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  • Writer's picturePatti Callahan Henry

Author Patti Callahan Interviews Her Character Joy Davidman —Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Authors Interviewing Their Characters: Patti Callahan

March 26, 2020 | By Patti Callahan


BECOMING MRS. LEWIS is an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C.S. Lewis called “my whole world.” At once, it is a fascinating novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, but the book is above all a love story — a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.

PCH: Joy, tell me about the time you decided to write to C. S. Lewis. Your letter started an almost three-year pen-friendship that changed both your lives. 

JOY: I’d had a mystical experience I didn’t understand. One night when I was home alone with my two young sons, Davy and Douglas, my husband, Bill Gresham called to tell me that he wasn’t coming home. He said that he couldn’t take it anymore and that he was going to take his own life. I believed him. He’d been in the Spanish Civil War and he had some horrible depression, anxiety and suicidal ideas. He had already attempted suicide once. I, at the time, was both an atheist and an ex-communist. Materialism was my belief of the world if I had a belief at all. After he called I ran into my sons’ bedroom and found myself on my knees. I didn’t know why, but I did know that for thirty seconds the world seemed to crack open. I was completely surrounded by love, or what felt like love. It was as if I had, until that moment, taken my life watered down and diluted. 

After this mystical episode, I wanted to understand it. I wanted to know what it was that I had felt – what or who was it? I remembered reading C. S. Lewis’s work and thought he might be the perfect person to ask about such spiritual things. So I wrote to him in 1949. In January of 1950 he wrote me back and that began a friendship that changed my life forever. 

PCH: Whenever I start a talk about you I begin with your quote “If we should ever grow brave what on earth would become of us?” You wrote this in an essay about fear in the front of your book Smoke on the Mountain. I realize now that you didn’t answer that question in your essay. Can you talk to us about this?

JOY: I might not have answered it in the essay but I like to believe that I answered that question with my life. Every decision I made from that point on, I was most likely answering that question. From writing to C. S. Lewis to taking a trip to England to being brave enough to face the truth about my life and my marriage. When I was diagnosed with cancer, and when I loved someone who didn’t yet seem to love me in return, I had to be brave. When I moved to London with my two young sons with no job and no money, I had to dig deep for my courage.  That question is one I asked over and over and tried to answer – to “become” who I was meant to be.

PCH: Can we please talk about the love sonnets you wrote for C. S. Lewis? For Jack, as you called him. Oh my Lordy, they are beautiful. 

JOY: Yes! As I wrote at the front of the folder – “Dear Jack, ryhmes in your honor, Sir, and here’s the lot.”  I wrote them quickly, some of them “fifteen seconds from desire to deed.” There are forty-five of them in total in a folder I labeled “Courage”. Some of them I had written before our friendship began, but most of them I wrote during our relationship. They were my way to sort through the confusing and often painful feelings we all must know – of loving another who does not love us the same in return. Although Jack and I later fell into mutual Eros and had the most profoundly beautiful marriage, it wasn’t always this way. These love sonnets come from my heart. As I say “the verse might be a joke, but the love is not.” I wrote about everything from the pain to a lovely day hiking on Shotover Hill. When my marriage was ending, and my life seemed in shambles I wrote. “Begin again, must I begin again.” And indeed I did!

PCH: How do you feel about having a novel about your life and your relationships? 

JOY: How odd it is to have a “novel” about one’s life. When one is living such a life how could this be imagined? And yet, there are things I could not say in my lifetime that can be said in a novel. The times – the 1950’s and now – are so very different for women. I do realize I was considered a rebel for my days, and that the word “brash” was often attached to my name, and yet one never considers one’s self brash or rebellious. I was doing all I knew to do to save my own life and the life of my children. I made the choices I saw fit, although they were difficult and many disapproved. To see it all unfold in a story is quite unnerving and wonderful at the same time. 

PCH: Tell us one thing that most people don’t know. So very much has been written about you, and about C. S. Lewis (Jack). 

JOY: I think the one thing most don’t know is how very happy we were even in the last years when I was dying. It was without a doubt the three happiest years of both our lives. Although Jack was well loved and respected, he is even more so now in his death. What most don’t know is that he was also quite human. He’d had great sorrows in his life and great disappointment just as anyone else. He can be so revered and quoted now that his humanity can be lost in all the adoration. I knew and loved the man, the broken, wonderful, brilliant, amorous, magnificent man. 

About the Author

Patti Callahan Henry is a New York Times best-selling author of fifteen novels, including the (Historical Fiction), BECOMING MRS. LEWIS—The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Now a USA TODAY, Publishers Weekly, and The Globe and Mail bestseller. (writing as Patti Callahan) Her latest novel, THE FAVORITE DAUGHTER, (Southern Contemporary Fiction) was released June 4, 2019, and is available now. A full-time author and mother of three children, she now resides in both Mountain Brook, Alabama and Bluffton, South Carolina with her husband. Website: Twitter: @pcalhenry Instagram: @pattichenry Facebook: @AuthorPattiCallahanHenry


BECOMING MRS LEWIS Now a USA TODAY and Publishers Weekly bestseller!

“Patti Callahan seems to have found the story she was born to tell in this tale of unlikely friendship turned true love between Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis, that tests the bounds of faith and radically alters both of their lives. Their connection comes to life in Callahan’s expert hands, revealing a connection so persuasive and affecting, we wonder if there’s another like it in history. Luminous and penetrating.” 
—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife     

In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice.

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had. At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.

“Patti Callahan Henry breathes wondrous fresh life into one of the greatest literary love stories of all time . . . The result is a deeply moving story about love and loss that is transformative and magical.” —Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan’s Tale

“I was swept along, filled with hope, and entirely beguiled, not only by the life lived behind the veil of C. S. Lewis’s books but also by the woman who won his heart. A literary treasure from first page to last.” —Lisa Wingate, New York Times bestselling author of Before We Were Yours

“Profoundly evocative, revealing an intimate view of a woman whose love and story had never been fully told . . . until now . . . Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a tour de force and the must-read of the season!” —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author of Beach House Reunion

“Patti Callahan somehow inhabits Davidman, taking her readers inside the writer’s hungry mind and heart. We keenly feel Davidman’s struggle to become her own person at a time (the 1950s) when women had few options . . . An astonishing work of biographical fiction.” —Lynn Cullen, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe

“Patti Callahan breathes life into this fascinating woman whose hunger for knowledge leads her to buck tradition at every turn.” —Diane Chamberlain, New York Times bestselling author of The Dream Daughter

Behind the Scenes of Becoming Mrs. Lewis



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Dec 22, 2022
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