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Joy: Poet, Seeker, and the Woman Who Captivated C. S. Lewis
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
432 pp., $28.00
Don W. King
A bigail Santamaria's Joy is the first comprehensive biography of Helen Joy Davidman in a generation—Lyle Dorsett's still reliable And God Came In: The Extraordinary Story of Joy Davidman appeared in 1983. As such, Joy benefits from 30 years of critical reflection. In her introduction, Santamaria sets the overall tone of her biography, arguing that "most [previous] accounts of [Davidman's] life seemed glazed with a kind of hero worship." Perhaps Santamaria has in mind the 1993 film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger. However, that film claimed only to be based upon a true story—at best it is a docudrama. Dorsett's earlier biography of Davidman is respectful but clear-eyed; he certainly does not suggest she was a saint. Moreover, C. S. Lewis's most able biographers, George Sayer and Alister McGrath, have little good to say about Davidman. Regardless, Santamaria adopts a critical lens through which to view the details of Davidman's life.
Santamaria deserves much praise for her careful research and her success in gaining access to heretofore little known or closed primary sources; in doing so, she advances in great detail matters of Davidman's life that up until now were only outlined. For instance, Dorsett pointed out that Davidman's early home life was shaped by her domineering and perfectionist father, Joe. Santamaria fleshes out the background of Joe's personality, noting that in his role as a junior high school principal "he was such a tyrannical bully that in a single year, twenty-two members of his staff requested transfers, including his own former seventh grade teacher." At home with Joy and her younger brother, Howard, a similar iron discipline was applied. If Joy brought home a less than perfect grade, her father would slap her. When Joy's second semester grades at Hunter College were a mixture of B's, C's, and D's, Joe slapped her face. This time, however, ...