Ch. 1, pg. 7: Sehnsucht

Sehnsucht is a central concept to understanding Surprised by Joy. The word is German, and there is no direct English equivalent, but it can be understood as a combination of longing and wonder. When Lewis “listens for the horns of elfland,” he is experiencing Sehnsucht for another world. In The Last Battle (spoiler warning), after the world has ended and the characters are in a new world, Lord Digory explains: 

“When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that is not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia, which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or a copy of something in Aslan’s real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the door. And of course it is different, as different as a real thing is from a shadow or waking life is from a dream.”

Theologically, when we experience the awakening of Sehnsucht, Lewis believes, we are beginning to understand that there is another world, a better world, of which this world is just a shadow. In the passage above, Lord Digory continues, “It’s all in Plato.” This is a reference to Plato’s allegory of the cave and the Platonic ideal.

J. R. R. Tolkien and Lewis were friends, and there are many rich overlaps between their ideas. On J. R. R. Tolkien discussion board The Barrow-Downs, user littlemanpoet explains Sehnsucht:

“Corbin Scott Carnell, in Bright Shadow of Reality: C.S. Lewis and the Feeling Intellect, wrote:


Sennsucht, which literally means “longing” or “yearning,” is both romantic and mystical in our present use of those words. It is, however, a good deal more specific than such terms. … The crucial concept in defining this attitude is best expressed in English by the word “nostalgia”. Even though Sennsucht may be made up of several components or appear in different forms (melancholy, wonder, yearning, etc.), basic to its various manifestations is an underlying sense of displacement or alienation from what is desired.

“In summary, Sennsucht is desire for something wondrous that is no more with us, but once was, and may be again. In different languages it has different names. In Hebrew it is called Eden. In Arthurian legend (Celtic, I suppose) it is called Avalon. In the language of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, it is perhaps called Perelandra. In Roman Catholic speech it is called Paradise. In other languages it is called Elysium, Nirvana, Valhalla, the Great Hunting Ground, and so forth. Some might call it Atlantis, or Numenor; perhaps Tol Eressea or Valinor (feel free to quibble). The only name that is sufficient for me, is Faerie; as I said, my imagination was baptized by Tolkien.”

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ch. 1, Pg. 5: County Down


A view of County Down

A view of County Down

County Down is one of the six counties that make up Northern Ireland.

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ch. 1, Pg. 5: Tennyson, indeed, my father liked

…But it was the Tennyson of In Memoriam and Locksley Hall. I never heard from him of the Lotus Eaters or the Morte D’Arthur.”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

That is, the more realistic Tennyson rather than the Tennyson of fantasy and myth.

“In Memoriam A. H. H.” is an extended meditation on the death of Tennyson’s friend Arthur Henry Hallam; it addresses the very Victorian themes of conflict within religious faith and omnipresent death and grief. “Locksley Hall” is a bitter lament for a lost love who has chosen a less worthy man than the narrator; it includes casual sexism that hints at its Victorian origins. “Locksley Hall” contains disconnected dream imagery verging on the fantastic, but is far more grounded overall than the “The Lotus Eaters” or the Arthurian poems.

“The Lotus Eaters” is based on Odysseus’s encounter with an island of, unsurprsingly, lotus eaters. The poem resembles Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in its fantastic content, maritime themes, eerie tone and its firmly established place in the English canon. 

Lewis might have slightly misspoken with his reference to the “Morte D’Arthur.” Tennyson did write a poem titled “Morte D’Arthur,” but it was part of his larger collection of Arthurian poems titled Idylls of the King, based on Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. Lewis likely meant to refer to the larger work.

Ch. 1, pg. 4: raconteur

Raconteur is French for storyteller. (Literally, “recounter.”) The word implies great skill in yarn-spinning–certainly a quality that Albert Lewis passed to his son.

