Lewis on the Welfare State

One of C. S. Lewis’s longtime American correspondents was Vera Gebbert, who had written plays with some success in the 1940s. Their exchange of letters had a personal side throughout the years, as Lewis gave advice on her writing career, a painful divorce, and the raising of a son as a single mother.

C. S. Lewis 4They also commented on the political/governmental issues of the day. Here’s an excerpt from a chapter in my upcoming Lewis book:

In one of his first letters to Gebbert, in 1947, he referred to the Labour government as “Mr. Atlee’s Iron Curtain.”

He also contrasted the blessings she had in America with the current state of England, saying, “Try living in ‘free’ England for a bit, and you would realize what government interference can mean! And not only interference, but interference in a ‘school marm’ form which is maddening.”

He had an example: “For instance, one of our rulers the other day defended rationing, not on the only possible grounds, i.e. the economic, but on the ground that in the old days housewives bought the food which they knew their husbands and families liked: whereas now, thanks to rationing, they are forced to provide their households with “a properly balanced diet.”

Then he added this quip: “There are times when one feels that a minister or two dangling from a lamp post in Whitehall would be an attraction that would draw a hard worked man up to London!”

As you can see, Lewis was not comfortable with the welfare state that England had become in his day. His final line was an exaggeration, of course, but probably accurately conveyed how many Englishmen at the time really felt.

Vera GebbertWhile I was doing research into Lewis’s letters and extracting comments from his letters to Gebbert, I didn’t realize that she was still alive.

Only a few weeks ago, I came across her obituary. Vera Gebbert died in December 2014 at age 98. I don’t know if she would have been able to conduct an interview in her final days, but I now wish I had had the opportunity to connect with her at least one time. I’m sure she could have shared some very fascinating information about her exchanges with Lewis.