I’M HEAVY, & YOU’RE NOT MY BROTHER
April 17, 2009
Unmentioned in most biographies of C. S. Lewis is just how much of a fucker he was, as an Oxford don, to the young John Betjeman. “Heavy” Lewis, as he was known to his students, met Betjeman in 1925, when the latter pranced into his study at Magdalen College expecting to be taught English Literature. They seem to have disliked each other on sight — not surprisingly, perhaps, Betjeman being a frivolous and undeveloped aesthete, and Lewis a Northern Irish log of a man, shoving Beowulf down everybody’s throat — but the power was all on Lewis’ side, and when Betjeman failed a crucial exam and asked for his help, he put the boot in.
“I take it we understand each other very well,” he wrote, in a poisonously quotable letter (found in A. N. Wilson’s Betjeman: A Life). “You called the tune of irony from the first time you met me, and I have never heard you speak of any serious subject without a snigger. It would, therefore, be odd if you expected to find gushing fountains of emotional sympathy from me whenever you chose to change the tune.”
The gifted, tender-hearted, forgiveably silly Betjeman ended up getting kicked out of Oxford, to his lasting humiliation. He was still writing, and not posting, aggrieved letters to Lewis eight years later.
Lewis, to be fair, was only 27 at the time, and had not yet converted to Christianity — after which, it is generally agreed, he became an altogether mellower Fellow. But still…