(CMCSL-3) – Lewis and Mrs. Moore Were Secret Lovers (UPDATED)

NOTE: This article was posted June 10, 2017 and updated with additional content on June 17. The only actually change is found at the end of article, where I added (with permission from the author) a previously unpublished portion from material Dr. Jerry Root sent me related to the topic.

This is part of an occasional series exploring questionable claims about the life or writings of C.S. Lewis.  For a list of the topics either already explored or planned to be examined you can visit the introduction to this series.    


People who are famous are always subject to rumor and gossip, even if they are Christians. Well-known individuals who are dead who didn’t provide clarification on an issue before their passing leave the door open to speculation for good or for ill. Such is the case regarding the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Mrs. Moore. If you’ve only read books by Lewis and none about him, then you probably have no idea who she is. If you are among those and you enjoy his works then you might want to be able to address the fact that Lewis did live with a woman who wasn’t even divorced as well as the claim that he had a sexual relationship with her (years before he married Joy Davidman).

Mrs. Moore

Janie King Askins Moore was the mother of Paddy Moore, one of Lewis’ friends from World War I. Lewis and Mrs. Moore knew each other for over 30 years and they spent much of that time living together. When they first met, Janie was over 40 years old and, while not divorced, was separated from her abusive husband for about 10 years. Lewis was not yet 20 at the time. Their relationship began sometime in June, 1917 and stopped only as a result of her death in early 1951 (though she was in a nursing home near the end of her life Lewis visited her frequently).

Paddy Moore was Lewis’ roommate at Keble College, Oxford, where they were in cadet training for WWI. His full name was Edward Courtenay Francis Moore. From a letter written to his father, we know that Lewis’ initial impression of Paddy was negative (he said Paddy was “a little too childish for companionship”), but another letter to dad not long after found him saying, “Moore, my room mate, comes from Clifton and is a very decent sort of man.” It is this correspondence, written June 18, 1917, where we find the first mention of Mrs. Moore. She is only described as “an Irish Lady.” However, if you look to the published letters (released after Lewis’ death) for a lot of detail about their eventual long-term relationship then you will be disappointed. Among the clearest statements Lewis made about the relationship that we have in his letters is found in one from August, 27, 1917, where he tells his father that he likes “her immensely.”

Paddy Moore

As you might be aware, Lewis lost his mother to cancer when he was not yet 10 years old. That happen August 23, 1908, thus, he met Mrs. Moore less than nine years after this, at the age of 19. Besides Paddy, who was the same age as Lewis, the only other child Mrs. Moore had was Maureen Daisy Helen Moore (the future Lady Dunbar of Hempriggs). In fact, it was not long after her birth in 1906 that Mrs. Moore left her husband (Courtenay Edward Moore) and the family went to live with her brother Dr. Robert Askins.

It is not the purpose of this post to go over all the details or speculations about what did and didn’t occur between Lewis and Mrs. Moore. There are, however, key facts that remain to clarify (especially to those not familiar with the basic details). They are, why Lewis ever lived with her in first place, why he chose to remain close to her until her death and whether or not their relationship changed over the years.

First, why did Lewis live even with Janie Moore? We’re told that before Lewis and Paddy Moore left their military training they each made a pledge that if one didn’t survive the war that the other would take care of the other’s parent. This may seem unusual, given that Lewis’ father, Albert wouldn’t have really needed anyone to look after him (after all, Lewis had an older brother) and Mrs. Moore had been living okay since leaving her husband about 10 years before she met Lewis. Ultimately, we will never understand why Paddy and Lewis made such a promise, but Paddy’s sister remembers hearing about it and there is a letter from Janie to Lewis’ father from October 1, 1918 where she notes “My poor son asked him to look after me if he did not come back.” This was written after Paddy was declared missing in France and only about a month before he was confirmed dead.

But again, why would Lewis make such a pledge? Even if there was never any romantic relationship between them (especially at this time), Lewis clearly missed his mother and Janie was at minimum very friendly and made Lewis feel welcomed at a time when he did not have a close relationship with his father. Thus, it is understandable for Lewis to have made reference to her as “my mother,” because of having lost his own mom and a having a strained bond with his dad.

The Kilns

Secondly, why did Lewis continue to live with Janie for so long, especially after he became a Christian in the early 1930’s? Before she died on January 12, 1951, she had been living at a nursing home for about nine months and Lewis visited her almost every day she was there. It is also interesting to note that before she moved to the nursing home, her and Lewis, along with Lewis’ brother Warren had lived in a house together (known as The Kilns) for nearly twenty years. Can you imagine having a sibling living with you while having a secret affair? As to reasons Lewis kept his pledge to a dead friend about caring for his mother, well, few consider that loyalty to his word as one of the possible main explanations. Additionally, George Sayer, in his biography entitled Jack (Lewis’ name among friends), notes that while Mrs. Moore was viewed in a negative light by friends of Lewis, that he credited her with teaching him “to be hospitable” towards others.

