C.S. Lewis Married the Same Woman Twice (Sort of)

Fans of C.S. Lewis will know that he was married to Joy Davidman Gresham but many are surprised to hear Lewis actually married her twice . . . sort of.

The Beginning

Joy began a correspondence with C.S. Lewis (“Jack”) in January 1950 after reading The Great Divorce, Miracles, and The Screwtape Letters. They developed a strong connection and carried on writing to one another for the next two years before finally meeting in person while Joy was on a work trip in London. During those four months, Joy confided in him that she was in a marriage with an alcoholic and abusive husband.

After a messy divorce, Joy came to England with her two boys with the financial support of Jack. The two became very close friends. In 1954, Jack dedicated The Horse and His Boy to Joy’s sons, David and Douglas Gresham

Although marriage was out-of-the-question (due to her being a divorcee and not condoned by the church), it was clear the two loved each other dearly despite their friendship being viewed as scandalous to some. 

Finding Joy

But in 1956, Joy’s visa request was denied, which meant she would have to return to America. Jack offered to legally marry Joy Davidman Gresham so she could legally remain in England with her boys. Their civil union became official on April 23, 1956.

Neither of them regarded a civil marriage as of any validity in the eyes of God, and they would both continue to live as before, she in her house and he in his, but legally they would be married.

Douglas Gresham, Jack’s Life

The “marriage” was kept secret, except for a few close confidants.

Unfortunately, less than a year later, Joy was diagnosed with cancer and was given only a few weeks to live. It was Joy’s dying wish to be married in the church. Jack asked a priest that he knew to come and hear her plea. That priest would later recall that he couldn’t “in good conscience deny this poor soul her wish”. And so, in a hospital bed, they said their marriage vows on March 21, 1957.

Joy miraculously recovered, and the couple enjoyed the next three years together.

It’s funny having at 59 the sort of happiness most men have in the twenties… thou has kept the good wine will now.”

C.S. Lewis (“Jack”)

In late 1960, Joy passed away at the age of 45. Lewis journaled his pain in A Grief Observed.

Resources

You can read more about Joy in A Love Observed: Joy Davidman’s Life and Marriage to C.S. Lewis or Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and CS Lewis written by her son Douglas Gresham

In 2018, Patti Callahan released Becoming Mrs. Lewis, a work of historical fiction that is told from Joy’s perspective.

Look for “Did you know” articles on NarniaWeb on the first of every month.

10 Responses

  1. Rogin says:

    What a great story! I had no idea they met through writing each other. Joy seems like a fascinating character in her own right.

    • RS says:

      She was also an author in her own right and had a great influence on Lewis’s book ‘Till We Have Faces’

  2. Just Queen, not High Queen says:

    I absolutely love the movie Shadowlands, which depicts this love story. In my opinion, it’s Anthony Hopkins’ best performance!

    • Pete says:

      Joss Ackland also played Lewis in an earlier version of the Shadowlands in 1986. You can watch it (free) on Redeem TV. IMO it seems a more heartfelt portrayal of Lewis than Hopkins’ portrayal. Well worth watching and at least a little bit more accurate – David & Douglas Gresham are both portrayed in the Ackland version.

      • Col Klink says:

        Does David Gresham actually contribute anything? Because if not, I’m tempted to say it was better to cut him. 😉

      • M says:

        Col Klink, given David’s violent paranoid schizophrenia, I doubt Douglas Gresham would have wanted him to be portrayed in a drama anyway. Not because David didn’t contribute anything to Narnia’s creation (Doug didn’t either, do cut him as well), but because it would be painful to witness portrayed accurately on stage/on screen, and disrupt the tone of Shadowlands. David was a disrupter one real life, so I can imagining the screenwriters thinking, “if you can avoid it, avoid it”.

      • Col Klink says:

        Shadowlands isn’t really about “contributing to Narnia’s creation” though, is it? If I remember right, half of the Narnia books or so have been written at the beginning of it, and, anyway, it’s about C. S. Lewis’s personal life rather than his creative one. Personally, I wish it were about the creation of Till We Have Faces

      • Narnian78 says:

        I loved the 1986 version of Shadowlands and own it on DVD. It is better to be more accurate in portraying both David and Douglas Gresham. Although Anthony Hopkins is good as Lewis, Joss Ackland is better. They didn’t have as much money to make the 1986 version, but I think it is better as a biography of Lewis life and marriage.

  3. jasmine_tarkheena says:

    My church does a book club, and one of the books they’ve read was Becoming Mrs. Lewis. I think in the prologue of Focus on the Family Radio Theatre adaption of The Magician’s Nephew, Douglas Gresham shared about how both he and CS Lewis had each lost a mother when they were still a boy. So you can almost imagine the devastation of both CS Lewis and Joy’s two boys when she died.

  4. Frank says:

    Thank you NarniaWeb for highlighting these interesting insights into Lewis’s thoughts, life, and family. Keep the spirit of Jack alive!

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