Monday, 31 March 2014

Descent into Hell by Charles Williams


I have just finished reading it and in many ways it is the oddest unsettling and strangely lingering book. Like the remnants of a bad dream it remains as a shadow between me and the daylight of waking consciousness. It has as its central conceit the phenomena of doubling in all its forms from the malign to the transcendently redemptive. A frustrated scholar Laurence Wentworth creates for himself an elemental in the form of Adela whom he desires. He feeds her his energy and consuming is consumed. Peter Stanhope is the Magus figure, a playwright whose play the theatre group of Battle Hill is putting on and he represents the power of substituted love. This first becomes active when he takes away the fear of meeting her double that is Pauline’s bete noir. She fears that this wraithe who for now is seen at a distance will come closer and closer and end by walking in with her through her hall door. The supervening love takes away her fear and robs the apparition of its power. Pauline thereby learns that she can move back in time and strengthen the faith of a martyred ancestor. Pauline’s saintly grandmother who is dying has a similar connection with the ghost of a man who hung himself.


Her heart sprang; there, a good way off-thanks to a merciful God—it was, materialized from nowhere in a moment. She knew it at once, however far, her own young figure, her own walk, her own dress and hat-had not her first sight of it been attracted so?


changing, growing…. It was coming up at her pace—doppelgaenger, doppelgaenger—her control began to give … two… she didn’t run, lest it should, nor did it. She reached her gate, slipped through, went up the path. If it should be running very fast up the road behind her now? She was biting back the scream and fumbling for her key. Quiet, quiet! “A terrible good.” She got the key into the keyhole; she would not look back; would it click the gate or not? The door opened; and she was in, and the door banged behind her. She all but leant against it, only the doppelgaenger might be leaning similarly on the other side.


The witch figure in the book is a powerful characterisation, she gibbers extensively in a wheedling drooling manner promising in order to confound:’win us with honest trifles to betray us in matters of deepest consequence’.

“Why not?” Mrs. Sammile said. “Everything lovely in you for a perpetual companion, so that you’d never be frightened or disappointed or ashamed any more. There are tales that can give you yourself completely and the world could never treat you so badly then that you wouldn’t neglect it. One can get everything by listening or looking in the right way: there are all sorts of turns.”



One of the great effects of the writing, both Eliot and Auden were admirers, is the incantatory aspect, the falling continuous prose poetry that creates an uncanny atmosphere. C.S. Lewis was influenced by him and probably appalled too, the mixture of mystical theology, Golden Dawn theophany, all too Witch of Endor don’t you know. He was the oddest of the Inklings.
Charles Williams

I found this book on Gutenberg Australia.

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