Many people don't quite know what to make of Charles Williams. An integral member of the Inklings set during World War II, he was a guest lecturer at Oxford, where he was a charismatic lecturer with a devoted, almost cult-like following. At Oxford University Press, he began as a reader and ended up as literary advisor until the end of his life. He was mostly self-educated, having had to drop out of college on 'financial grounds'; he was an unswerving member of the Church of England, with 'a refreshing tolerance of the skepticism of others, and a firm belief in the necessity of a 'doubting Thomas' in any apostolic body.' Williams work includes essays, novels, poetry, reviews, plays, literary criticism, biography, and theology. His most developed themes center on two main doctrines-romantic love (which closely approximates Wordsworth's 'feeling intellect') and the coinherence ('things that exist in essential relationship with another, as innate components of the other') of all creatures. T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and C.S. Lewis were great admirers of his work, though even they confessed themselves 'lost' from time to time. Eliot once remarked that what Williams had to say was beyond his [Williams'] grasp, and perhaps beyond the grasp of any known genre of literature. Yet it is Williams' reach for the unknown and the unknowable that makes him not only a fascinating mind but also an important literary figure and man of letters.
The Figure of Beatrice stands as ne of the most ambitious and unique interpretations of Dante ever written. Williams tackles the power of the image and the way in which images are integral to our relationship with God and others. Particularly, he examines romantic love as a 'method of process towards the inGodding of man' as well as the images of community, poetry and human learning. Beatrice, according to Williams, is Dante's way of knowing. 'Wherever any love is,' he writes, 'and some kind of love in every man and woman there must be-there is either affirmation or rejection of the image in one or other form. If there is rejection-of that Way there are many records. Of the affirmation, for all its greater commonness, there are fewer records.' For Williams, Dante inhabits the latter. 236 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
One of the most ambitious essays in the interpretation of Dante our time has seen...his interpretation of the role of Beatrice is a subtle and individual one. Charles Williams was one of the finest-not to mention one of the most unusual-theologians of the twentieth century. His mysticism is palpable-the unseen world interpenetrates ours at every point, and spiritual exchange occurs all the time, unseen and largely unlooked for. His novels are legend, and as a member of the Inklings, he contributed to the mythopoetic revival in contemporary culture.