I happened to acquire a copy of C.S. Lewis’ Surprised by Joy at the weekend. Yes, I know I should have read it ages ago, but I find him hard-going, apart from the Narnia novels (and sometimes those are a bit much too). So I thought I’d find out more about him from this spiritual autobiography.
I haven’t got much further than his childhood. Writing about his fear of insects, which he found to be like machines come to life, he added:
“You may add that in the hive and the ant-hill we see fully realised the two things that some of us most dread for our own species – the dominance of the female and the dominance of the collective.”
He was born in 1898, and so this is in a sense a period-piece. And I imagine he would view modern developments as the nightmare scenario he dreaded as a child. Do the two fears hang together though? Do women necessarily encourage the ‘collective’ rather than the individual?
Women are often assumed to be ‘better at relationships’, good at pastoral work, family-oriented. I don’t much like stereotyping of any gender, but in any case, I don’t think this trait is about the ‘collective’; it’s more to do with wanting to get individuals to hang together and celebrate their diversity. It’s this which makes the increase in female entrepreneurs, political leaders, and even religious leaders, a matter not of ‘dominance’ but collaboration.
I had always thought Lewis was a Classicist in outlook – and yet the hive and ant-hill which he fears were praised by the ancients as models of society. So was he a modernist? Romantic? For he seems to be an individualist. How do you understand his perspectives?
I’d like to have some motivation to continue reading Surprised by Joy – is anyone willing to supply it?