The Mistress of C.S. Lewis

Published in Sleuthing C.S. Lewis  by Kathryn Lindskoog, 2001, pp.312-321


by John Bremer

The relationship between C. S. Lewis (or Jack) and Janie Moore (or Minto) began shortly after 7 June 1917 and ended with the death of Janie Moore on 12 January 1951. The relationship undoubtedly changed its character during this period, but it is possible to identify certain phases. In considering these phases, it must be born in mind that Janie Moore was twenty-seven yean older than Jack. Their respective birthdays were 28 March 1872 and 23 November 1898.

Phase One: In early June 1917, Jack met Janie Moore in Oxford; she was married but had been separated from her Irish husband since 1907. She was in Oxford to be with her son, Paddy, who was in the same cadet battalion as Jack. Jack found in her a substitute for the mother he had lost in 1908, when he was 9 years old. He fell under her spell and was in love with her by August. Jack shared her with her son, Paddy, but soon after he was commissioned in the army on 25 September 1917. By then the relationship was sexual and Paddy had become irrelevant.

Phase Two: From September 1917 until Jack returned to Oxford in January 1919, they continued their sexual relationship (when this was possible) and wrote each other, seemingly, every day. When Jack was transferred to various army hospitals and posts in England, Janie Moore followed him, with her daughter, Maureen, in tow.

Phase Three: From January 1919 until 28 September 1931, the day of Jack’s conversion, Jack and Janie Moore lived together in many different rented apartments and houses in and around Oxford, finally moving into the Kilns, which they purchased with the help of Jack’s brother, Warren, in October, 1930. Whatever the recent state of their sexual relationship had been (Janie Moore would have been about 58 years old), it was terminated on Jack’s conversion, since he would have regarded it as sinful and contrary to God’s law,

Phase Four: Jack and Janie Moore continued to live together at the Kilns, with Warren, until, after several years of sickness, she entered a nursing home in April 1950, where she died on 12 January 1951.

A more detailed history of the relationship is set forth in the following:

Pre-Phase One; Jack is a somewhat loutish schoolboy — intellectually precocious, socially limited, emotionally stunted, and sexually

prurient.  5-9 Dec. 1916 Jack sits for scholarship at Oxford,

11 Dec. 1916 Jack returns to Belfast.

13 Dec. 1916 Receives scholarship at University College.

20-26 March 1917 Jack to Oxford for Responsions (i.e. university tdtrance exams). Fails algebra but still acceptable to Univ. Coll.

provided he re-takes exams successfully.

26 April 1917 Returned to Oxford after three weeks in Belfast

28 April 1917 Signs his name in Univ. Coll. Book

30 April 1917 Volunteers for the army and is assigned to a cadet battalion in Oxford.Over the previous few years Jack had been physically maturing and had felt his sexuality very keenly. Masturbation was a problem for him, but he began to notice members of the opposite sex, not only in fantasy but also as possible companions or friends in real life.

27 May 1917 Jack writes to Arthur Greeves (AG): “Cherry (Robbins) is not pretty unfortunately but she is what I call a really ripping kind of person — an awfully good sort, and (greatest recommendation to us) a lover of books.”

3 June 1917 Jack writes again: “The piano too would be a perpetual joy, for Cherry was playing it when she was in here to tea the other day, and says it is quite good… She is a real sportsman, the sort of person I really like. Quel damage que sa figure n’egale pas son esprit ! Yet after all she is plain in rather a pleasing kind of way when you get to know her.” There follows a shon sentence— “Mrs. Robbins I also like immensely”—that; foreshadows his judgment of Janie Moore in a 27 August letter (see below).

Phase One:

7 June 1917 Jack drafted into cadet battalion. Moved ‘to Keble College, Oxford and is alphabetically roomed with E.F.C. Paddy Moore.

10 June 1917 Writes AG that “I am in a strangely productive mood at present and spend my few moments of spare time in scribbling verse…During (an anticipated four weeks leave) I propose to get together all the stuff I have perpetrated and see if any kind publisher would like to take it.”

