Book Review: “A Sword Between The Sexes? C. S. Lewis And The Gender Debates” By Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (Brazos Press, 2010) -- By: Judith A. Diehl

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 26:2 (Spring 2012)
Article: Book Review: “A Sword Between The Sexes? C. S. Lewis And The Gender Debates” By Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (Brazos Press, 2010)
Author: Judith A. Diehl


Book Review: “A Sword Between The Sexes? C. S. Lewis And The Gender Debates”
By Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen (Brazos Press, 2010)

Judith A. Diehl

Judith A. Diehl served as an adult education pastor for more than four years. She did her PhD work at the University of Edinburgh and currently teaches New Testament and hermeneutics at Denver Seminary. Married, with two grown sons, she has had an interest in gender issues for decades because of her work in the church. Other areas of interest include the Gospels and tools of biblical interpretation.

It is interesting that we feel as if we know an author because we have read and appreciated many of his or her books. In my case, I have read and enjoyed numerous writings by British author C. S. Lewis, yet I have never fully understood many of his views. Certainly, over years of reading his fantasy fiction and his classic works of Christian apologetics, I noticed his distinct (and puzzling) attitude toward women, but I never really gave his attitudes deep consideration. I was less familiar with his life story, his education, his youth, his marriage, or his worldview. I did not fully appreciate the man, the author, his literature, and his background—until I read the new book by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen: A Sword between the Sexes? C. S. Lewis and the Gender Debates.

Like Van Leeuwen, I had placed the great C. S. Lewis on a literary pedestal, quoting him in lectures, in the classroom, and even in the pulpit. It was a revelation to me that his view of women, as revealed in his books and essays, was so low that some have considered him to be a misogynist, a “woman hater.” It may have been unfair to place Lewis in that category, but it was a shock to see fully the other side of C. S. Lewis. Nevertheless, Van Leeuwen does not leave us with a shattered opinion of him. Her intellectual insights unfold a very human and honest picture of the British author, who is still one of the finest thinkers and writers of the twentieth century.

In this book, the reader is given a “slide show” of C. S. Lewis’s life, interests, philosophies, successes, and failures. We see the scared little boy at boarding school and the tutor in medieval literature at Oxford. We observe the tragic effects of two world wars on England and on Lewis as well as on his public and his private relationships with men and women. As a scholar, Lewis was heavily influenced by his classical, philosophical, and literary interests. These interests, in turn, were heavily swayed by his “Edwardian up-bringing.” When Lewis was reared, society maintained a “doctrine of separate spheres for men and women, which were seen as ‘natural’ and ‘biblical’” (39). Further, into his adult life, “he grappled with significant social chan...

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