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Shadows of Shadows of Ecstasy: An Irresponsible Suggestion about Charles Williams’ First Novel | A Pilgrim in Narnia

25 July 2017

Brenton Dickieson’s first reading of Shadows of ecstasy has produced an interesting reaction:

I have not yet read most of Grevel Lindop’s definitive biography of Williams, or Sørina Higgins’ work on Shadows of Ecstasy at the Oddest Inkling. So it is absolutely irresponsible of me to give the conjecture that I’m about to offer. Still, I wanted to offer it while it is fresh in my mind and I am absolutely naïve of what critics have said about this book.

Source: Shadows of Shadows of Ecstasy: An Irresponsible Suggestion about Charles Williams’ First Novel | A Pilgrim in Narnia

My summary of the book after a second reading nearly 20 years ago, now) was:

In a novel set in the 1920s, African armies overthrow colonial rulers throughout the continent, and then launch aerial bombing attacks on Europe. Nigel Considine, a wealthy London financier, appears to be connected in some way with the African forces and their demands, which appear to be that African values take the place of the Western ones of Enlightenment rationalism and empiricism.

Brenton Dickieson doesn’t mention much of that in his review, which I think shows tht Charles Williams’s books strike different people in very different ways.

In some ways it is my least favourite of Charles Williams’s books, and perhaps I should read it again. From my memories, some of which were reawakened by Brenton Dickieson’s review, it seems in some ways prophetic — the capture and enslavement of a Zulu king by a British financier in the book parallels the capture and enslavement of a Zulu president by a Trinity triumvirate of Indian financiers in real life 90 years later.

What struck me in both my readings was that the book starts off being interesting, and shows promise of being an interesting story, but then gets lost in long passages of Nigel Considine’s ideological claptrap which serve the same function (and are almost as boring) as John Galt’s speech in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. But it certainly serves to illustrate what C.S. Lewis said (before Hannah Arendt coined the phrase) about the banality of evilon the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility.

I thought that the most authentic character in Shadows of ecstasy was the African priest, but he disappeared about a third of the way through, and we heard no more of him.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 25 July 2017 3:52 pm

    Thanks for this Steve. You are right that I certainly did highlight a different cluster of ideas in the novel than you did–no doubt connected to place and questions. I thought the Inkamasi character was quite well done and I’m thinking of coming at it again tomorrow before I leave it.

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