A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed is a collection of C. S. Lewis's reflections on the experience of bereavement following the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, in 1960. The book was first published in 1961 under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk, as Lewis wished to avoid identification as the author. Though republished in 1963, after his death, under his own name, the text still refers to his wife as “H” (her first name, which she rarely used, was Helen).[1]

The book is compiled from the four notebooks used by Lewis to vent and explore his grief. He illustrates the everyday trials of his life without Joy and explores fundamental questions of faith and theodicy. Lewis' stepson (Joy's son) Douglas Gresham points out in his 1994 introduction that the indefinite article 'a' in the title makes it clear that Lewis' grief is not the quintessential grief experience at the loss of a loved one but rather one individual's perspective, among countless others.

The book helped inspire a 1985 television movie, Shadowlands, as well as a 1993 film of the same name.

A Grief Observed
First edition
AuthorC. S. Lewis
CountryUnited Kingdom
Published1961 (Faber and Faber)
Media typePaperback
ISBN978-0816401376 (1961 US paperback)
LC ClassBV4905.2.L4


A Grief Observed explores the processes undergone by the human brain and mind over the course of grieving. The book questions the nature of grief and whether or not returning to normality afterward is even possible within the realm of human existence on earth. Based on a personal journal that he kept, Lewis refers to his wife as "H" throughout the series of reflections, and he reveals that she had died from cancer only three years after their marriage.

Extremely candid, the book details the anger and bewilderment that he felt towards God after H's death as well as his impressions of life without her. The period of his bereavement was marked by a process of moving in and out of various stages of grief and remembrance, and it becomes obvious that it heavily influenced his spirituality.

In fact, Lewis ultimately comes to a revolutionary redefinition of his own characterization of God: experiencing gratitude for having received and experienced the gift of a true love.

The book is divided into four parts. Each is headed with a Roman numeral and has a collection of excerpts from his journals documenting scattered impressions and his continuously-evolving state of mind.


Lewis exhibits doubt and asks many fundamental questions of faith throughout the work. Because of his candid account of his grief and the doubts he voices, some of his admirers found it troubling. They were disinclined to believe that the Christian writer could be so close to despair. Some thought that it might be a work of fiction. Others, such as his critics, suggested that he was wisest when he was overcome with despair.[2]

When Lewis was first attempting to publish his manuscript, his literary agent, Spencer Curtis Brown, sent it to the publishing company Faber and Faber. One of the directors of the company at the time was T.S. Eliot, who found the book intensely moving.[3]

Madeleine L’Engle, an American author best known for her young adult fiction, wrote a foreword for the 1989 printing of the book. In the forward, she speaks of her own grief after losing her husband and notes the similarities and differences. She makes a point similar to Douglas Gresham's: each grief is different, even if they bear similarities.[4]

Relation to other works

The book is often compared to another book by Lewis, The Problem of Pain, written approximately twenty years before A Grief Observed.

The Problem of Pain seeks to provide theory behind the pain in the world. A Grief Observed is the reality of the theory in the former book.[5]

It was more difficult to apply the theories that he posited to a pain with which he was so intimately involved. At first, it is hard for Lewis to see the reason of his theories during the anguish of his wife's death but throughout the book, the gradual reacceptance of his theories and the reacceptance of the necessity of suffering can be seen.[2]

Lewis' difficulty is specifically reflected in the following passage from the book: "Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them, I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?"[4]

Also, Lewis' ultimate resolution of his dilemma is partly articulated in the book: "I will not, if I can help it, shin up either the feathery or the prickly tree. Two widely different convictions press more and more on my mind. One is that the Eternal Vet is even more inexorable and the possible operations even more painful than our severest imaginings can forebode. But the other, that 'all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well'".[4]


  1. ^ Hooper, Walter. C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996. Page 196. Print.
  2. ^ a b Talbot, Thomas. "A Grief Observed." The C.S. Lewis Reader's Encyclopedia. Ed. Jefferey D. Shultz, John G. West Jr. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998. Print.
  3. ^ Hooper. Page 194.
  4. ^ a b c Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. Print.
  5. ^ Walsh, Chad. The Literary Legacy of C.S. Lewis. New York: Hardcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Page 238. Print.

