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Charles Williams (UK writer)

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Charles Williams (UK writer)

This article is about the British writer born in 1886. For other people called Charles or Charlie Williams, see Charles Williams (disambiguation). For the British writer born in 1971, see Charlie Williams (British writer).

Charles Williams
Born Charles Walter Stansby Williams
(1886-09-20)20 September 1886
London, England
Died 15 May 1945(1945-05-15) (aged 58)
Occupation Novelist
Nationality English
Genres Fantasy
Notable work(s) War in Heaven
The Place of the Lion
The Greater Trumps
Descent into Hell
Spouse(s) Florence Conway

Charles Walter Stansby Williams (20 September 1886 – 15 May 1945) was a British poet, novelist, theologian, literary critic, and member of the Inklings.


Williams was born in London in 1886, the only son of Richard and Mary Williams of Islington. He had one sister, Edith, born in 1889. Educated at St Albans School, Hertfordshire, Williams was awarded a scholarship to University College London, but was forced to leave in 1904 without taking a degree because his family lacked the financial resources to support him. In the same year he began work in a Methodist bookroom. Williams was hired by the Oxford University Press (OUP) as a proofreading assistant in 1908 and quickly climbed to the position of editor. He continued to work at the OUP in various positions of increasing responsibility until his death in 1945. One of his greatest editorial achievements was the publication of the first major English-language edition of the works of Søren Kierkegaard.[1]

Although chiefly remembered as a novelist, Williams also published poetry, works of literary criticism, theology, drama, history, biography, and a voluminous number of book reviews. Some of his best known novels are , , and . [2] T. S. Eliot, who wrote an introduction for the last of these, described Williams’s novels as "supernatural thrillers" because they explore the sacramental intersection of the physical with the spiritual while also examining the ways in which power, even spiritual power, can corrupt as well as sanctify. All of Williams’ fantasies, unlike those of J. R. R. Tolkien and most of those of C. S. Lewis, are set in the contemporary world. More recent writers of fantasy novels with contemporary settings, notably Tim Powers, cite Williams as a model and inspiration. W. H. Auden, one of Williams’ greatest admirers, reportedly re-read Williams’s extraordinary and highly unconventional history of the church, Descent of the Dove (1939), every year. Williams’s study of Dante entitled The Figure of Beatrice (1944) was very highly regarded at its time of publication and continues to be consulted by Dante scholars today. Williams, however, regarded his most important work to be his extremely dense and complex Arthurian poetry, of which two books were published, Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944), and more remained unfinished at his death. Some of Williams’ best essays were collected and published in Anne Ridler's Image of the City and Other Essays (1958).

Williams gathered many followers and disciples during his lifetime. He was, for a period, a member of the Salvator Mundi Temple of the Fellowship of the Rosy Cross. He met fellow Anglican Evelyn Underhill (who was affiliated with a similar group, the Order of the Golden Dawn) in 1937 and was later to write the introduction to her published Letters in 1943.[3] Williams also formed master-disciple relationships with young women throughout his lifetime. The best known (though probably not the most significant) of these occurred in the early 1940s with Lois Lang Sims. Lang Sims, whom Williams referred to as Lalage, published a series of letters that Williams wrote to her during this period in a volume entitled Letters to Lalage (1989). Though Williams married his first sweetheart, Florence Conway, in 1917, he continually struggled to reconcile a lifelong (though probably unconsummated) love affair with Phyllis Jones (who joined the Oxford University Press in 1924 as librarian) with his Christian faith (he was an unswerving and devoted member of the Church of England, reputedly with a tolerance of the scepticism of others and a firm belief in the necessity of a "doubting Thomas" in any apostolic body).[4]

