From “The Abolition of Man” to “That Hideous Strength” Part Two: The Pupils – Jane and Mark and the Abolition of Marriage

botticelli-venus_and_mars-1

Mars and Venus by Botticelli, 1483

“There when a young man takes a maiden in marriage, they do not lie together, but each lies with a cunningly fashioned image of the other, made to move and to be warm by devilish arts, for real flesh will not please them, they are so dainty [delicati] in their dreams of lust. Their real children they fabricate by vile arts in a secret place.”

Part Two:  The Pupils Jane and Mark and the Abolition of Marriage

A key to understanding That Hideous Strength is the idea that under the tutelage of such debunkers, the results are students for whom “the world of facts, without one trace of value and the world of feelings without one trace of truth or falsehood, justice or injustice confront each other, and no rapprochement is possible.”[1]  Arguably, this is the kind of education that puts asunder what God has meant to join, the union of reason and emotions, instincts and mind, the natural and the supernatural, of which “the chest” or conscience joins in harmony as an “indispensable liaison officer”.

In That Hideous Strength, Lewis shows us more than just the inner severing of cerebral man and visceral man for we see this separation working its way outward into human relationships, specifically the marriage relationship.  Given his Christian convictions, it is possible that Lewis had in view the principle that when joined in Holy Matrimony, “the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Savior of the body” and the wife is to submit to his authority.[2] The uniting of men and women in such a bond represents this coming together of head and heart, male and female.  In That Hideous Strength, this is the relational dance that provides the antidote to the severing of mind from body that results from a loss in the belief in transcendent moral reality.

Jane and Mark Studdock give us a representation of such a severing.  They are the pupils of Gaius and Titius; recent graduates as Lewis’s numerous references to their youth seem to indicate. From their world, they had inherited a “laboratory outlook upon love” that stripped matrimony of its duties, humility, and transcendent symbolic purposes.[3]  Mark is the head, but we see that he is more concerned with pursuing the Head of the N.I.C.E., that ironically turns out to be a truly disembodied head to which he is ordered to submit or die.  Jane, on the other hand, will learn submission from Ransom, a Christian who has a fuller and richer understanding of the complexities of gender and marriage because of his experiences on Mars and Venus.

Jane struggles to reconcile her creaturely longings for “mutual society, help, and comfort” in marriage with her longing for equality. Lewis makes it clear that Mark has been absent most of the time, both physically and intellectually, present only in those moments when, as he will later realize, he approaches his wife not with the “humility of a lover” but with a sense of animal entitlement.   Jane recoils at the thought of having children, for they represent to her a loss of the independence she believes is necessary for equality.  The idea of wifely obedience to Mark repulses her.  She expresses contempt for motherly women such as Mrs. Dimble, the matronly wife of her tutor, who is the “sort of woman” who is always “dying to know” if a recently married young woman is pregnant.[4]  Jane is someone who “liked her clothes to be rather severe and in colors that were really good on aesthetic grounds” making it clear to others “that she was an intelligent adult and not a woman of the chocolate-box variety.”[5]  Lewis makes it clear that there was much about herself that Jane did not know.  It seems that no rapprochement between her two desires will be possible.

Mark’s journey is one that is consumed with university politics as he pursues that elusive inner circle where there “are no formal admissions or expulsions,” and “people think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it”, all providing “great amusement for those who are really inside.”[6]  This ambition has haunted him since he was a child hiding “in the shrubbery beside the paling, to overhear” his sister’s private conversation with a friend, “trying to ignore the fact that it was not at all interesting when overheard.”  His education had deprived him of the opportunity to feel the pang of conscience from the many relationships he left ruined in the wake of his insatiable ambition.  Lewis notes that Mark is “young and shy and vain and timid, all in one.”  Mark fails to perceive his duties as a husband because of his blinding ambition.

Disturbing visions of acts of evil committed by the N.I.C.E. interfere with Jane’s determination to remain independent.  Out of desperation, she is forced to seek help from Mrs. Dimble, and from there is eventually drawn away from the narrow view of matrimony and into a world that will show her a more rich and vibrant outlook on love and marriage that bridges the gap between her conflicting desires.  The Studdocks’ paths begin to diverge here, with Jane gradually entering into the warm community of the manor at St. Anne’s, the home of the Resistance led by Dr. Ransom, and Mark becoming further embroiled with the enemy as he pursues the elusive inner circle of the N.I.C.E.

At St. Anne’s, Jane will learn that her longing for equality in marriage is not natural.  Ransom tells her that equality is a necessary evil of this fallen world, but there are deeper things that than that.  Her revulsion to obedience is based on a misunderstanding. One might argue that her idea of equality had been “wrenched from its context” within the Tao, and then it swelled to madness in isolation from other virtues that might have moderated it.  Her understanding was truly modern, but overly simple and one-dimensional.  “But you see that obedience and rule are more like a dance than a drill—specially between man and woman where the rules are always changing,” Ransom tells her.[7]  Jane came to understand that her modern education had taught her to “see through” everything to the point of missing the “garden beyond.”[8]

Mark eventually came to see that his ambition was nothing but a “concentrated insipidity” of “dust and broken bottles.”[9]  If confronted early on in the tale, the “scientific outlook” in which he had been reared would have compelled him to “explain away” his unchecked ambition at once, blaming it on “impersonal forces outside himself,” “’the system,’ ‘an inferiority complex’ due to his parents, or the peculiarities of the age.”[10] Only when he faced his own death did Mark finally see that “his “’scientific outlook’ had never been a real philosophy believed with blood and heart” but “had lived only in his brain, and was a part of that public self which was now falling off him” when confronted with his mortality.[11]

In other words, facing death provided the “liaison officer” between his animal appetite of ambition and the truth.  Only then could Mark experience the “dry and choking” desert of his Realistic outlook.   This empty philosophy had compelled him to snatch at the longing to belong, something that had “riveted his attention” as a child, and, with no external system of value to which he might harmonize that sentiment, he rode ambition “to death” until it became both meaningless and, from within the twisted inner ring of the N.I.C.E., dangerous.[12]

Mark would also come to see that his relationship with Jane had been wholly animal and driven by a sense of entitlement.  “That same laboratory outlook upon love which had forestalled in Jane the humility of a wife, had equally forestalled in him, during what passed for courtship, the humility of a lover.”[13] In the end, Mark realized the value of “beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear”, and the true meaning of the word “lady.”[14]

 

Part One: Gaius and Titius – The Fellows at Bracton College

Part Three: The Innovators – The Progressive Element and the N.I.C.E. and The Conditioners – Wither, Frost, and the Macrobes

Part Four: Why Myth?

 

Notes:

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 30-31.

[2] Ephesians 5:23, ESV.

[3] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 378.

[4] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 28.

[5] Ibid., 26.

[6] C.S. Lewis, “The Inner Ring” (Memorial Lecture, King’s College, University of London, 1944), accessed September 28, 2016, http://www.lewissociety.org/innerring.php.

[7] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 147.

[8] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 91.

[9] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 244.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 59.

[13] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 378.

[14] Ibid.

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