Date of Award

5-2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

English (M.A.)

Department

English

First Advisor

Benjamin G. Lockerd

Abstract

The twentieth century American evangelical Church co-opted many of its values from the surrounding American culture, among them, the tremendous importance it placed on individualism and self-sufficiency. The work of British Christian writer Charles Williams, though, provides a corrective, emphasizing the role of community in the salvation of one’s soul. This thesis provides a reading of three of Charles Williams’ last works—The Region of the Summer Stars, Descent into Hell, and All Hallows’ Eve—and examines the function of community in his work. In the Arthurian poem Region of the Summer Stars, Williams imagines a small community, the household of Taliessin, in which mutual acts of service preserve the vision of the Emperor (God) for his people, but which goes unrealized in the larger kingdom of Britain. The community of the household of Taliessin is organized around such communal concepts integral to Williams’ theology as the Ways of Affirmation and Negation, largesse, co-inherence, exchange, and substitution. Williams employs a more modern setting in the two novels. In Descent into Hell, the salvation of protagonist Pauline Anstruther, her ancestor, and a deceased laborer hinges on the help of others in their small community, in contrast to the demise of Laurence Wentworth and Lily Sammile who insist on finding their fulfillment within themselves rather than among the members of the community of Battle Hill. In All Hallows’ Eve, the salvation of Lester Furnival and childhood friend Betty Wallingford is achieved only after engaging in communal acts such as repentance, confession, forgiveness, and substitution among those of their small community of friends. The self-absorption of Evelyn Mercer, in contrast, reveals the peril of rejecting the opportunities for mutual care that the interactions of community afford. Williams’ depiction of the power of community offers a convincing alternative for those unsatisfied by the American reverence of the self-made man.

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