The Charles Williams Society

Welcome!

The Charles Williams Society exists to promote the study and appreciation of the life and writings of Charles Walter Stansby Williams, a poet, novelist, and lay theologian.

Charles Williams is probably best known, to those who have heard of him, as a leading member (albeit for a short time) of the Oxford literary group, the "Inklings", whose chief figures were C. S.Lewis and J. R. R Tolkien. He was, however, a figure of enormous interest in his own right: a prolific author of plays, fantasy novels (strikingly different in kind from those of his friends), poetry, theology, biography and criticism.

The Society meets twice a year, and publishes The Charles Williams Quarterly, which normally includes the papers delivered at the meetings. It also occasionally has short residential conferences, the most recent having taken place on July 4th-6th, 2008. It maintains a lending and reference library.

Become a member of the Charles Williams Society. Membership subscription is £15 a year single, £20 for joint members. Outside UK £20 single, £25 joint. Concessionary rates £7.50. Fees are payable to The Charles Williams Society.

Quarterly Archive now available

We’ve posted an archive of our Quarterly, which was produced from 1976 onwards. You can download each issue as a PDF. Check out the list here!

Charles Williams’s Grave

grave

All members of the Society will know that Charles Williams is buried in Holywell Cemetery next to St Cross Church in Oxford.  The grave is, strictly speaking, the responsibility of the estate, i.e. the heirs, of Charles Williams, but for many years the Charles Williams Society has taken on this responsibility and has tried to look after the grave.  Until recently a firm of stonemasons and gardeners was employed to take care of it but, unfortunately, the firm was taken over and the contract lapsed.

Visitors to the grave during the last year or two have been distressed to find that the grave has become increasingly unkempt. The society has been aware of this and been trying to find someone who will be able to do the work that was previously done by the company we employed. Thanks to the efforts of Susannah Harris Wilson, someone has been found who will do precisely this: an excellent professional gardener who has already begun the work of restoration.

The cemetery itself is a place of great interest.  A number of well known people: writers, scholars, artists are buried there. Only a few feet away from Charles Williams can be found the graves of Kenneth Grahame, Walter Pater, and Williams’s friends, Hugo Dyson, Austin Farrer and Maurice Bowra. It is also a place of quiet beauty: a sanctuary for wildlife and local flora.  The Friends of Holywell Cemetery are anxious that it should retain its distinctive character and not become a clipped and manicured place. We are extremely fortunate to have found someone to take care of the grave who understands the singular charm and attractiveness of its surroundings.

Brian Horne

Lois Lang-Sims (1917-2014)

Lois Lang-Sims, whom we know as a corespondent of Williams, and co-author of ‘Letters to Lalage‘, died recently. Below is a remembrance by Society member Grevel Lindop.

LOIS LANG-SIMS (1917-2014)

Lois Lang-Sims, who died on March 11 at the age of 97, was perhaps the last of Charles Williams’s ‘disciples’ – those who, for a time, took him as their spiritual teacher. She will be known to members of the Society as the co-author of Letters to Lalage, in which she added her own commentary and reminiscences to Williams’s letters to her, written in 1943 and 1944.

But Lois Lang-Sims was more than simply a follower of Charles Williams. She was a writer and spiritual seeker of considerable stature. Another of her teachers was the Buddhist scholar Marco Pallis with whom, as with Williams, she eventually broke – for Lois was nothing if not independent-minded. One of the first English people to become aware of the sad plight of the Tibetan refugees who fled to Nepal and northern India after the Chinese invasion of 1959, she helped to found the Tibet Society, the first charity dedicated to helping them, becoming a friend of the Dalai Lama and other senior Tibetan lamas.

Her Tibetan adventures are depicted in a beautifully-written volume of autobiography, Flower in a Teacup. This, and an account of her earlier life in A Time to be Born, form one of the finest British autobiographies of the twentieth century and richly deserve to be reprinted. Having worked as a guide for visitors to Canterbury Cathedral, she was also the author of Canterbury Cathedral: Mother Church of Holy Trinity, a discursive account of the Cathedral, its history and its significance, as well as of One Thing Only: A Christian Guide to the Universal Quest for God and The Christian Mystery: An Exposition of Esoteric Christianity.

