Today, Helen "Joy" Davidman is known primarily as the wife of C.S. Lewis. But before she became the cherished companion of one of the 20th century's leading theologians and writers, she had worked hard to build her own writing career. A poet, critic, onetime ardent Communist and lifelong spiritual seeker, Joy was a brilliant but difficult woman. Abigail Santamaria explores the many facets of Joy's life and career in her new biography, titled simply Joy.
The daughter of educated, upwardly mobile Jews, Joy grew up in the Bronx and Brooklyn. She earned a degree from Hunter College and spent several years teaching high school, but she hated the work and was determined to pursue her lifelong dream of being a writer. Santamaria delves into Joy's early writing career, sharing excerpts from her passionate poems and the essays that appeared in New Masses and other publications produced by the Communist Party.
Intellectually curious yet hungry for a cause she could believe in, Joy believed in the Communist Party, and her association with the Party helped her career to flourish for a time, as did several summers she spent writing at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. But by the time of her first marriage, to fellow writer Bill Gresham, Joy was becoming disillusioned with the Party. She also had several experiences of what she called "moments of grace," which set her on a journey toward the Christianity she would later embrace.
While she clearly admires her subject, Santamaria acknowledges Joy's failings: her tendency to exaggeration and even lying; the spending sprees she could rarely afford; her troubled relationship with her parents and brother. Joy's marriage to Bill also receives an even-handed treatment. Bill was undoubtedly an alcoholic who struggled to maintain a stable family life, but Santamaria clearly outlines the part Joy played in the failure of their marriage.
Frustrated by professional and personal setbacks, Joy uprooted her life--and that of her two young sons--to travel to England in 1952. She had struck up a flourishing correspondence with Lewis, and she set out to woo her literary lion. Santamaria chronicles the difficulties of Joy's life in England and Lewis's reaction to her arrival, but admits that, in the end, they did fall deeply in love. As Joy's health began to fail, her relationship with Lewis flourished, and their last few years together were blissful.
A clear-eyed, insightful portrait of a fascinating woman, Santamaria's biography adds important depth and richness to the popular image of Joy Davidman. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Shelf Talker: An insightful biography of Joy Davidman reveals new facets of the brilliant, complicated woman who married C.S. Lewis.