Companionship in Grief

Companionship in Grief: Love and Loss in the Memoirs of C. S. Lewis, John Bayley, Donald Hall, Joan Didion, and Calvin Trillin

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Companionship in Grief
    Book Description:

    In Companionship in Grief, Jeffrey Berman focuses on the most lifechanging event for many people—the death of a spouse. Some of the most acclaimed memoirs of the past fifty years offer insights into this profound loss: C. S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed; John Bayley’s three memoirs about Iris Murdoch, including Elegy for Iris; Donald Hall’s The Best Day the Worst Day; Joan Didion’s bestselling The Year of Magical Thinking; and Calvin Trillin’s About Alice. These books explore the nature of spousal bereavement, the importance of caregiving, the role of writing in recovery, and the possibility of falling in love again after a devastating loss. Throughout his study, Berman traces the theme of love and loss in all five memoirists’ fictional and nonfictional writings as well as in those of their spouses, who were also accomplished writers. Combining literary studies, grief and bereavement theory, attachment theory, composition studies, and trauma theory, Companionship in Grief will appeal to anyone who has experienced love and loss. Berman’s research casts light on five remarkable marriages, showing how autobiographical stories of love and loss can memorialize deceased spouses and offer wisdom and comfort to readers.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-012-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION “The Lost Other Is an Ongoing Part of Our Existence”
    (pp. 1-19)

    I never imagined I would write a book about deceased spouses. But then again, I never imagined I would lose my beloved wife.

    Barbara died on April 5, 2004, after a twenty-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. Immediately after her death I began writing a memoir about our life together after her diagnosis on August 12, 2002, one day after our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary. Writing about Barbara was both an act of will and an example of following one’s obsession. As soon as I completedDying to Teach(2007), I began a new book,Death in the Classroom(2009), a study...

  5. ONE C. S. LEWIS AND JOY DAVIDMAN “Never Have I Loved Her More than since She Was Struck Down”
    (pp. 20-61)

    Clive Staples Lewis, known to his relatives and friends as “Jack” and to the rest of the world as C. S. Lewis, was one of the most prolific and influential writers of the twentieth century. He was the most famous “Christian apologist”—that is, defender of the Christian faith—of the century. A Renaissance man, he wrote dozens of books on a wide variety of subjects: literary criticism (including medieval and Renaissance literature), theology, poetry, fiction, science fiction, mythology, fantasy, children’s stories (including the hugely popularChronicles of Narnia), aesthetics, allegory, and philology. A fellow and tutor in English literature...

  6. TWO JOHN BAYLEY AND IRIS MURDOCH “In Widowhood You Lose Not Only Your Loved One but Much of Yourself”
    (pp. 62-112)

    John Bayley had written one novel and several books of literary criticism before his wife, Iris Murdoch, began developing Alzheimer’s disease in the mid 1990s, but he was not a memoirist, nor did he seem interested in autobiographical writing. He appeared to share his wife’s suspicion of self-disclosure; she insisted that her novels were about “fictional” characters rather than “real” people. Peter J. Conradi notes in his biography that she not only denied drawing her characters from real life but also found the practice immoral. He quotes a 1982 diary entry in which she expresses her distaste of the personal...

  7. THREE DONALD HALL AND JANE KENYON “Art Is Created against Death”
    (pp. 113-156)

    Donald Hall’s relationship with Jane Kenyon began in 1969, when she enrolled in his large undergraduate course An Introduction to Poetry for Non-English Majors at the University of Michigan. He never met her individually in the class of 140 students, but the following summer she was accepted into his small poetry workshop. He recognized her talent as soon as he read her poem “The Needle,” which she had written at the age of nineteen. Their friendship began in January 1971. They were at first wary of each other, partly because of the failure of recent relationships—two years earlier Hall...

  8. FOUR JOAN DIDION AND JOHN GREGORY DUNNE “Life Changes in the Instant”
    (pp. 157-213)

    Joan Didion’s best-selling memoirThe Year of Magical Thinkingwas published in 2005, scarcely a year after the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne, who was, like her, an acclaimed novelist, essayist, and screenwriter. They were married nearly forty years. His sudden death—they were eating dinner in their apartment in New York City on December 30, 2003, when he suffered a massive heart attack and died literally in the middle of a sentence—shocked his wife, despite his long history of cardiac problems. One moment he was alive, and the next moment he was dead, an ending strikingly...

    (pp. 214-250)

    Calvin Trillin, the popularNew Yorkerhumorist, food critic, journalist, and novelist, described by theBoston Globeas “America’s quietest great writer,” has written more than twenty books on wide-ranging topics, but the subject to which he returns repeatedly is his beloved wife, Alice Stewart Trillin. Her name appears in the titles of two of his books,Alice, Let’s Eat, published in 1978, andTravels with Alice, appearing in 1989. She—and sometimes their two daughters—is the dedicatee of several other books, including his 2001 novelTepper Isn’t Going Out: “I wrote this for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything...

  10. CONCLUSION “It Is Possible to Be Bereft and Not Bereft Simultaneously”
    (pp. 251-262)

    I can’t imagine anyone choosing to be grief-stricken (except, perhaps, a masochist), and yet grief can begood, as we see from the dialogue in Philip K. Dick’s 1975 novelFlow My Tears, the Policeman Said(102). Now that I’m completingCompanionship in Grief, I can see how other memoirists have discovered the ways in which grief can be not only good but also transformative, allowing them to commemorate and honor the memories of their loved ones. To be sure, it is impossible not to feel ambivalent about grief, for it may be disabling or enabling, leading to callousness or...

    (pp. 263-276)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 277-284)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 285-285)