Although Williams attracted the attention and admiration of some of the most notable writers of his day, including T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden, his greatest admirer was probably C. S. Lewis, whose novel was at the time regarded as entirely inspired by Williams's novels. Williams came to know Lewis after reading Lewis’s recently published study ; he was so impressed he jotted down a letter of congratulations and dropped it in the mail. Coincidentally, Lewis had just finished reading Williams’s novel and had written a similar note of congratulations. The letters crossed in the mail and led to an enduring and fruitful friendship. When World War II broke out in 1939, Oxford University Press moved its offices from London to Oxford. Although Williams was reluctant to leave his beloved city, this move did allow him to participate regularly in Lewis’s literary society known as the Inklings. In this setting Williams was able to read (and improve) his final published novel, , as well as to hear J. R. R. Tolkien read some of his early drafts of aloud to the group. In addition to meeting in Lewis’ rooms at Oxford, they also regularly met at The Eagle and Child pub in Oxford (better known by its nickname "The Bird and Baby"). During this time Williams also gave lectures at Oxford on John Milton, William Wordsworth, and other authors, and received an honorary M.A. degree. Williams is buried in St Cross Churchyard Oxford: his headstone bears the word "poet", followed by the words 'Under the Mercy', a blessing often used by Williams himself.

William's theology

Williams developed the concept of Co-inherence, described as a theology of romantic love. Co-inherence was a term used to describe the relationship between the human and divine natures of Jesus Christ, and the relationship between the persons of the blessed Trinity. Williams extended the term to include the relationship between God, humanity, and the whole of creation. It is our mutual indwelling: Christ in us and we in Christ, interdependent. Co-inherence is a way of talking about the Body of Christ and the Communion of saints. For Williams, salvation was not a solitary affair. "The thread of the love of God was strong enough to save you and all the others, but not strong enough to save you alone." He proposed an order, Companions of the Co-inherence, who would practice substitution and exchange, living in love-in-God, truly bearing one another's burdens, being willing to sacrifice and to forgive, living from and for one another in Christ.


Williams’s novels

He is writing that sort of book in which we begin by saying, let us suppose that this everyday world were at some one point invaded by the marvelous.
— CS Lewis on Charles William's novels[5]
  • — The Holy Grail surfaces in an obscure country parish and becomes variously a sacramental object to protect or a vessel of power to exploit.
  • — An evil antiquarian illegally purchases the fabled Stone of Suleiman (Williams uses this Muslim form rather than the more familiar King Solomon) from its Islamic guardian in Baghdad and returns to England to discover not only that the Stone can multiply itself infinitely without diminishing the original, but that it also allows its possessor to transcend the barriers of space and time.
  • Platonic archetypes begin to appear around an English country town, wreaking havoc and drawing to the surface the spiritual strengths and flaws of individual characters.
  • — A humanistic adept has discovered that by focusing his energies inward he can extend his life almost indefinitely. He undertakes an experiment using African lore to die and resurrect his own body thereby assuring his immortality. His followers begin a revolutionary movement to destroy European civilization.
  • — The original Tarot is used to unlock enormous metaphysical powers by allowing the possessors to see across space and time, create matter, and raise powerful natural storms.
  • — Generally thought to be Williams’s best novel, Descent deals with various forms of selfishness, and how the cycle of sin brings about the necessity for redemptive acts. In it, an academic becomes so far removed from the world that he fetishizes a woman to the extent that his perversion takes the form of a succubus. Characters include a doppelgänger and the ghost of a suicidal Victorian labourer. It is illustrative of Williams’s belief in the replacement of sin and substitutional love.
  • — Opens with a discussion between the ghosts of two dead women wandering about London. Ultimately explores the meaning of human suffering and empathy by dissolving the barrier between the living and the dead through both black magic and divine love.



  • 1930: War in Heaven (London: Victor Gollancz)
  • 1930: Many Dimensions (London: Victor Gollancz)
  • 1931: The Place of the Lion (London: Mundanus)
  • 1932: The Greater Trumps (London: Victor Gollancz)
  • 1933: Shadows of Ecstasy (London: Victor Gollancz)
  • 1937: Descent into Hell (London: Faber & Faber)
  • 1945: All Hallow’s Eve (London: Faber & Faber)
  • 1970–72: The Noises That Weren’t There. Unfinished. First three chapters published in Mythlore 6 (Autumn 1970), 7 (Winter 1971) and 8 (Winter 1972).


