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  

Ch. 1, pg. 3: the son of a solicitor

A solicitor is one of the two types of lawyers in the United Kingdom. The other type is the barrister. A barrister speaks in court; a solicitor does everything else.

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 10:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A web annotation of C. S. Lewis’s Surprised by Joy

Many readers come to C. S. Lewis’s autobiography from The Chronicles of Narnia series or Mere Christianity, eager to learn about the literary and theological titan’s upbringing. But Surprised by Joy is not an easy read for modern audiences. Although the book was published in 1955, each page is scattered with obscure Edwardian lingo, literary quotations and “public school” slang. While Lewis aims at–and usually achieves–clear prose, he assumes that his readers are familiar with English boarding school structure and slang. He also assumes that readers are encouraged, not put off, by a great wealth of literary allusions and quotes. This literary name-dropping extends through Greek, Roman and Norse prose and poetry; as well as literature in English, German, French and Russian. Even the most zealous Lewis enthusiast may falter.

This annotation aims to clear the cobwebs of history for all readers. I am an amateur Lewis enthusiast and fan of the Inklings, and I hope that these notes might be used for individual study and as well as for groups. I have assumed a command of modern English, although I have annotated particularly obscure and antiquated words. Most author names, works and quotes are annotated. Lewis’s life experiences that appear in his fictional novels in one form or another have been noted. Maps, images and art have been inserted whenever available.

Overall, the notes aim to be a springboard to understanding the factors that shaped and enraptured C. S. Lewis.

These notes are based on the Harcourt paperback edition of Surprised by Joy.

(The ideal format for these notes would be an e-book with mouse-over notes. However, unless Harcourt invites me to be the official editor of the text–or the text goes out of copyright–these notes will have to be independent from the text.)

Published in: on October 18, 2008 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Ch. 1, Pg. 3: Happy, but for so happy ill secured. Milton

The epigraph to Chapter 1 comes from Book 4, line 378 of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, in which Satan gazes upon the beauties of the earth and the happiness of Adam and Eve in the garden:

Ah! gentle pair, ye little think how nigh
Your change approaches, when all these delights
Will vanish, and deliver ye to woe;
More woe, the more your taste is now of joy;
Happy, but for so happy ill secured…

By quoting this passage at the beginning of his life story, Lewis compares the destruction of his early childhood happiness to the entrance of evil into the world in the garden of Eden. Lewis would not have meant to imply any sort of victimization; rather, he merely connects himself to the plight of all humanity–that is, that even innocents are touched by sin, no matter idyllic their lives may seem.

I was helped to find this information by page 2 of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs.

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 8:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Preface, vii: Confessions..of Rousseau

Far less famous and more secular than Augustine’s memoir, Jean-Jacques’s Rousseau’s Confessions was published posthumously in 1782. Because Rousseau included some events that show him in an unfavorable light—including the fate of his five illegitimate children—his memoir has been noted for its candor. In addition to this soul baring, Rousseau also denounces fellow authors who he imagines to be jealously conspiring against him. Today the work is most notable as an early instance of the autobiography.

Full text (English translation) at the Gutenberg project

Published in: on March 10, 2008 at 9:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Preface, vii: Confessions…of St. Augustine

vii: Confessions…of St. Augustine: Written 397-398 A.D. by Augustine of Hippo, the Confessions of St. Augustine relate the saint’s experience of sinfulness and eventual Christian conversion. The book is widely considered both a great Christian classic and the first modern autobiography.

A free copy of a 1955 translation of the Confessions (various formats)

For more info:
How The Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill discusses both Augustine’s life and the Confessions‘s impact on history.

Published in: on March 10, 2008 at 7:10 pm  Leave a Comment