You may think this post will connect in some way with CS Lewis. There are a number of “surprised by” titles in Amazon, including, at the top of the lists, Lewis’s own “Surprised by Joy.” In other titles we find authors surprised by Hope, by Oxford, Motherhood, Christ, Sin, Forever, Laughter, Healing, Truth and other wonders. So I’m following a Lewisian established tradition with this entry’s title.
I do consider Maine a very surprising state—whether as being or place. I leave these as imaginative suggestions. A surprising thing happened on our road Tuesday, three days before Christmas. I won’t say what it was. Or I will say that it was out of the traditional character of Maine.
Having written a fantasy featuring the fictive Mark Twain and CS Lewis, I would like some sort of connection to Maine for either of these authors so that I might blog about it here. And there is a real-life connection between Mark Twain and Maine, in its coastal York Village. I hope to blog about that someday. So far I find no Maine connection with Lewis. What I do find surprising is Maine’s connection with Joy the person, the loved wife of Lewis.
As a child, Helen Joy Davidman (Gresham) Lewis summered with her parents on one of Maine’s multitudinous lakes. I was surprised while reading the recent (borrowed) biography by Abigail Santamaria (in a beautifully bound hardcover edition)— Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated CS Lewis. Joy being a prodigy and pen-woman, to whom writing was essential, I imagine her writing in Maine from the moment she stepped into the log cabin they rented each year. They came to escape New York City, and Joy also spent adult writing time here, sometimes escaping her parents and rowing on the lake. But where was this Maine lake Joy so enjoyed, the woodlands and hills she relished for beauty and solitude?
The biography gave me no clue (or perhaps I missed it while searching). I suspect the mystique (still lingering) in this place called Maine may have been enough to give readers a proper impression of Joy’s experience without giving the definite village or lake. When you say “Maine,” you say much: woodlands, headlands, pinelands, mountains. The sea.
When Joy was a Communist she was discouraged by what she saw coming: “an end to regional peculiarities.” This was the biographer’s quotation from one of Joy’s articles in New Masses. She may have been inspired by the burgeoning folk music of artists like Woody Guthrie, or influenced by the Depression so affecting upon Steinbeck. It was a real impression of Joy’s up-welling in concern over how we might best live. Following her first love of inspired discovery of literature, she experienced increasing passion for this cause.
The biographer records and construes the shifting phases of Joy’s life and creativity, in a lively, captivating (yep!) way. I looked forward to picking up this bio each night … after I had initially opened my reading mid-book when CS Lewis begins entering the story. There is no Maine after that, no. So I knew nothing about the surprise awaiting me. I was merely curious, at first, to see the author’s evidence of Joy’s passion over our mentor and friend, Lewis. In fact, this is why I borrowed the book. There was no plan to read the early life because I’d read of it before in a book by a forgotten author. (My mind is not retentive and I don’t have the rigorous approach of a scholar.) Yet, after the ending of the present biography I had to go back to the beginning because Ms. Santamaria made the story. A story that must be experienced beginning to end… or, in this case, end to beginning.
And so, after reading the ending, I came into this first part where I discovered the Maine connection. Now it was alive again, this biography: I kept seeking the particular place in Maine, the lake, the village, or those woodlands.
I came to the part where she looked forward to bringing her love and spouse, Bill Gresham. She wanted to take him rowing, fishing, show him the beauty niches. But it didn’t happen. A violent first trimester of pregnancy intervened.
Sometime after the birth of her older son David she visited Maine with her parents and future sister-in-law, Ruth. Spoofing, she called it their “Great Maine Expedition.” Here there are family flare-ups…. And I believe this is one of the last direct mentions of Maine in the biography, although there is the allusion to this place so designated by one of Maine’s nicknames. This time Joy is joking in another vein — what Ms. Santamaria calls “half-joking.”
Joy claims never to be “an alarmist,” but now she understands that the world she knows can be destroyed. She was pregnant again and the atomic bomb had destroyed not only the city centers of one source of her artistic sensibility, Japan, but the idea that the world would always survive. “The next war finds me and kids hiding in a cave in the Great North Woods.”
But where was this beautiful place in Maine? Visions of lakes and woodlands (seasonally) danced in my head. What if it was a place I knew intimately?…
… Better still….
What if— a place I knew not at all??! A place we might newly experience? Maybe even on snowshoes or biking!
I began hunting, first in online biographical searches, then checking with the curator of the Maine women writer’s collection, then back online to a Google-book search on a particular word: Maine. There this mystery was disclosed to me by Mr. Dorsett. According to Lyle W. Dorsett in his And God Came In: the Extraordinary Story of Joy Davidman, the Davidmans paid a caretaker to prepare the place, and fertilize the garden for planting. And Mr. Dorsett is the forgotten author who, with this biography, had first introduced me to Joy Davidman. The first introduction after the letters of Lewis, that is. And the good journals of Warren Lewis, Brothers and Friends.
Crescent Lake, says Mr. Lovett!
Where is that?