  • 1930: A Myth of Shakespeare (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1930: A Myth of Francis Bacon (Published in the Charles Williams Society Newsletter, 11, 12, and 14)
  • 1929–31: Three Plays (London: Oxford University Press)
    • The Rite of the Passion (1929)
    • The Chaste Wanton (1930)
    • The Witch (1931)
  • 1963: Collected Plays by Charles Williams (edited by John Heath-Stubbs; London: Oxford University Press)
    • Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (1935)
    • Seed of Adam (1936)
    • Judgement at Chelmsford (1939)
    • The Death of Good Fortune (1939)
    • The House by the Stable (1939)
    • Terror of Light (1940)
    • Grab and Grace (1941)
    • The Three Temptations (1942)
    • House of the Octopus (1945)
  • 2000: The Masques of Amen House (edited by David Bratman. Mythopoeic Press).
    • The Masque of the Manuscript (1927)
    • The Masque of Perusal (1929)
    • The Masque of the Termination of Copyright (1930)


  • 1912: The Silver Stair (London: Herbert and Daniel)
  • 1917: Poems of Conformity (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1920: Divorce (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1924: Windows of Night (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1930: Heroes and Kings (London: Sylvan Press)
  • 1954: Taliessin through Logres (1938) and The Region of the Summer Stars (1944) (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1948: The Figure of Arthur as part of Arthurian Torso (with C.S. Lewis’s commentary), unifished. (London: Oxford University Press)


  • 1938: He Came Down from Heaven (London: Heinemann).
  • 1939: The Descent of the Dove: A Short History of the Holy Spirit in the Church (London: Longmans, Green)
  • 1941: Witchcraft (London: Faber & Faber)
  • 1942: The Forgiveness of Sins (London: G. Bles)
  • 1990: Outlines of Romantic Theology(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans)

Literary Criticism

  • 1930: Poetry at Present (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
  • 1932: The English Poetic Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
  • 1933: Reason and Beauty in the Poetic Mind (Oxford: Clarendon Press)
  • 1943: The Figure of Beatrice (London: Faber & Faber)
  • 1958: The Image of the City and Other Essays (edited by Anne Ridler; London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1974: Religion and Love in Dante: The Theology of Romantic Love (Pennsylvania: Folcroft Library Editions).
  • 2003: The Detective Fiction Reviews of Charles Williams (edited by Jared C. Lobdell; McFarland)


  • 1933: Bacon (London: Arthur Barker)
  • 1934: James I (London: Arthur Barker)
  • 1935: Rochester (London: Arthur Barker)
  • 1936: Queen Elizabeth (London: Duckworth)
  • 1937: Henry VII (London: Arthur Barker).
  • 1937: Stories of Great Names (London: Oxford University Press)
  • 1946: Flecker of Dean Close (London: Canterbury Press)

Other works

  • 1989: Letters to Lalage: The Letters of Charles Williams to Lois Lang-Sims (Kent State University Press)
  • 2002: To Michal from Serge: Letters from Charles Williams to His Wife Florence, 1939-1945 (edited by Roma King Jr.; Kent State University Press)
  • 1986: "“Et in Sempiternum Pereant" (a short story) in The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories (London: Oxford University Press)
  • Introduction to Evelyn Underhill’s Letters
  • Introduction to the second edition of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Poems
  • Introduction to Kierkegaard’s The Present Age
  • The Story of the Aeneid as retold by Williams
  • selected daily readings in A New Christian Year and The Passion of Christ

Secondary Literature

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  • features Charles Williams, CS Lewis, and JRR Tolkien as the main characters.


1. INKLINGS Forever, Vol V, a collection of essays presented at the Fifth Francis White Colloquium on CS Lewis and Friends, presented at Taylor University in 2006: Charles Williams: Priest of the Co-inherence, by Susan Wendling. 2. The Ways of the City, a homily by Robert Gallagher, in Order of the Ascension, a Benedictine Community, website. 3. What About Charles Williams, by Thomas Howard, in the Criswell College Touchstone, Dec. 2004.

External links

  • on Williams and his literary circle
  • (includes a photograph of CW with WB Yeats)
  • (several works out of copy right in Australia)
  • Internet Speculative Fiction Database

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