February 4, 2019 Eric Blauer

Jane and the Four Women of Womanhood in ‘That Hideous Strength’ by C.S. Lewis

“When Jane left the hill-top village of St. Anne’s and came down to the station she found that, even down there, the fog had begun to lift. Great windows had opened in it, and as the train carried her on it passed repeatedly through pools of afternoon sunlight.

During this journey, she was so divided against herself that one might say there were three, if not four, Janes in the compartment.

The first was a Jane simply receptive of the Director(spiritual figure), recalling every word and every look, and delighting in them — a Jane taken utterly off her guard, shaken out of the modest little outfit of contemporary ideas which had hitherto made her portion of wisdom, and swept away on the flood tide of an experience which she did not understand and could not control. For she was trying to control it; that was the function of the second Jane.

This second Jane regarded the first with disgust, as the kind of woman, in fact, whom she had always particularly despised. Once, coming out of a cinema, she had heard a little shop girl say to her friend, “Oh, wasn’t he lovely! If he’d looked at me the way he looked at her, I’d have followed him to the end of the world.” A little, tawdry, made-up girl, sucking a peppermint.

Whether the second Jane was right in equating the first Jane with that girl, may be questioned, but she did. And she found her intolerable. To have surrendered without terms at the mere voice and look of this stranger, to have abandoned (without noticing it) that prim little grasp on her own destiny, that perpetual reservation, which she thought essential to her status as a grownup, integrated, intelligent person… the thing was utterly degrading, vulgar, uncivilized.

The third Jane was a new and unexpected visitant. Of the first, there had been traces in girlhood, and the second was what Jane took to be her “real” or normal self. But the third one, this moral Jane, was one whose existence she had never suspected. Risen from some unknown region of grace or heredity, it uttered all sorts of things which Jane had often heard before but which had never, till that moment, seemed to be connected with real life. If it had simply told her that her feelings about the Director were wrong, she would not have been very surprised, and would have discounted it as the voice of tradition.

But it did not. It kept on blaming her for not having similar feelings about Mark(her husband). It kept on pressing into her mind those new feelings about Mark, feelings of guilt and pity, which she had first experienced in the Director’s room. It was Mark who had made the fatal mistake; she must, must, must be “nice” to Mark.

The Director obviously insisted on it. At the very moment when her mind was most filled with another man there arose, clouded with some undefined emotion, a resolution to give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, and a feeling that in so doing she would be really giving it to the Director.

And this produced in her such a confusion of sensations that the whole inner debate became indistinct and flowed over into the larger experience of the fourth Jane, who was Jane herself and dominated all the rest at every moment without effort and even without choice.

This fourth and supreme Jane was simply in the state of joy. The other three had no power upon her, for she was in the sphere of Jove, amid light and music and festal pomp, brimmed with life and radiant in health, jocund and clothed in shining garments. She thought scarcely at all of the curious sensations which had immediately preceded the Director’s dismissal of her and made that dismissal almost a relief. When she tried to, it immediately led her thoughts back to the Director himself.

Whatever she tried to think of led back to the Director himself and, in him, to joy. She saw from the windows of the train the outlined beams of sunlight pouring over stubble or burnished woods and felt that they were like the notes of a trumpet. Her eyes rested on the rabbits and cows as they flitted by and she embraced them in heart with merry, holiday love.

She delighted in the occasional speech of the one wizened old man who shared her compartment and saw, as never before, the beauty of his shrewd and sunny old mind, sweet as a nut and English as a chalk down. She reflected with surprise how long it was since music had played any part in her life, and resolved to listen to many chorales by Bach on the gramophone that evening. Or else — perhaps — she would read a great many Shakespeare sonnets.

She rejoiced also in her hunger and thirst and decided that she would make herself buttered toast for tea — a great deal of buttered toast. And she rejoiced also in the consciousness of her own beauty; for she had the sensation — it may have been false in fact, but it had nothing to do with vanity — that it was growing and expanding like a magic flower with every minute that passed.

In such a mood it was only natural after the old countryman had got out at Cure Hardy, to stand up and look at herself in the mirror which confronted her on the wail of the compartment. Certainly, she was looking well: she was looking unusually well. And, once more, there was little vanity in this. For beauty was made for others.

Her beauty belonged to the Director. It belonged to him so completely that he could even decide not to keep it for himself but to order that it be given to another, by an act of obedience lower, and therefore higher, more unconditional and therefore more delighting, than if he had demanded it for himself.”

(Art by Michelle Ishihara)

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About the Author

Eric Blauer I am barbarian, sage, saint, bard, husband and father. Bow my knee to only One, serve all, ruled by none.

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