Life); ‘Deserves to be a classic of its kind’ (City Life); ‘Packed with enjoyable stories and excellent pictures’ (Manchester Evening News); and from Melvyn Bragg (Sunday Times): ‘For those who know the area well, the book will be a treat. For those who never set foot there, Lindop provides a book-lover’s feast.’

To order A Literary Guide to the Lake District, just click on the cover-image at the right hand side of this page; or find my page on Amazon.

WHO WAS CHARLES WILLIAMS?

Ever since I began writing Charles Williams: The Third Inkling, people have been asking me ‘Who was Charles Williams?’

Well, I wrote the biography to make him better known, so the question is fine with me. It’s exactly what I want people to ask.

As my title suggests, he was one of the group of Oxford writers known as the Inklings – the other most important members being C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Owen Barfield. Charles Williams attended the group regularly during World War Two, when his workplace – the London office of Oxford University Press – was evacuated to Oxford to avoid the bombing.

But Williams was more than that. He was, I believe, a major poet, with a brilliant sequence of poems on the Arthurian legends. In fact he was the major English Arthurian poet of the twentieth century.

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He was also a pioneering author of supernatural fiction. His seven novels, cast as thrillers but with serious messages, all concern the breaking through of the spiritual dimension into daily life in extreme ways – demonstrating that, as TS Eliot said, for Williams ‘there was no barrier between the spiritual and material worlds’.

Williams was both an influential Anglican theologian and deeply involved in the occult – a member of a secret Rosicrucian fraternity, The Fellowship of the Rosy Cross, and in contact with magicians of the Stella Matutina, an occult group descended from the more famous Order of the Golden Dawn.

Lindop.22.jpgLess dramatic but also important is the fact that Williams was an influential publisher. He worked his way up from humble proof reader to senior editor at OUP, running the World’s Classics series and the Oxford Standard Authors. As such, he more or less decided which books would be regarded as classics by the reading public, and had a huge effect on public taste. And he pushed ahead the project of publishing the Danish philosopher/theologian Søren Kierkegaard in English, at a time when Kierkegaard was unknown in Britain and America.

As a hugely popular and charismatic lecturer at Oxford during the war – a job he did alongside his publishing work – he inspired a whole generation of future teachers, and poets including Philip Larkin, Sidney Keyes, John Heath-Stubbs and Kingsley Amis.

In my biography I explore all these areas but also take the reader into the secret world of Williams’s occult rituals and magical activities, and his intense and complicated love-life, which was also wrapped up with the bizarre practises arising from his involvement with magic.

I hope you will enjoy Charles Williams: The Third Inkling and find it as exciting to read as I did to research and write. It’s a dramatic story full of new information, much of it from interviews with people who knew Wiliams, or from archives never before opened to scholars. If you’d like to buy the book at 20% discount, just go to www.oup.com/uk and use the code TREVNT14 at the checkout.

Otherwise just click on the poanel at top right on this page and it will take you straight to Amazon, where you can order it for immediate delivery.

 

Three Books for 2015

 

By sheer chance, I have three books coming out in the coming months: two new ones, and one fully revised and updated. It wasn’t planned that way, but that’s how the timing has worked out.

I’ll be giving talks and readings related to all of them this autumn: once I have full details I’ll post a new ‘Readings and Talks’ page with times, places and other details.

In August, Sigma Press is bringing out the 3rd edition of my Literary Guide to the Lake District. The book, which won Lakeland Book of the Year award when first published, is a comprehensive guide to where authors have lived or stayed and what they have written about the Lakes from ancient times up to the present.

Besides thorough coverage of places connected with Wordsworth, Coleridge, Beatrix Potter, Arthur Ransome and all the usual suspects, it deals with the Lakeland places visited by D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas and countless other poets, novelists and writers. Plentifully illustrated, and with maps, it’s geographically arranged by area so you can follow its routes, or browse in it as you travel. Or just enjoy it as armchair tourism!

For this new edition I’ve re-checked the routes, added new material and rather than try to give opening times I’ve added the web addresses of places open to the public. I’m proud that the book on first appearance was described by Melvyn Bragg as ‘a treat’ and ‘a book-lover’s feast’. I think the new edition presents it in its best shape ever. I’ll put ordering details here as soon as I have them: design has been finalised and proofs returned but I see Sigma haven’t got the book in their online catalogue yet. Maybe there’s a delay? Updates as soon as I have them!

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In October, OUP are publishing my biography Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. as there’s a lot of information about the book on the web already, I’ll just quote from the publisher’s description of the book:

Novelist, poet, theologian, magician, and guru, Charles Williams was an extraordinary and controversial figure who was a central member of the Inklings – the group of Oxford writers that included C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Williams was the strangest, most multitalented, and most controversial member of the group, and his friends and admirers included T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and the young Philip Larkin. This biography draws on a wealth of documents, letters and private papers, many never before opened to researchers, and on more than twenty interviews with people who knew Williams. It vividly recreates the bizarre and dramatic life of this strange, uneasy genius, of whom Eliot wrote: ‘For him there was no frontier between the material and the spiritual world.’ The book also sheds light on the characters of the period, and adds surprising new dimensions to our knowledge of the Inklings.”

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And in November, Carcanet Press are publishing my collection of poems, Luna Park. This collects my poems from the past seven years or so, together with a prose essay about my visit to the extraordinary city of New Orleans, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Here’s an outline of the book:

“Drawing on themes of magic, dreams and the nocturnal, Grevel Lindop’s new collection of poems ranges in subject from the hidden histories of words to the folklore of yew trees, and in place from a haunted English library to a derelict Australian funfair and the streets of Mexico City. Including ‘Shugborough Eclogues’, a twenty-first century take on the country-house pastoral, and sequences on the darker and brighter aspects of love, Luna Park deploys an original viewpoint as well as a wide range of traditional and modernist skills in verse. The book ends with ‘Hurricane Music’, Lindop’s prose memoir of a visit to New Orleans in the aftermath.”

 

GEOFFREY HILL LECTURES ON CHARLES WILLIAMS

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Charles Williams, poet and critic (1886-1945)

Professor Sir Geoffrey Hill framed his valedictory lecture as Oxford Professor of Poetry earlier this month with a discussion of Charles Williams’s 1930 book, Poetry at Present – a fascinating choice because, to me at least, this is the weakest of Williams’s three critical books. Nonetheless Hill managed to fasten on a brief passage about the nature of poetry which he then used as a standard for judging poems, and applied it to the work of Larkin, Edward Thomas and others.

I was delighted – and not merely because he recognised Williams’s brilliant critical acumen, which has been overlooked for so long – but also because he raised doubts about the quality of several of Larkin’s poems, as I have done recently (though with reference to different Larkin poems) in the journal PN Review, in a discussion of James Booth’s recent biography. I’m sure Larkin is currently overrated, good though some of his poems are, and it’s encouraging to find Hill taking the same view.

images[1] (3)The lecture is well worth listening to: it winds around and you may think he is rambling, but in fact it all turns out to be very cogent, and his final point is impressive and even devastating. After coming back to Williams, and the perceptive quotation from which he began, Hill quotes the choreographer Mark Morris as saying ‘I’m not interested in self-expression but in expressiveness’. He’s absolutely right.

If you’d like to listen to a podcast of the lecture, just click on this link (from the Oxford English Faculty page)  here.