Sunday, October 06, 2019

Fortnightly Book, October 6

For the next fortnight, I'll be (re-)reading the last two novels by Charles Williams, Descent into Hell and All Hallows' Eve.

Descent into Hell was published in 1937; Williams had difficulty finding a publisher for it, because most of the action takes place in the souls of the characters, and it was only T. S. Eliot's respect for Williams that managed to find the novel a home (although Eliot didn't much the like book himself). It is quite literally what it says on the tin: it depicts a soul that is sliding into damnation. It is not a road of great evils and towering wickednesses; facilis descensus Averno, it is banal, and the suffering of hell is a petty suffering, and comes from preferring what one fantasizes to what is real. I think Dorothy Sayers somewhere suggests that the course of Wentworth's damnation was partly suggested to Williams by the Purgatorio, when Dante dreams of the Siren on the Cornice of Sloth:

“I am,” she sang, “I am the pleasing siren,
who in midsea leads mariners astray—
there is so much delight in hearing me.

I turned aside Ulysses, although he
had longed to journey; who grows used to me
seldom departs—I satisfy him so.”

All Hallows' Eve is the last of Williams's novels, published in 1945. It is generally considered Williams's most skillfully written novel, taking the heavily psychological approach of the previous novel but integrated it more completely with narrative episode. It is a ghost story in which nothing is exactly what it seems at first, and is full of nice little turns, like the justly famous, "The two dead girls went together slowly out of the Park."

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.