“Every city has a sex and an age which have nothing to do with demography. Rome is feminine. So is Odessa. London is a teenager, an urchin, and, in this, hasn’t changed since the time of Dickens. Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
– John Berger
It troubles me when people adopt the idea that the Victorian-era was this sexually oppressed time which we are slowly evolving from, and everything before the Victorian-era was even more devolved and oppressive, at least until we get as far back to when we were apes, and then it was okay too.
This is most evident in the new fascination with the “cougar”: the elder woman having a sexual relationship with a much younger man. It seems that a lot of people find this whole idea new and novel and a sign of a great liberation of women. But…really, the idea is quite old. And it is even older than The Graduate. 19th century continental literature has numerous examples of this type of relationship, including Adolphe. Indeed, French literature seemed to find this idea nearly passe, hence the subtle meaning of the Berger quote. In Victorian England and post-Victorian England it is also clear that these sort of relationships happened with some frequency, though the more reserved Brits apparently saw no need to literary reflect upon it in public. Hold that thought for a moment while we turn to Narnia.
In elecktrum’s Narnia fanfiction she advances the idea that Jadis was a sexual deviant who, during Edmund’s imprisonment, sexually abused him. Fanfiction can advance a variety of viewpoints and ideas, and since elecktrum’s treatment of this issue was well-handled I had no problems accepting it as hypothetically plausible. But what was most interesting to me was elecktrum’s suggestion that the way Jadis acts, both in the Disney movie and in the books, is exactly like a sexual predator. I thought this was, again, an interesting viewpoint with a dash of plausibility, but didn’t think much of it till I went back to the books again. And, dear Lord, I’m starting to think she was right.
In MN Jadis is initially quite fixated on Digory, even though Polly is present and is actually the one who talks some sense. Jadis makes her demands of Digory, using her power and charms and cunning to take from Digory what she wants, and she is quite good at accomplishing this. Now, one could say that this was just a plot device, showing what a tyrant Jadis is. But again, she only focuses in on Digory. It is Digory that she tempts to use the apple for himself, while she suggests that he rid himself of Polly. It is Polly’s hair that she violently pulls, while it is Digory’s ear that she touches as they pass through the pools. Digory himself often comments that he finds her stunningly attractive and that he is quite in awe of her.
This is, of course, continued in LWW with Edmund. She offers Edmund treats while keeping him subservient (he sits on the floor of the sled at her feet in the book). She instructs him to keep her a “secret” from the others, while also tasking him to fulfill her wishes. This is classic sexual predator behavior. It is telling that during the filming of this scene in the Disney version Tilda Swinton apparently built the tension between her and Skandar Keynes by flirting with him between takes.
Many people interpret Jadis as embodying Lewis’s view of the inferiority and inherent wickedness of women. Though when one looks at all the women Lewis writes, that seems to quite fall apart. So what is Jadis’s point? And here I am going to suggest something very controversial: Jadis is Mrs Moore.
It has been suggested that as a young man Lewis had a sexual relationship with the mother of one of his friends, a certain Jane King Moore, who was twenty-six years older than Lewis. Now, I realize many people may not want to think about Lewis’s sex life, I always find contemplating the sex life of stodgy old Oxford professors quite horrifying. But Lewis was once a young man, and it seems that at the age of eighteen he at least developed a certain amount of romantic feelings for a much older woman. An older woman who was an avowed atheist, which would have fit Lewis at that time. Lewis apparently loved her, whatever the exact nature of their relationship, and I think this is one of the more bizarre elements of Lewis’s conversion. I certainly don’t think he converted simply in order to end any sexual relationship he had with her, but his conversion did come shortly after they bought a house together. And generally speaking, adults rarely wholesale reject the religious convictions they previously shared with the senior member of a long-established socio-familial grouping, and in a sexual relationship with an unequal power dynamic I find this even more astonishing.
In any case, Lewis became a Christian, ended any lingering sexual relations that might have existed with Mrs Moore, and Mrs Moore eventually moved into a nursing home due to ill health. Everyone agrees that Lewis continued to visit Mrs Moore every day until her death, though some suggest this eventually took an emotional toll on Lewis. Whether Lewis sharpened his Christian apologetics in these visits is unknown. The only people who knew what exactly went on between the two of them are all dead. But it does not seem that Mrs Moore ever came to share Lewis’s faith.
Even if Mrs Moore was some type of Mrs Robinson figure for Lewis, I hesitate to think he put a one-to-one characterization of her onto Jadis. Lewis worked according to archetypes. Jadis, it is explained, was a daughter of Lilith, Adam’s first wife who, as the story goes, was sexually aggressive. Jadis/Lilith then embodies the type of the older-woman-as-sexual-teacher. Jadis/Lilith are also godless, much like the atheist Mrs Moore. The way Jadis tries to entice Digory/Edmund away from following Aslan would suggest, though not conclusively prove, that Mrs Moore attempted to prevent Lewis’s conversion. One could, perhaps, go further with this train of thought and come up with all kinds of Freudian meanings behind Edmund breaking Jadis’s wand, or the way Aslan kills Jadis, but I don’t think that is really necessary. Fiction and reality do diverge.
This is all very hypothetical, and I recognize that it is also controversial. And it definitely does not prove that Lewis saw his adult relationship with an older woman to be the same as a millenia-old witch sexually abusing a ten-year-old boy. I think it does show, however, that Lewis was aware of the effect women have on men, and more specifically, the sexual power a mature woman can have over boys. It would be silly to conclude from this that this makes Lewis a misogynist, since this is nothing more than good psychology. Jadis, whatever her relationship with Lewis’s own experiences, serves a moral purpose to warn boys that not all beautiful adult women have their best interests in mind. Viewing Jadis this way releases her from the cage of her interpretation as the Evil Feminine, and instead establishes her in the role of the Evil Mentor.