Clive Staples Lewis: a psychobiography
Oosthuizen, Gabriel Hermanus
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History has delivered individuals who possess charismatic potential, and who have a remarkable effect in yielding reaction from the society in which they are embedded in time and place. When their influence on society is shown to counter the negative impact of circumstances presented by events, such as warfare, it becomes valuable to understand the characteristics they possessed, and to learn from their course of development. Having witnessed the cause and consequences of two World Wars, Clive Staples Lewis (1898 - 1963) spoke with the voice of the many ordinary lives touched by the war. His work as apologist offered reason to overcome the challenge to faith and belief at a time when the bleak truths of war settled on disheartened masses. However, Lewis had difficulties in establishing his own firm roots in the faith, and the trajectory of his development is proof of how a deviation from usual development within society does not preclude the outstanding nature of the qualities a historic figure may come to possess. Lewis used his own experiences to inform his writings, both through religion and through the world of fantasy. All the while, his role as a writer who was capable of sound logic was enriched by honing his craft of argumentation in the world of academia. The present study sought to investigate the psychosocial development of Lewis. In accordance with database searches (EBSCOhost and ResearchGate) conducted prior to the submission of this study, no psychobiography has yet been attempted on Lewis, making this research the first of its kind. Lewis was selected by means of purposive sampling to longitudinally explore the details of his entire life within his socio-historical context, and describe its trajectory through Erik Erikson’s psychosocial theory of personality development. The primary aim of the study was to uncover Lewis’s life through stage-oriented psychosocial crises, of which the resolution built toward enduring ego strengths, that propelled his development forward. The research was conducted while remaining cognisant of recent developments in the field of psychobiography and contemporary stepwise approaches, and with a methodology that utilised Alexander’s indicators of salience to prioritise, select, organise and analyse the extensive amount of public information available on the subject (which constituted both primary and secondary sources). Schultz’s prototypical scenes offered an additional layer of labelling important subject information to be recognised. The use of a psychosocial conceptual matrix organised the data according to historical periods reflective of the major themes present during Lewis’s life while categorising them according to the psychosocial stages of development. Findings reveal that Lewis exemplified the adaptive progression that Erikson’s stages could assume, being an example of a case where some stages existed before their prescribed period, or where others were revisited or prolonged, depending on the interaction of Lewis with his historical setting. Nonetheless, though the periods of Lewis’s lifespan provided evidence of instances in which both adaptive ego qualities and core pathologies could be assumed, his life displayed a successful resolution of the crises presented by oppositional forces during each stage. Lewis was a case of unique individual variation. He is an example that contributes to the broadened scope of application and quality of relevance that psychosocial theory can assume. The relevance of Erikson’s theory was, thus, specified further through the present study. In addition, the present research adds to the growing value of psychobiography in the study of unique lives.