Best Years Home
Mike's Midlife Story
More Free Columns
Links Page
Friends of Best Years
About Mike
Old Stuff
A Celebration of Joy: Christian Romanticism in the Chronicles of Narnia, by Mike Bellah
Abstract and Table of Contents
Introduction
Definitions
Myth and Imagination
Children's Stories
The Ideal Reader
Fantasy and Realism
Friendships: Love in Narnia
Quest and Adventure
The Eucatastrophe
Romanticism in the Chronicles
The Failure of Romanticism
The Triumph of Chrisitian Romanticism
The Baptized Imagination
Works Cited
 

CHAPTER XI: THE FAILURE OF ROMANTICISM

In The Decline and Fall of the Romantic Ideal F. L. Lucas says that romanticism ultimately leads to a new kind of narcissism:

Living on his feelings the Romantic grows more and more self-centered: the more self-centered he grows, the more he is reduced to living on his own feelings . . . . "The great object of life is sensation, to feel that we exist, even though in pain"--that Byronic cry is the keynote of one Romantic career after another. The "pain" was seldom slow to follow. Those who seek such perpetual intoxication, must either vary the stimulant or increase the dose. (106)

Lucas believes that this perpetual intoxication led to a tripartite disease: "Sensationalism, Satanism, Sadism--these were the three maladies of later Romanticism" (120).

In sensationalism an author exploits his readers deliberately attempting to arouse more and more sensual excitement either by whipping to hysteria the feelings they have or by stimulating feelings they do not have (109). "And so," writes Lucas,

it became necessary to go on and on from frenzy to frenzy. The novel of horrors, for example, had to plunge from skulls to skeletons, from skeletons to whole cemeteries. The worms of Monk Lewis grow tame beside the refinements of Poe. Similarly love has to become a volcanic eruption. (108)

Yet what sensationalism gains in excitement pales beside what it ultimately loses--an appreciation of the common. When each new experience and each new description has to exceed the old one, then the extraordinary excludes the ordinary and the uncommon, the common. No longer can one revel in the very thing that originally attracted the attention of so many romantics: the beauty of everyday ordinary routine life, especially nature.

From the excesses of sensationalism, Lucas believes it a short step to the other romantic ills:

The movement gave rise to more sinister peculiarities, which lie behind Goethe's description of it as "disease"; to sadism and masochism, the pleasure of inflicting pain and the pleasure of having it inflicted; to the twilight horrors of Poe and the Satanism of Baudelaire. (110)

C. S. Lewis himself wrestled with this darker side of romanticism. In his autobiography he writes,

I was already acquainted with the more depraved side of Romanticism; had read Anactoria and Wilde, and poured upon Beardsley, not hitherto attracted, but making no moral judgment. Now I thought I began to see the point of it . . . . If there had been in the neighborhood some elder person who dabbled in dirt of the Magical kind (such have a good nose for potential disciples) I might now be a Satanist or a maniac. (176)

So if they are unchecked by a greater power, the waters of romanticism, as sweet and refreshing as they are, always pose the threat of flood and destruction. For Lewis, Christianity was this restraining power. In the Chronicles of Narnia it protects his romantic vision from all of its natural enemies. Yet Lewis had one more problem with pure romanticism. Not only is it likely to self-destruct, ultimately it fails to fulfill its own promises; it simply does not work.

Lewis illustrates his position by pointing to the romantics who set love of nature as the focal point of their sehnsucht:

This love, when it sets up as a religion, is beginning to be a god--therefore to be a demon. And demons never keep their promises. Nature "dies" on those who try to live for a love of nature. Coleridge ended by being insensible to her; Wordsworth, by lamenting that the glory had passed away. (The Four Loves 22)

To Lewis such responses are predictable and reflect his own pilgrimage. Joy and joy's earthly stimulants can never become the ultimate object of joy. Ultimate joy is heavenly business and can take only a heavenly object.

To chapter 12

Respond to my thesis. I'd like to hear from you.