Published in: on November 29, 2008 at 9:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ch. 1, Pg. 4: W. W. Jacobs

W. W. Jacobs usually wrote humorous stories about life at sea. Punch magazine wrote that his stories featured “men who go down to the sea in ships of moderate tonnage; stories told with such fresh and unforced fun that their drollery is perfectly irresistible.” The great English humorist P.G. Wodehouse mentions Jacobs with respect in his autobiography, Bring On The Girls.

Strangely enough, Jacobs is most famous today for his eerie stories, including “The Monkey’s Paw” and “The Toll House.”

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 9:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Page 4: in following the career of Phineas Finn

Anthony Trollope’s character Phineas Finn runs for and wins a seat in Parliament. Like Lewis’s father, Finn is Irish. Finn appears in an eponymous novel and its sequel, Phineas Redux.

Full text of Phineas Finn at Project Gutenberg

Full text of Phineas Redux at Project Gutenberg


Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 9:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ch. 1, Pg. 4: Quixotic

Don Quixote and Sancho, by Gustave Dore

Generally, quixotic is an adjective meaning optimistic to the point of foolishness, derived from Miguel de Cervantes’s character Don Quixote. However, Lewis here refers to another aspect of the character of Don Quixote–his overdeveloped sense of chivalry and correspondingly, his Spanish sense of honor.

Full text of Don Quixote (English translation) at Project Gutenberg

Published in: on November 23, 2008 at 8:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Ch. 1, Pg. 4: I think the Merediths


George Meredith

George Meredith

Although largely uncelebrated today, George Meredith was a Victorian poet and novelist who rubbed elbows with Alfred Lord Tennyson, J. M. Barrie and Robert Louis Stevenson. He is mentioned in the works of Oscar Wilde (The Decay of Lying) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (“The Boscombe Valley Mystery”). His most famous works include The Egoist, a humorous romantic novel, and The Shaving of Shagpat, a fantasy told in the style of the Arabian Nights. His style is highly complex, which may explain his decline in popularity today. (How true that is; see update 11/23/2008.)

George Meredith at the Literary Encyclopedia (preview; subscription required for full article)

Full text of The Egoist (Project Gutenberg)

Full text of The Shaving of Shagpat (Project Gutenberg)

Update 11/23/2008: Since writing this post, your blogger has attempted to read The Egoist and found it deadly, deadly boring and excessively wordy. (Remember, this is coming from a Dickens enthusiast.) It reminded me of the nonsense text generated by graphic design programs. However, Meredith’s poetry is quite different. There is beauty and painful emotional clarity in the excerpts from Modern Love published in The Norton Anthology of English Literature Vol. 2.


Published in: on November 16, 2008 at 7:16 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Page 4: B.A. of Queen’s College, Belfast

Queen's College, Belfast, by gerard172 on flickr  



Queen's College, Lanyon Building, Belfast


(Photo courtesy of gerard1972 on flickr, who takes gorgeous pictures of Belfast)

Lewis’s mother, Florence Augusta Hamilton, graduated with First Class Honors in logic and Second Class Honors in mathematics in 1885. In an age when women’s mental capacities were still denigrated, it’s a particularly impressive achievement. The first woman was admitted to Queen’s College in 1881, just four years earlier, so it does not seem a stretch to imagine that Florence Hamilton was a woman of unusual resources.

An image of Flora Hamilton at her graduation

Update 11/23/2008: I have been lucky enough to be in contact with James O’Fee, the former president of the C.S. Lewis Centenary Group in C.S. Lewis’s hometown, Belfast. Mr. O’Fee has written an extensive and well-researched response to my post for those who are interested in learning more about Lewis’s mother.


Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 8:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Pg. 3, Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey was built on Hastings Field. The battle of Hastings in 1066, in which the Normans conquered Britain under William the Conqueror, was perhaps the most famous British battle of all time.

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey

The gatehouse of Battle Abbey

Another view of Battle Abbey

A virtual tour of Battle Abbey


Published in: on November 2, 2008 at 8:18 pm  Leave a Comment