I met her in 2001, when I went to record her memories of Charles Williams. She lived in a care home in Hove, where, as a devout mystical Christian, she spent much of her time in prayer and contemplation. She was surrounded by her books, and by the photographs of people from her childhood who had become, for her, archetypal figures of deep spiritual significance: her mother and father, her beloved nurse ‘Old Nan’, and an adored elder brother who had died during her infancy.

She was still beautiful; and her mind was clear and incisive, as it remained to the end. We stayed in touch, and she eagerly read every draft chapter of my biography of Charles Williams, responding with helpful comments and fascinating discussion. She continued to write essays, and to read widely. Biography was her favourite genre: she was something of an expert on Gandhi’s life, and in the last few months was carefully reading Ian Kershaw’s recent life of Hitler, developing her own theories about the psychological forces which had led Gandhi to good and Hitler to terrible evil.

Towards the end she grew too weak to write, so we talked on the telephone. (I like to think that she was able to read the chapter in which I described Charles Williams’s death, which I sent her on 13 February.) Asked about her health in those last months, she would exclaim ‘Oh, I’m crumbling away! But don’t worry, my dear, I’m looking forward to death. I really can’t wait!’

Hypersensitive, opinionated and argumentative at times, she nonetheless radiated love and intelligence. I found her a delight and an inspiration. And she has probably left much literary work greatly deserving of publication. I hope that a late essay of hers, ‘The Simplicity of Faith’, will be published in Temenos Academy Review in 2015.

Grevel Lindop

Annual General Meeting 2014

The Annual General Meeting of the Charles William Society will be held on Saturday 12 April 2014 at 12.00 noon in the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Shoe Lane, OXFORD.

Agenda

  1. 1. Apologies for Absence
  2. 2. Minutes of the previous AGM
  3. 3. Matters Arising
  4. 4. Reports from the Officers of the Society
    • (a) Secretary
    • (b)   Treasurer
    • (c)    Editor
    • (d)   Librarian
    • (e)  Chairman
  5. 5. Election of Officers
  6. 6. Charles Williams’s Grave – Holywell Cemetery
  7. 7. Future of the Society
  8. 8. Any Other Business

After lunch – at approximately 2.00 p.m. –  there will be readings from Charles Williams’s works. Members are asked to bring any piece(s) of Williams’s writings that they would like to share with the group.

It is hoped that as many members of the society who are able to attend will do so. Guests will be very welcome.

Brian Horne

Chairman of the Council

Archive Catalog complete!

Our two excellent volunteers have completed an electronic catalog of our Archives.  The second installment of two is available now: a catalog of the books – the Society’s holdings of books by Williams, and others about him.  Access it here!

Older copies for sale

If you’re shopping for Charles Williams books, a new collection of older copies has been posted for sale by Roger Brown of Brown’s books here:

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?an=Williams%2C+Charles&sts=t&vci=131212&x=51&y=15

Tell Roger you’re part of the Society!

UPDATE 23 January 2014:  It looks like they’ve all been sold.  As of today, that search only turns up books by other authors with similar names.

The Catalog Archives

Two excellent volunteers have been hard at work creating an electronic catalog of our Archives.  The first installment of two is available now: a catalog of the papers, everything except the books.  Access it here!

Call for Papers: The Inklings and King Arthur

Society Member Sørina Higgins is collecting papers related to King Arthur and the Inklings.

The collection will compare the Arthurian works, especially the mythological geographies, of Tolkien, Lewis, Williams, Barfield, their predecessors, and their contemporaries, in historical context.

Read all the details and view topic ideas here. Abstracts are due on 1 January, 2014 so get started now!

Annual General Meeting 2013

The Annual General Meeting of the Charles Williams Society will be held on Saturday 4th May at 12.00 noon in the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Shoe Lane, OXFORD.

Agenda

  • 1. Apologies for Absence
  • 2. Minutes of the previous AGM
  • 3. Matters Arising
  • 4. Reports from Officers of the Society
    • (a)   Secretary
    • (b)   Treasurer
    • (c)   Editor
    • (d)   Librarian
    • (e)   Chairman
  • 5. Election of Officers
  • 6. The Future of the Society
  • 7. Any Other Business

After lunch – at approximately 2.00 p.m. – Grevel Lindop will speak on:

The Arthurian Poems of Charles Williams

Some Recent Reflections

It is hoped that as many members of the society who are able to attend will do so.  Guests will be very welcome.

Charles Williams in the New Yorker

Caleb Crain writes in the New Yorker about discovering the novels of Charles Williams:

What We’re Reading: Charles Williams