Finally, did Lewis’ relationship change over the years? It did in one obvious sense. That is, any relationship between two people will change in some ways over the span of time. Specific to Lewis and Mrs. Moore there are a few aspects I want to underscore. Lewis is known for being a man of principle. He wrote about how pride was a sin that he had the greatest difficulty with. Nowhere does he or others ever accuse him of being a hypocrite. So, once Lewis embraced the Christian faith in the early 1930’s it is hard to imagine any sexual relationship occurring. Even though there is no proof that it happened prior to this, if it did, then why would it matter? Therefore, if, and again that’s a big if, there was a romantic relationship between Mrs. Moore and Lewis, this would have clearly end at some point after he became a Christian. We do know that at least in her later years that she held a negative view of Christianity and didn’t have any appreciation for Lewis’ serious embracing of his faith. Thus, the two of them would not likely even be friends if they had met each other at this point in their life.

In conclusion, we have no definitive proof either way about whether or not Lewis and Mrs. Moore had ever been lovers. Lewis’ brother (who lived ten years after him) never definitively confirmed or denied a sexual relationship between them. Yet, as Dr. Jerry Root pointed out in an unpublished paper he provided to me, there are “at least three entries” in the public portion of a diary that was published after Lewis’ death that “counts best against the speculation that there was ever an affair.”  This book was published in 1992 and is called All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis 1922-1927. They deal with Lewis’ comments about other’s sexual behavior that would have meant he was a hypocrite had he been having a romantic relationship with Mrs. Moore. Thus, until any concrete evidence appears, it is foolish to claim that the two of them were ever secret lovers.

APPENDIX

The following is previously unpublished material written by Dr. Jerry Root and shared here with his permission (via email communication on 6/16/17). It come from a paper he presented in 2014 where time didn’t permit him to cover all of the six different errors about Lewis he planned. During his 36 minutes presentation (available for purchase via the link below), he shared for about three minutes a few of the notions (beginning around the 27:30 mark) about the allegation that Lewis and Mrs. Moore had been lovers. 

Nevertheless, I would like to suggest the evidence from Lewis’s own hand counts best against the speculation that there was ever an affair. During the years Lewis first took up with Mrs. Moore, he kept a journal. At least three entries would indicate that the affair was unlikely. In 1922 Lewis records a yarn going around the neighborhood “about an undergraduate and an undergraduette living together somewhere in the neighborhood. As the story is only one of those things which ‘everybody knows’ it need not be believed. It is to be hoped that it is untrue, as when the crash came, it would lead to a lot of silly new statutes for the rest of us…” (1) Lewis appears to be concerned that coupled cohabitating in the neighborhood do not cause the University to make up rules that would negatively impact and affect those who are trying to live relatively normal domestic lives.

 

In another entry in June of 1922 Lewis records that he was teaching a course at University College, Reading University. He writes, “I was told that most of my pupils would be girls. I had seen so much beauty in the corridors that one born under a less temperate star would have wanted to enter on his duties at once”. (2) Here in this private journal entry Lewis remarks that his temperance led him not to think outside the lines of decorum. It is hardly the kind of thing one would expect to be written by someone who was having an affair with a much older woman.

 

The third entry is the most compelling. Lewis had a friend, in 1923, named Cecil Harwood. Lewis comes to find out that Harwood is having an affair with a woman well into her 40s and significantly older that Harwood. Lewis is pretty put off by all of this and writes of his contempt for Harwood’s behavior. (3) Again, Lewis’s reaction to Harwood, as recorded in his These journal entries are the best bits of information I’ve seen that count against the suggestion that Lewis had had an affair with Mrs. Moore. They do not rule it out completely but seem to count against it. And, the most compelling thing about it is that they were from Lewis’s own hand, recorded in his own private journal. The one thing I hope is that one day, these events, however they are to be interpreted, will finally be laid to rest and people could once again get on the truly memorable work of immersion into Lewis ideas, shaped by his clear thinking and imaginative depictions.

 

(1) LEWIS, C. S. All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C. S. Lewis 1922-1927. A Harvest Book: San Diego, 1992. P. 33.

(2) Ibid. P. 55.

(3) Ibid. P. 161.

 


The next article to be posted is:

After Winston Churchill, Lewis Was the Most Recognized Voice in Britain in the 1940’s


RESOURCES:

Posted 6/10/2017
Updated 6/24/2017

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