External links

A Preface to Paradise Lost

A Preface to Paradise Lost is one of C. S. Lewis's most famous scholarly works. The book had its genesis in Lewis's Ballard Matthews Lectures which he delivered at the University College of North Wales in 1941.

Boxen (C. S. Lewis)

Boxen is a fictional world that C. S. Lewis ("Jack") and his brother W. H. Lewis ("Warren") created as children. The world of Boxen was created when Jack's stories about Animal-Land and Warnie's stories about India were brought together. In Surprised by Joy, Jack explains that the union of Animal-Land and India took place "sometime in the late eighteenth century (their eighteenth century, not ours)".During a time when influenza was ravaging many families, the Lewis brothers were forced to stay indoors and entertain themselves by reading. They read whatever books they could find, both those written for children and adults. Influenced by Beatrix Potter's animals, C.S. Lewis wrote about Animal-Land, complete with details about its economics, politics/government, and history, as well as illustrations of buildings and characters.

The stories were published posthumously as Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young C. S. Lewis Edited by Walter Hooper and first published by London: Collins May 28, 1985. First American edition: San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich, October 17, 1985. (republished as Boxen: Childhood Chronicles Before Narnia).

C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963) was a British writer and lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University (Magdalen College, 1925–1954) and Cambridge University (Magdalene College, 1954–1963). He is best known for his works of fiction, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends. They both served on the English faculty at Oxford University and were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the Inklings. According to Lewis's memoir Surprised by Joy, he was baptised in the Church of Ireland, but fell away from his faith during adolescence. Lewis returned to Anglicanism at the age of 32, owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, and he became an "ordinary layman of the Church of England". Lewis's faith profoundly affected his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.

Lewis wrote more than 30 books which have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularised on stage, TV, radio, and cinema. His philosophical writings are widely cited by Christian apologists from many denominations.

In 1956, Lewis married American writer Joy Davidman; she died of cancer four years later at the age of 45. Lewis died on 22 November 1963 from renal failure, one week before his 65th birthday. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis was honoured with a memorial in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.


Dymer is a narrative poem by C. S. Lewis. He worked on this, his most important poem, as early as 1916—when still only 17 years old—and completed it in 1925. Dymer was his second published work; it was published by J. M. Dent in 1926, under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton (the writer's actual first name followed by his mother's maiden name).

Lewis thought of himself as writing in the tradition of Homer, Spenser, Milton, Wordsworth, and others. George Sayer's analysis suggests that the book is about the temptation of fantasies, "the fantasies of love, lust, and power."

God in the Dock

God in the Dock is a collection of previously unpublished essays and speeches from C. S. Lewis, collected from many sources after his death. Its title implies "God on Trial" and the title is based on an analogy made by Lewis suggesting that modern human beings, rather than seeing themselves as standing before God in judgement, prefer to place God on trial while acting as his judge.

This book was originally published in the United Kingdom as Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics, while a shorter book, published by Fontana in 1979 and entitled God in the Dock: Essays on Theology, does not include many of the essays in this larger collection.

Joy Davidman

Helen Joy Davidman (18 April 1915 – 13 July 1960) was an American poet and writer. Often referred to as a child prodigy, she earned a master's degree from Columbia University in English literature at age twenty in 1935. For her book of poems, Letter to a Comrade, she won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition in 1938 and the Russell Loines Award for Poetry in 1939. She was the author of several books, including two novels.

While an atheist and after becoming a member of the American Communist Party, she met and married her first husband and father of her two sons, William Lindsay Gresham, in 1942. After a troubled marriage, and following her conversion to Christianity, they divorced and she left America to travel to England with her sons.

Davidman published her best known work, Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments, in 1954 with a preface by C. S. Lewis. Lewis influenced her work and conversion, and became her second husband after her permanent relocation to England in 1956. She died from metastatic carcinoma involving the bones in 1960.

The relationship that developed between Davidman and Lewis has been featured in a television BBC film, a stage play, and a theatrical film named Shadowlands. Lewis published A Grief Observed under a pseudonym in 1961, from notebooks he kept after his wife's death revealing his immense grief and a period of questioning God. Lewis ultimately comes to a place of peace and gratitude for having received and experienced the gift of a true love.

