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Surprised by joy

Surprised by joy

A reader was surprised to find a letter on joy by C.S. Lewis tucked into a book purchased at a second-hand store.

Three years before writing his memoir entitled Surprised by Joy: the shape of my early life, Lewis described his idea of joy in a letter to a lady named Mrs Ellis, about whom nothing more seems to be known.

The Guardian reports on the letter which was discovered by the book-buyer some years ago, and is set to go up for auction later this month. In it, Lewis describes how joy

jumps under one’s ribs and tickles down one’s back and makes one forget meals and keeps one (delightedly) sleepless o’ nights.

In his memoir, Lewis describes Joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction,” but ultimately unsatisfying in itself:

Joy itself, considered simply as  an event in my own mind, turned out to be of no value at all. All the value lay in that of which Joy was the desiring.

The letter, stating that “the physical sensations of joy and misery are in my case identical,” foreshadows the observation in the book that, “considered only in its quality, it might almost equally well be called a particular kind of unhappiness or grief.”

C.S. Lewis’ popularity is enduring, and the auction house expects the letter to attract strong interest.


Posted by Rosalind Hughes. Surprised by Joy quotations from C.S.Lewis, The Joyful Christian: 127 Readings (Macmillan, 1977)


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