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Charles Williams

1886-1945. English writer. Born in London and educated at St. Albans and University College, London, he spent the greater part of his career in the service of the Oxford University Press. As a writer his range was wide, covering religious drama (Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury in 1936 followed Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral at the Canterbury Festival in the preceding year); Arthurian legend, best represented by Taliesin through Logres (1938); what he himself described as “metaphysical thrillers”; biography, criticism, and theology. The last includes He Came Down from Heaven (1937), Descent of the Dove (1939), and The Forgiveness of Sins (1942).

Williams in his youth had links with the group of “Rosicrucians,”* of which Yeats was at one time a member. To this association with the occult should be added the influence of the Christian mysticism of Evelyn Underhill.* The relationship of different spiritual states to various parts of the body, an idea central to the symbolism of Taliesin, owes something to the Kabbalah. The importance of Dante must also be noted in Williams's development, especially in the positive affirmations of his faith. Hence his stress on the Incarnation and on the active work of the Spirit in history (Descent of the Dove) and the life of society. For Williams there could indeed be a real civitas Dei.

He is perhaps best known as a novelist, but even here he appeals only to a special taste, prepared to accept his treatment of serious religious themes in a thriller mode and through stylized dialogue. His work in the drama also employs symbolism, but less subtly, and in any case his plays are altogether lesser achievements. In the end he will probably be remembered most for the difficult and Blake-like Taliesin through Logres, a poem which grapples with the religious significance of the Arthurian story in a series of epic odes.