Letters to Malcolm

Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer is a book by C.S. Lewis posthumously published in 1964. The book takes the form of a series of letters to a fictional friend, "Malcolm", in which Lewis meditates on prayer as an intimate dialogue between man and God. Beginning with a discussion of "corporate prayer" and the liturgical service, Lewis goes on to consider practical and metaphysical aspects of private prayer, such as when to pray and where, ready-made prayer, petitionary prayer, prayer as worship, penitential prayer, and prayer for the dead. The concluding letter discusses "liberal" Christians, the soul and resurrection.

Letters to Malcolm is generally thought to be one of Lewis's less successful books and differs from his other books on Christianity in that it poses a number of questions which Lewis does not attempt to answer. Lewis moreover shows a reluctance to be as critical of radical theologians such as Alec Vidler and John Robinson as his imaginary friend Malcolm wants him to be.

Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity is a theological book by C. S. Lewis, adapted from a series of BBC radio talks made between 1941 and 1944, while Lewis was at Oxford during the Second World War. Considered a classic of Christian apologetics, the transcripts of the broadcasts originally appeared in print as three separate pamphlets: The Case for Christianity (Broadcast Talks in the UK) (1942), Christian Behaviour (1943), and Beyond Personality (1944). Lewis was invited to give the talks by James Welch, the BBC Director of Religious Broadcasting, who had read his 1940 book, The Problem of Pain.

Of Other Worlds

Of Other Worlds is a 1966 anthology of literary criticism by C. S. Lewis and published posthumously by the executors of his estate. It was edited by Lewis' secretary and eventual literary executor Walter Hooper. The first part of the anthology consists of several essays that cover Lewis' ideas about the creation of science fiction or fantasy literature. Unreal Estates is the transcript of a recorded conversation between Lewis and the authors Brian Aldiss and Kingsley Amis that took place in Lewis' rooms in Magdalene College "a short while before illness forced him to retire." The second part of the book is made up of three of Lewis' science fiction stories (one of which was previously unpublished) and the beginnings of After Ten Years, an unfinished novel set during the aftermath of the Trojan War.

Shadowlands (play)

Shadowlands is a play by William Nicholson. It was first shown as a television film in 1985, directed by Norman Stone and produced by David M. Thompson for BBC Wales. It was later adapted for the stage, premiering on Broadway in 1990 and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Play. A third version was released in 1993 as a feature film directed by Richard Attenborough.

The play is about the relationship between Oxford don and author, C. S. Lewis and the American writer Joy Gresham. It began life as a script entitled I Call it Joy written for Thames Television by Brian Sibley and Norman Stone. Sibley was credited on the BBC film as "consultant" and went on to write the book Shadowlands: The True Story of C. S. Lewis and Joy Davidman.

Spirits in Bondage

Spirits in Bondage (1919) was C. S. Lewis's first published work (originally published under the pseudonym Clive Hamilton, which is Lewis' first name followed by his mother's maiden name). Lewis was twenty years old and had just returned from military service in the First World War. His tutor, William T. Kirkpatrick, encouraged him in publishing the book, although it was unusual at Lewis's age, as writers were expected to wait longer before sharing their work with the world. The book is subtitled A Cycle of Lyrics and is composed of three different sections of poetry. The poems take on several styles and rhythms throughout the book, but share common themes. This work stands out among Lewis's writings not only because of the focus on poetry rather than prose, but because the author had not yet made his conversion to Christianity; therefore the themes and worldviews offered in Spirits in Bondage differ greatly from those for which Lewis is most well known. The book received no reviews and its reception was a slight disappointment for Lewis.

Studies in Words

Studies in Words is a work of linguistic scholarship written by C. S. Lewis and published by the Cambridge University Press in 1960. In this book, Lewis examines the history of various words used in the English language which have changed their meanings often quite widely throughout the centuries. The meanings in the predecessor languages are also part of the discussion.

Lewis's motivation for writing the book was in explaining to students of the work of previous centuries that the definition of a word that they already think they know (his dangerous sense, which he abbreviates D.S.) may yield a total misunderstanding of what the author meant to say. Those who have a large vocabulary are actually more likely to pick a wrong meaning because they can rationalize its enjambment. Some of the earlier meanings are only partially recalled in stock phrases, such as "world without end," which employs the earlier use of the word "world" to mean 'age'.

The words studied are nature, in all its phrases, especially "human nature"; sad, which originally meant "heavy"; wit; free, with all its differences from slavery and villainy; sense, with its two meanings of perception and judgement; simple; conscience and conscious; world; and life; with also the phrase "I dare say!" examined. The details of the history of these seemingly straightforward words encompasses 300 pages.

Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is a partial autobiography published by C. S. Lewis in 1955. Specifically, the book describes the author's conversion to Christianity which had taken place 24 years earlier.

The Abolition of Man

The Abolition of Man is a 1943 book by C. S. Lewis. Subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools," it uses that as a starting point for a defense of objective value and natural law as well as a warning of the consequences of doing away with or "debunking" those things. It defends science as something worth pursuing but criticizes using it to debunk values, the value of science itself being among them, or defining it to exclude such values. The book was first delivered as a series of three evening lectures at King's College, Newcastle, part of the University of Durham, as the Riddell Memorial Lectures on February 24 to 26, 1943.

The Allegory of Love

For the group of paintings known by this title, see The Allegory of Love (Veronese).

The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition (1936), by C. S. Lewis (ISBN 0192812203), is an exploration of the allegorical treatment of love in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, which was released on May 21, 1936.

In the first chapter, Lewis traces the development of the idea of courtly love from the Provençal troubadours to its full development in the works of Chrétien de Troyes. It is here that he sets forth a famous characterization of "the peculiar form which it [courtly love] first took; the four marks of Humility, Courtesy, Adultery, and the Religion of Love"—the last two of which "marks" have, in particular, been the subject of a good deal of controversy among later scholars. In the second chapter, Lewis discusses the medieval evolution of the allegorical tradition in such writers as Bernard Silvestris and Alain de Lille.

The remaining chapters, drawing on the points made in the first two, examine the use of allegory in the depiction of love in a selection of poetic works, beginning with the Roman de la Rose. The focus, however, is on English works: the poems of Chaucer, Gower's Confessio Amantis and Usk's Testament of Love, the works of Chaucer's epigones, and Spenser's Faerie Queene.

The book is ornamented with quotations from poems in many languages, including Classical and Medieval Latin, Middle English, and Old French. The piquant English translations of many of these are Lewis's own work.

The Four Loves

The Four Loves is a book by C. S. Lewis which explores the nature of love from a Christian and philosophical perspective through thought experiments. The book was based on a set of radio talks from 1958 which had been criticised in the U.S. at the time for their frankness about sex.

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce is a theological dream vision by C. S. Lewis, in which he reflects on the Christian conceptions of Heaven and Hell.

The working title was Who Goes Home? but the final name was changed at the publisher's insistence. The title refers to William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The Great Divorce was first printed as a serial in an Anglican newspaper called The Guardian in 1944 and 1945, and soon thereafter in book form.

The Problem of Pain

The Problem of Pain is a 1940 book on the problem of evil by C. S. Lewis, in which Lewis argues that human pain, animal pain, and hell are not sufficient reasons to reject belief in a good and powerful God.

Lewis summarizes the problem of evil like this: "If God were good, He would make His creatures perfectly happy, and if He were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both." His partial theodicy addresses human suffering and sinfulness, animal suffering, and the problem of hell, and seeks to reconcile these with the Christian belief in a just, loving, and all-powerful God.

They Asked for a Paper

They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses is a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis. This collection of twelve essays by C. S. Lewis was published by Geoffrey Bles in 1962.

The collection includes some of Lewis's thoughts on literary topics and people along with some of his thinking about the social sciences. One of the most important essays that appears in They Asked for a Paper is Lewis's inaugural address at the University of Cambridge, entitled "De Descriptione Temporum," Latin for "On a Description of the Times." In the lecture he argued that the most important historical date was not the division between medieval times and the Renaissance but 1830 which was what he termed the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment.It was Lewis's last book to be published in his lifetime, as he died on 22 November the following year.

Works by C. S. Lewis

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