10 June 1917 Jack writes AG in same letter about Cherry Robbins, “How sad that so interesting a girl is not beautiful (tho’ she is certainly not nearly so plain as I at first imagined)…”

8 June 1917 Jack’s first mention of Janie Moore (in letter to his father Albert Lewis (AL): “Moore, my room mate, comes from Clifton and is a very decent sort of man: his mother, an Irish lady, is staying up here and I have met her once or twice.” (Clifton is an English public, i.e. private, school, near Bristol.)

8 July 1917 Jack complains to AG in a letter: “Yes, I must say that the society of some interesting person of me other sex is a great anodyne in a life like this—especially if it is one of the very few people who share our own pet tastes—Wagner, Rackham and the rest. Cherry has been away on leave this last week, and I find this causes quite a gap in my routine.”

9 August 1917 Jack in Belfast for three days.

27 August 1917 Jack writes father that he is staying with Paddy “at the digs of his mother who, as 1 mentioned, is staying at Oxford.

I like her immensely and thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

Phase Two:

25 Sept 1917 Jack commissioned.

29 Sept. 1917 Four weeks leave on completion of course. AL writes in his diary that Jack stayed with Moore and his mother. Came home on 12th October.

19 Oct 1917 Posted to Somerset Light Infantry at Crownhill, near Plymouth.

28 Oct 1917 In a letter to AG: “At last you will say, and I admit I should aave written long ago. I am the more sorry to have to begin my letter by saying something rather ungracious. Since coming back and meeting a certain person [i.e., Janie Moore] I have begun to realize that it was not at all the right thing for me to tell you so much as I did. I must therefore try to undo my actions as far as possible by asking you to try and forget my various statements and not to refer to the subject. Of course I have perfect trust in you, mon vieux, but still I have no business to go discussing those sort of things with you. So in future that topic must be taboo between us.”

15 Nov, 1917 Jack wires AL with news of “48 hours leave—report Southampton, Saturday.” Asks for reply at Janie Moore’s address in Bristol. AL professes not to understand, asks for letter. Jack writes explaining he is going to France, concluding that he must go and do some shopping—presumably for Janie Moore and an adumbration of his future function,

17 Nov. 1917 Jack crosses to France, without seeing AL.

29 Nov. 1917 Reaches the front line on his 19th birthday.

13 Dec. 1917 Tells AL that he is behind the line, and has finished George Eliot’s Adam Bede.

Writes to AG on 14 December 1917: “…you may perhaps understand how nice and homely it is for me to know that the two people who matter most to me in the world [i.e., Arthur Greeves and Janie Moore] are in touch.” The exclusion of Albeit Lewis is noteworthy.

26 Dec. 1917 Jack’s battalion near Arras, France.

4 January 1918 Tells AL, after his return, that “I have been up in the trenches for a few days…Reading The Mill on the Floss,”

Jack writes to AG 2 February 1918: “. . . as for the older days . . .Perhaps you don’t believe that I want all that again, because other things more important have come in: but after all there is room for other things besides love in a man’s life.” This presumably acknowledges Jack’s love for Janie Moore, and ten days later in another letter he writes “However, we may have some good times yet, although I have been at war and although I love someone.”

Feb. 1918 Jack sick with trench fever. Spends four weeks in hospital at Le Treport

28 Feb. 1918 Returns to front.

24 March 1918 Paddy Moore missing? Perhaps later.

15 April 1918 Jack is wounded at Battle of Arras by a British shell that fell short Shrapnel wounds in three places—leg, hand, and in the chest under the arm. Visited by Warren who reported “wounds not serious,”; But the wounds were serious enough that Jack was still convalescing in October.

14 May 1918 Jack writes “I expect to be sent across [to UK] in a few days…as a stretcher case…” He also reports that Paddy Moore has been missing for more than a month.

Writing to AG on 23 May 1918 Jack says. “You will be surprised and I expect not a little amused to hear that my views at present are getting almost monastic about all the lusts of the flesh.”

25 May 1918 At Endsleigh Palace Hospital, London, and Janie Moore present by 29 May. From A. N. Wilson, p.58: “That he fell in love with Mrs Moore, and she with him—probably during the period when she was visiting him in hospital, and frantic with worry about Paddy—cannot be doubted. [They were lovers] probably from the summer of 1918 onwards.” (But it can be doubted; see the discussion above.)

30 May 1918 Jack asks AL to visit but his father does not come.

Jack writes to AG on 29 May and 3 June 1918: “Yes, after all our old conversations I can feel otherwise about the lusts of the flesh: is not desire merely; a land of sugarplum that nature gives us to make us breed, . . .and . . . one thing you may find in me now—a vein of asceticism, almost of puritan practice without the puritan dogma. I believe in no God, least of all in one that would punish me for the lusts of the flesh.”

20 June 1918 Jack visits the Kirkpatricks in Little Bookham.

25 June 1918 Jack moved to convalescent home near: Clifton, Bristol, chosen by him for proximity to Janie Moore’s home.

17 July 1918 Jack writes that he has been preparing poems for publication.

In late July/August Jack submits poems to Heinemann.

3 Sept. 1918 Again asks father to visit him, AL remains at home. Letter to AL, ?9 Sept. 1918 (date wrong, see below, probably

19 September): “You are aware that for some years now I have amused myself by writing verses, and a pocket-book collection of these followed me through France, Since my return I have occupied myself by revising them, getting them typed with a few additions, and trying to publish them . . . accepted by Heinemann.”

12 Sept. 1918 Jack writes to AG from Janie Moore’s address.

18 Sept. 1918 Jack tells AL that Paddy Moore is confirmed dead.

1 Oct. 1918 AL writes to Janie Moore commiserating on the confirmed death of Paddy Moore.

10 Oct. 1918 Jack remains at Clifton, then is transferred to Ludgershall, near Andover. Wound still troubling and Jack sent to Eastbourne, followed by Janie Moore.

Nov. 1918 Jack writes to AG that his book of poems has been discussed with Heinemann [October 25|. Original title taken from St Peter’s First Epistle where Christ went and “preached unto the spirits in prison”. But AL pointed out that there was already a novel called A Spirit in Prison so it was changed to Spirits in Bondage.

11 Nov. 1918 Armistice declared.

2 Dec. 1918 Jack writes AG about narrative poem, Dymer.

27 Dec. 1918 Jack’s surprise visit to Belfast, demobilized; Warren there.

Phase Three:

13 Jan. 1919 Back to Oxford. Janie Moore already there.

Feb. 1919 One poem, Death in Battle, appears in Reveille (attributed to Clive Hamilton).

20 March 1919 Publication of Spirits in Bondage. Jack writes no more lyric poetry at this time.

Phase Four:

Little needs to be said of this period of more than twenty years. Jack wrote to Arthur Greeves (5 November 1929): “[Barfield] said among other things that he thought the idea of the spiritual world as home—the discovery of homeliness in that wh[ich] is otherwise so remote—the feeling that you were coming back to a place you have never yet reached—was peculiar to the British, and thought that Macdonald, Chesterton, and I, had this more than anyone else. He doesn’t know you, of course—who with Minto, have taught me so much in that way…”

This acknowledges Jack’s debt to Janie Moore, for she taught him what having a home, and being at home, could mean, and she was considered to be a gracious hostes. At the same time, she treated Jack abominably and had little consideration for his intellectual work, interrupting his studies with petty demands and wasting his time on niggling household chores.

Three months after Janie Moore’s death. Jack wrote in a letter: “1 have lived most of it [my private life] in a house which was hardly ever at peace for 24 hours, amid senseless wranglings, lyings, backbitings, follies and scares. I never went home without a feeling of terror as to what appalling situation might have developed in my absence. Only now that it is over do I begin to realize quite how bad it was.” It might reasonably be wondered why Jack continued the relationship. All that can be said is that he had made a commitment and that he thought it ought to be maintained. As he wrote to his brother in 1930: “I have definitely chosen and I don’t regret the choice. Whether I was right or wrong, wise or foolish, to have done so originally, is now only an historical question: once having created expectations, one naturally fulfills them.”

Some comments on the above are appropriate. It is obvious from the chronology that Jack wanted a relationship with somebody of the opposite sex and he seems to have been developing an affection for Cherry Robbins who was serving as a nurse (strictly with the V.A.D.) in a military hospital in Oxford. The entries above on 27 May, 3 June, 10 June 1917 show an increasing appreciation of Cherry Robbins and on 8 July Jack complains of her absence on a week’s leave. But this is the last mention of Cherry in the published letters and diaries. She vanishes.

It would be reasonable to suppose that Janie Moore caused her disappearance. On 18 June, Jack mentions Janie Moore for the first time (in a letter to his father) and says that he has met her once or twice. Although Jack later became secretive and dissimulating with his father in regard to Janie Moore, it seems unlikely that at this point he had any reason to be either. And even two months later, he tells his father in a letter dated 27 August that he had spent a weekend with Moore “at the digs of his mother who, as I mentioned, is staying at Oxford. I like her immensely and thoroughly enjoyed myself.” Again, this seems free of anything in the way of deceit, but it shows that eighteen-year old Jack is aware of forty-five-year old Janie Moore’s impact upon him; he innocently reveals his own feelings—he likes her immensely (as he did the mother of Cherry Robbins), but there is no word of Paddy Moore. Incidentally, Warren in his diary, reports after Janie Moore’s death. “…J(ack)…mentioned, greatly to my surprise, that ‘when he first knew her she didn’t get on any too well with her son.’ I mention it because of my own ingenuousness, and to show the power of propaganda. All this Paddy-worship business has gone on so long, that I had come to believe—with a liberal discount of course—in the legend of the perfect son and the perfect mother in the perfect relationship.”

Jack was granted four days leave in early August 1917 and since his Brother Warren was at home, he went to Belfast for the period 9-11 August. What transpired is not known, but very shortly afterwards Albert Lewis asks for a book he had lent Jack to read on the boat journey to be returned; he is told that “just at present my friend Mrs. Moore has borrowed it.” Clearly, Jack had seen her and shortly after his return, at that. When Jack had finished his course he was granted four weeks leave and it appears that he went immediately to Bristol. He wrote to his father “On Monday, a cold (complete with sore throat) which I had developed at Oxford went on so merrily that Mrs. Moore took my temperature and put me to bed. It took two weeks for him to recover and he arrived in Belfast on 12 October—much to the chagrin of his father who saw him for only a week. Jack was a truthful person and an honest person in all his dealings and for all of his life, except for matters connected with his relationship to Janie Moore, and particularly where his father was concerned. It is, of course, well known that he never told his father that he lived with Janie Moore and used his paternal allowance to support their household. But that is later.

What is highly probable on 25 September 1917 is that Jack had no intention of going to Belfast, at least, not first. He then writes to say he is sick, and perhaps he was (for he was prone to sickness all his life), but it certainly gave him a most convenient reason for not going home and it is not unreasonable to doubt the truth of his excuse. Moreover, it took him two weeks to get well enough to travel, according to his account—possible but, in the circumstances, certainly convenient. It seems much more probable that it was during this two-week stay in Bristol that the sexual relationship between Jack and Janie Moore began. It is easy enough to understand why Jack would not want to leave, but he had to—so he left it as late as he could, protected by the excuse of his real or feigned illness. There is, incidentally, no independent evidence to corroborate the story of sickness that he told his father. This beginning of a sexual relationship between Jack and Janie Moore is a surmise and is clear contrary to the biographers—Wilson (who thinks it began in the summer of 1918), Green and Hooper (who imply that it happened but are completely vague about when), and Hooper (who for more than twenty years denied it ever existed, and who now regards it as likely but has nothing to say as to when it began).

Although it is—and will presumably remain a surmise, it has some confirmation from the letter that Jack wrote to Arthur Greeves on 28 October 1917. It is a belated letter—ten days after Jack’s return from his leave in Belfast—but in it he tells Arthur that the subject of a certain person and himself is in future taboo. He goes further and asks Arthur to forget his statements—”it was not at all the right thing for me to tell you so much as I did.” What did Jack say to Arthur? Clearly, it must have been something that really belonged to both Jack and Janie Moore—something that they shared. Jack realizes that it was not at all the right thing to do. If this is correct, then Jack had not merely reported to Arthur his feelings for Janie Moore or his hopes for their future; he must have reported what took place between them—namely, their love-making. Jack was still quite young and he and Arthur had freely shared sexual thoughts and fantasies in the past; perhaps during his October leave he had continued as if that were still possible, but meeting Janie Moore upon his return he realized that it was no longer something to be shared. It was a confidence and an intimacy, but with Janie not Arthur. Jack has no alternative because the episode does not belong to him alone; it also belongs to Janie Moore. This gives him no choice. He must remain silent.

In Surprised by Joy, the autobiographical story of his conversion, Jack Lewis reports his return to Oxford after the war: “But before I say anything of my life there I must warn the reader that one huge and complex episode will be omitted. I have no choice about this reticence. All I can or need say is that my earlier hostility to the emotions was very fully and variously avenged. But even if I were free to tell the story, I doubt if it has much to do with the subject of this book.”

It is, perhaps, surprising that Janie Moore had nothing to do with his conversion—Jack seems to have found her indispensable, but only in a hermetically sealed capsule. Or perhaps his religious and academic developments were in the capsule. Quite apart from when the sexual relationship began, Jack tells Arthur Greeves in at least three letters (4 December 1917 and 2 and 12 February 1918) that he is in love with Janie Moore. There is a strange confession that Jack makes three times to Arthur (23 and 29 May and 3 June 1918) about his views getting almost monastic about all the lusts of the flesh. They are not repeated and it is probable that the unaccustomed absence of sexual feelings on Jack’s part are connected with the wounds he suffered on 15 April and the sexual suppressants (generically referred to as “bromides”) provided routinely in British hospital fare—usually in the tea. They were not used only in hospitals, incidentally.

A final view of the Lewis-Moore relationship may be derived from a consideration of Jack’s poems Spirits in Bondage published in March 1919, and the extracts from his diaries. The poems, forty in number, contain only two that might remotely be thought to be addressed to a woman—and even then, there is nothing to suggest that if they are addressed to a woman, that that woman is Janie Moore, What is absolutely clear is that Janie Moore and Jack’s feelings for her and his sexual relationship with her do not play any significant part in the composition of these poems. Jack’s only concern was to write of his equation: matter=nature=Satan, a concern that was not justified by his writings. In the diaries of 1922-27, Janie Moore is often called Minto, but she is also designated by the letter D in the published text. This is misleading, because Warren, using an old typewriter, transcribed the diaries and she was designated originally by the Greek letter Delta which Warren, having only English characters, replaced with D, The significance of this is that the Greek letter almost certainly stands for a character in Plato’s famous dialogue on love, The Symposium, the priestess Diotima. It was Diotima who, Socrates reports, introduced him to the true nature of love, a nature that was essentially and ultimately spiritual. But we know that one of Jack’s tutors at Oxford said that Jack thought that Plato was always wrong and, accordingly, he made the true nature of love physical—not spiritual—and acclaimed Janie Moore as his Diotima, as the woman who introduced him to the pleasures of the flesh.

In Surprised by Joy Jack says that his earlier hostility to the emotions was fully and variously avenged. Janie Moore played a critical role in that, and for the first ten or so years of their relationship it was largely by sexual satisfaction and a home-life on Jack’s part, while Janie Moore had in Jack a replacement for her dead son, Paddy, and a surrogate for The Beast, her absent husband sequestered in Ireland.