Wednesday, June 12, 2024

misquoting Clive Staples, grief and anger



I ran across the meme lately with the quote about anger and grief attributed to C.S. Lewis.

Is it much exaggeration to say that most quotes attributed to Lewis on the internet are not really Lewis?

I have anger and grief about how often this happens!

I loved the quote, but immediately guessed (correctly ) that it was not him. 

 That is so annoying. There are even whole  websites...even an entire book!... to debunk fake Lewis quotes.

Here are the most frequent  misquoted or fake Lewis quotes that Lewis  Foundation is asked about. Maybe if I post them here, it will help stop the madness....yeah, right! (:

Quotes NOT by C.S. Lewis

  1. “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” – paraphrase of a George McDonald quote in Annals of a Quiet Neighbourhood
  2. “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life OR This Was Your LIfe! Preparing to Meet God Face to Face by Rich Howard and Jamie Lash
  3. “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream.” – Les Brown
  4. “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” – Dr. John Trainer
  5. “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” – paraphrase of a Charles Marshall quote in Shattering the Glass Slipper
  6. “We read to know/discover that we are not alone.” William Nicholson, screenwriter, in Shadowlands (1993)
  7. “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” – from the film Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010); the screenwriters are Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, and Michael Petroni
  8. “Experience, that most brutal of teachers, but you learn, my God do you learn.” – slight misquote from a quote in the film Shadowlands (1993), William Nicholson, screenwriter  -      -LINK

Anyway on to the 'misundertaken" quote at hand.

I like it, and would credit it correctly if I could.

It reminds me of this :

"My own experience with recovering addicts is that two tasks seem to help them the most:
mourning losses, and getting aggressions out front."
-Dr. Jerome Levin-Dr. Jerome Levin

 I was glad to find this from Christopher Brady;

“I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.” This quote, with the accompanying picture, came up in my FB feed and was attributed, as you can see, to C.S. Lewis and, more specifically, to A Grief Observed. Except Lewis did not write this. I reshared on FB both acknowledging the truth of the quote and questioning the attribution.

First, the sentiment. It is powerful and it rings true to the experience of so many of us in grief. When a loved one has died, it can be fairly obvious. Our emotions and feelings well up and anger is chief among them, especially when it is someone who has died well before their time. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross even famously placed it #2 on her list of five stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. (It is worth noting that most now acknowledge that we will go through these stages, and other feelings, in any order, often circling back again. A key to emotional health is to try not to get stuck in any one moment and not beat ourselves up when we come back to a “prior” stage. Feel the feels.) Anger and grief do, indeed, go hand in hand. Recognizing that can be a very important part of coping with anger, since sometimes we might struggle to pinpoint its origin.

Grief comes from many directions, however, and I define grief as those emotions that come from the loss of something we hoped or expected to continue in our life. It is not just about someone dying. For example, our institution is going through a change of governing structure, moving towards a model that many (perhaps even most) other universities have. It is not a small matter and it has caused a lot of upheaval and dissent within the community. People describe their anger, frustration, and anxiety in various ways, but they all are a part of grief. There are, of course, layers and complications to all feelings and many will point to this or that specific thing that has angered them, but grief is a key and unspoken component of this experience. What they had expected as a certainty, the structure and way of doing things, was now changing and they weren’t ready for it. Many don’t like it. It is disorienting and unsettling. 

Anger is real. It is a part of grief. That needs to be said and acknowledged so that we can process our feelings and emotions accordingly. It is a good quote, “I sat with my anger long enough until she told me her real name was grief.”

It just isn’t from C.S. Lewis. A mutual friend connected me with William O’Flaherty who runs Essential C.S. Lewis, a great site for all things CSL. He also published The Misquotable C.S. Lewis, a look at various and sundry quotes and near-quotes attributed to Lewis. He confirmed what I and others on my FB discussion had surmised, Lewis didn’t write this.1 At least not that we can find. That is a shame, not because it should be from Lewis, but that the original author is not getting the credit they deserve. Conceptually, it is a worthy sentiment and I would want to credit them, so if you are the original author, please do come forward!

Proving a negative is difficult, so how do we know that Lewis didn’t write this? Well, William and I both happen to have almost all of Lewis’ works electronically and we both, independently searched for this phrase and could not find it in his corpus. It is always possible we missed something. An interesting note from my research is that in A Grief Observed, the book that this quote was attributed to in one post, opens, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” That actually describes very well the feelings I have had in grief. Yet a search for the word “anger” in the book, brings up “danger” and “stranger” but never “anger.” So Lewis equates the emotion with fear but not anger, at least in that work.

Others suggested reasons why this is not from Lewis include that it simply didn’t “sound like Lewis.” Not an unreasonable argument. We all have a sense of how an author “sounds” (or reads). We are talking about style. Would Lewis personify anger and grief? Would he assign a gender to grief? (And I have found myself wondering what it means that the author did assign the female gender to grief.) It is possible that this was attributed to Lewis in some sort of dramatization, such as Shadowlands or The Most Reluctant Convert. I have not checked those sources. I also noted Michael Ward’s very good chapter “On Suffering” and cannot find it mentioned there either. I would think, if it existed as a Lewis quote, Ward would have cited it.2  -Christopher Brady, Link


The quote sometimes shows up as part of a  longer section; see this commentary by Lauenarve:

Yes, we are here, once again, revisiting the topic of the ability words have to allow us to feel and experience things we didn’t know were possible.

I’m an English major, and I’m a sucker for beautiful writing. Forgive me.

As I’ve stated in the past, if I read something that resonates with me deeply, I’m going to remember it; additionally, I’m more than likely going to save whatever piece of writing it is that has snagged my attention to avoid losing it.

I viewed an Instagram reel a few days ago that I’ve been thinking about, on and off, ever since. I don’t follow the account that posted the reel, although perhaps I should, but I am delighted it decided to appear in my algorithm because of how powerful the language used in it is. The caption states that the reel is a compilation of quotes from C.S. Lewis, Laura Eden and Nagata Kabi.

“I sat with anger long enough until it told me its real name was Grief.

“I’m not a whole person and I don’t think I will ever be. Parts of me died in the house I grew up in and I visit them in dreams.

“When you are not fed love on a silver spoon, you learn to lick it off knives.

“Loving you became just a different way to hate myself.

“I guess it’s okay to grieve about the child you could have been. How can something be there and not be there?

“How do we forgive ourselves for all the things we did not become?

“Up until then I never understood how people could just keep on living. But maybe I have a place to belong, but it wasn’t something definite, like a seat. It was flowing and formless. Perhaps inside of me. Perhaps outside of me. A reason to live. The power to live. A place to belong in this world. I think the essence of that sweet nectar varies from person to person.

Love of language or not, if this piece of writing doesn’t make you feel something, I don’t know what will.  Link