Behind the Book
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
Years ago, this story grabbed me by the heart and would not let me go. I wanted, no!, I deeply desired to tell the story of this fiery and intelligent woman who changed her life so dramatically in a time when women were not always encouraged to pursue their arts or passions, to save their own lives as best they could.
The idea for this novel began decades before I became a writer myself. In hindsight, it all started when I was young and I fell into my own kind of love with Lewis and read The Screwtape Letters, years before I knew what the words satire or allegorymeant. Then of course I fell through the wardrobe into Narnia. I read Lewis’s other works later in life with as much abandon and fascination. When I read A Grief Observed and felt Lewis’s palpable pain in losing the great love of his life, I wanted to know more about the woman he loved so fiercely.
Who was this poet and novelist who had lived a world away from Lewis both culturally and literally and yet fallen in love with him and he with her? I set off to research Joy in both her writings and in travel to the Wade Center where her papers are kept alongside C. S. Lewis’s, and then onto London and Oxford. I immersed myself in her fascinating, heartbreaking and beautiful world.
I discovered as you will also, that Joy isn’t interesting merely because C. S. Lewis fell in love with her. Not even close. Come meet Joy and travel with her on this courageous journey from New York to London, onto Oxford and into the enclaves of Oxford University and C. S. Lewis’s heart.
February 13, 2018
I am so both grateful and thrilled to share this novel with you—Becoming Mrs. Lewis—the Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis.
Poet and novelist Joy Davidman once wrote in an essay, “What in the world would ever become of us if we should ever grow brave?” In this novel we answer that question as we follow Joy on a decade long journey of transformation from a wife and mother in upstate New York to the beloved wife of C. S. Lewis.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
Follow the Journey with Patti
to Oxford, England
Articles by Patti
A Letter to Joy from Patti
“Red Magazine asked me to write a letter to Joy. WHY hadn't I thought of that? In many ways, my novel was a love letter to her indomitable spirit, but a letter felt right."
—Author, Patti Callahan BECOMING MRS. LEWIS
RED MAGAZINE UK:
Author Patti Callahan on the woman who changed her life.
The life lessons we can all learn from Joy Davidman
(the woman who stole C.S Lewis' heart).
From inspiring daring decisions to trusting yourself and your intuition, Joy Davidman, wife of C.S. Lewis', taught author Patti Callahan many valuable life lessons.
Here, she writes her hero a love letter...
Becoming Mrs. Lewis
"We need to pack up society's expectations and other definitions of us. To become who we are."
When I first read your question “If we should ever grow brave, what on earth would become of us?” I felt a tremble below my heart. What a beautiful question. How are we to answer it?
I’d already come to know you through your poetry and your letters, and I’d already written much about your improbable love story, but when I read this question, I set off to find the answer in the essay. But I quickly realised that you never answered the question on paper because you answered it with your life. You answered it with your courageous, intelligent, and fiery choices every single day. You set off on a transformational journey that not only changed your life but also my life, and quite possibly the lives of anyone who reads about you. And more importantly, you changed the life of C. S. Lewis.
Your daring decisions in the face of societal and family pressure were so ahead of your time, and so brave that you inspire me to look closely at my own life. In every step you took you remind us that although we might not need to pack up our kids and move to England, we might just need to pack up society’s expectations and other’s definitions of us, to become who we are meant to be.
When you walked away from abuse and heartbreak without any promises of a brighter future, you taught us that we can do the same.
At first I set off to write about you because I was intrigued by your improbable love story with C. S. Lewis, but as I came to know you, I realised that instead of writing just a love story, I also wanted to write about your fascinating transformational journey. I began to write about you to honour you and to introduce you to our generation of women.
Oh, how I admire you and I wanted others to do the same. I was tired of hearing about you, and I wanted to hear from you. So, I read your poetry; your letters; your essays, and your hidden sonnets to C. S. Lewis (your beloved husband).
As I wrote this novel you were teaching me with your mistakes and blunders, but also with your courage, your wit and your vulnerability. There were times I wanted to reach through the pages and shake you. Then there were the times that you seemed to be reaching through the pages to shake me.
“Trust yourself and your intuition,” you said to me when you climbed aboard the SS United States to pursue your life and health against the odds."
“It’s okay to be different than the women around you; we are all created in the Maker’s image with our own journey," you told us as you lived in a third floor walkup in London, shivering and broke, but believing that you were building a new life and would find your way.
“Don’t carry around the shame your parents or the church or society gave you,” you told me as you wrote your poetry, and your novels, as you hiked through the great fields of Oxford with Jack, falling in love.
When you lived in a seaside shack with other single women, sharing a kitchen and waiting for the next phase of your life to start you show us how staying in an abusive situation tears away at our self-esteem. Your life reminds us that no matter how much we think we can fix anyone by being good and perfect, we can’t fix anyone but ourselves.
Thank you, Joy for showing us that we can change our lives even though we are scared – courage and strength can be mixed with fear.
With your life, you show us that each time we acquiesce to something we know we should not, we hide our true self and cause our soul great damage. You remind us that obsession for men’s approval will never gain lasting love.
When you realised that you were dying from metastatic breast cancer, you remind us that denying our own self-care helps no one at all. We must be our own advocate.
I wonder if you ever read Thomas Merton and what he had to say about our “hidden wholeness”, because you seem to tap into that truth as built a new life in England with your sons, your art and your intelligent curiosity.
YOU REMIND US THAT DENYING OUR OWN SELF-CARE HELPS NO ONE AT ALL. WE MUST BE OUR OWN ADVOCATE
And, Joy! How the passion for your creative life shows us how we must express ourselves in the world. You seem to say — Don’t stop. Ever. For anyone or anything.
You seem to whisper to us over and over to never take the crumbs off any man’s table. While you burst through the bonds of expectation on a quest for the truth, taking the chance that your life would crumble or be one new again, I cheered for you.
You changed the story of your life. You didn’t let anyone else define you or stop you from becoming whom you were meant to be, and loving the man meant for you.
Helen Joy Davidman Lewis, you changed your life and therefore changed ours.
With Great Love,
Historical fictions often inspires us to delve into other works that illuminate the story, bringing it to life in a bigger way.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis is one of those books.
When C. S. Lewis met Joy Davidman, his future wife and his “whole world”, he was already a prolific and famous author. But after Lewis (called Jack) met her, he wrote some of his most profound work.
In Becoming Mrs. Lewis we meet, see and hear Joy as they work together. Here is a reading list that is an intriguing supplement to the experience of meeting Jack and Joy as they come together not only in love but in creativity.
Till We Have Faces – A Myth Retold – The novel C. S. Lewis wrote in his retelling of the Cupid and Psyche Myth. Joy is credited as having co-written this novel with him, her ideas, themes and personality evident in the storytelling.
Surprised by Joy – C. S. Lewis’s biography of his early life and conversion, which Joy helped edit.
A Grief Observed – the powerful book that C. S. Lewis originally wrote under the pseudonym N. W. Clerk as he was wary of having others see and feel his palpable grief over losing Joy.
The Four Loves – originally from a series of BBC talks, this book was deeply inspired not only by Lewis’s research and knowledge but also by his love for Joy and an understanding of Eros he would not have had without her.
Smoke on the Mountain – An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments by Joy Davidman – Joy was working on this book when she first met Jack. He ended up writing the foreword for the British edition. A fascinating view of the ten commandments from a Jewish woman who converted.
The book begins with an illuminating essay titled “ON FEAR” in which Joy asks “If we should ever grow brave, what on earth would become of us?”