Book of the Month: From Tragedy to Fictional Hell

Since there are no questions or comments on Act I of The Revenger's Tragedy, we can move on to October's book:  Descent Into Hell by Charles Williams.  Williams, as I think everyone knows, was a friend of Tolkien and Lewis, and with them he helped both to vitalize Christian fiction and to lend respectability to supernatural tales.

Williams came from a respectable but impoverished family.  His father, a free-lance journalist employed also in a family firm, was going blind.  Williams was given a scholarship to University College, London, but his inability to pay the fees forced him to leave without a degree.   He went to work in publishing, starting out as a proof-reader, and was eventually an editor at Oxford University Press.

Williams' fiction--"supernatural thrillers," as an admiring T.S. Eliot called them--won praise from a variety of writers, and continue to influence practitioners of the genre today.  His book-length essay on Church history, The Descent of the Dove, is not so much a work of history as a meditation on what Williams saw as the principal themes of Christianity, particularly on vicarious atonement, which Williams put at the center of Christian belief.  Descent into Hell is his greatest fictional treatment of the same theme.

PS, if anyone still wishes to talk about The Revenger's Tragedy, he may comment or query on this post.

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Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

4 Responses

  1. Michael Strenk says:

    Coming back from a short vacation to a very busy harvest season I have been consistently well behind in Reign of Love and only just received The Revenger’s Tragedy…and I have a head cold and the dog ate my homework. I fully intend to continue with both, but will, no doubt continue to be well behind.

    War In Heaven and Many Dimensions are two of my favorite books. I read Runciman’s History of the Crusades soon after, which served well to put the Prester John legend, which he briefly discusses, in context. I look forward to Descent Into Hell, which I already have handy, as soon as is practicable given the current workload.

    Thank you for reinstituting this series. It is quite useful.

  2. Jacob Johnson says:

    I found The Revenger’s Tragedy to be a thoroughly entertaining read, far superior in plot to what seems to me to be subsequent rip-offs, specifically the extent to which the characters went in defining the character traits of their enemies as the cause of their various transgressions. That was very well written. Vindice’s opening speech, relating the Duke’s flaws to ill-health and inability to age gracefully; go to a bar sometime and watch some middle-aged loser feels sorry for himself after failing to seduce a twenty year old girl, all very accurate. The bastard’s justification for his actions, etc. many other things make this worth re-reading. A good amount of complexity played out in a concise way. I look forward to this next one.

  3. Arthur Livingston says:

    I had read The Revenger’s Tragedy for the first time only a week before Dr. Fleming announced the possibility of reading it as a group and still look forward to the time we can discuss it. Also, Williams has a foundational grip on the relationship of time and eternity in his novels–Boethian (is that the adjective?) philosophy lived out among characters in the tangible world. My vote, assuming I have one, is to read both, one this month, one next.

  4. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    I have posted a few brief remarks on the relationship of plot and character in TRT. I earnestly ask everyone, especially Art Livingston, to make a stab at responding.

    Before taking on the Charles Williams novel, I am interpolating a brief discussion of a rather short essay by Plutarch, on the Tardiness of Divine Vengeance. It is quite a brilliant piece, in volume VII of the Loeb edition of Plutarch’s “Moralia.” It is available online at Gutenberg.Org”

    It is also included in a Kindle volume of The Complete Plutarch for $.49 at: