Bareface: A Guide to C.S. Lewis's Last Novel

Bareface: A Guide to C.S. Lewis's Last Novel

Bareface: A Guide to C.S. Lewis's Last Novel

Bareface: A Guide to C.S. Lewis's Last Novel

Synopsis

C. S. Lewis wanted to name his last novel "Bareface." Now Doris T. Myers's Bareface provides a welcome study of Lewis's last, most profound, and most skillfully written novel, Till We Have Faces. Although many claim it is his best novel, Till We Have Faces is a radical departure from the fantasy genre of Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters and has been less popular than Lewis's earlier works. In Bareface, Myers supplies background information on this difficult work and suggests reading techniques designed to make it more accessible. She also presents a fresh approach to Lewis criticism. Previous studies have usually emphasized the novel's basis in the myth of Cupid and Psyche and ignored Lewis's effort to present the story as something that could have happened. Myers emphasizes the historical background, the grounding of the characterizations in modern psychology, and the use of modernist techniques of fiction. She identifies key books in ancient and medieval literature, history, and philosophy that influenced Lewis's thinking as well as important books in early-twentieth-century psychology that interested him. From this context, a clearer understanding of Till We Have Faces can emerge. Approached in this way, the work can be seen as a realistic twentieth-century novel using modernist techniques such as the unreliable narrator and the manipulation of time. The major characters fit neatly into William James's typology of religious experience, and Orual, the narrator-heroine, also develops the kind of personal maturity described by Carl Jung. At the same time, both setting and plot provide insights into the ancient world and pre-Christian modes of thought. Organized tofacilitate browsing according to each reader's interests and needs, this study helps readers explore this complex and subtle novel in their own way.

Excerpt

“Far and away the best I have written”—this is how Lewis described Till We Have Faces, or, as he originally titled it, “Bareface.” He added ruefully, “That book… has been my one big failure both with the critics and with the public” (Let, 492).

Certainly Till We Have Faces is a radical departure from the beautiful fantasies and religious teaching that loyal readers are accustomed to associate with Lewis. The reader who picks it up expecting a mental holiday in a strange and wonderful place like Narnia—or Perelandra, for that matter—instead finds a squalid little “kingdom” where two “princesses” play in the barnyard, sliding on the frozen urine of the domestic animals. Similarly, the reader who expects witty, poetic, inspiring arguments for Christianity will be disappointed. Orual, the narrator and main character, was born before Christianity existed. She alternates between cynical disbelief in her tribal religion and hatred for its gods. Her opening lines are quarrelsome and abrasive; many people read no further.

Other people love the novel and read it over and over; for a few, it is not just Lewis's best novel, but the only one they enjoy. It would be arrogant and schoolteacherish of me to define why others love this book, but I can speak for myself. From the first, I became deeply involved in Orual's personality and experience. She is so ugly, and so ashamed of her ugliness, that she wears a veil; she never goes bareface. She is angry. In her father's eyes, she is a worthless female, not even marriageable. She is frustrated with the narrowness of her environment, the barbarian kingdom of Glome. She loses the love of her life, her half-sister Psyche. She will never have a man of her own or be a real wife and mother. It is not that these specific things . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.