C.S. Lewis and Eric Bentley

One of my profs in grad school, Eric Bentley, was a student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford. Lewis met with him an hour every week, which was the system at the time. Bentley would write a paper and Lewis would go over it with him. One day the paper was particularly red, and between Lewis' criticisms my future prof burst in, "Didn't you like anything?"

Lewis pointed to a particular passage.

Bentley said, "Oh, that was just me going on."

"Well, you need to go on a bit more," said Lewis. 

It unlocked something in Bentley that catapulted him into a career as a playwright, critic, translator for Bertolt Brecht and Pirandello, and writer on theatre.

He told that story to students of mine when we visited his home to perform excerpts from Freud's Last Session, about an imagined visit between Sigmund and Clive Staples.

When I was Bentley's student I walked him to the bus (NYC) one night, and asked him if Lewis ever shared his faith in class.

"Oh, yes, he was always trying to proselytize us."

"Did any of it connect with you?" I probed. 

He said his mother sent him to Oxford to train for ministry, but his professors taught him to be an atheist, and not even C.S. Lewis could break through.

At the end of the evening with my students he allowed us to pray for him. When I said, "Amen," he was beaming.

He told us that George Bernard Shaw, another atheist, was asked by a nun if she could pray for him. He said that 100 years ago if someone would have told us about radio waves we would have thought them insane, so if there's Someone out there he can't perceive who wants to bless him, why would he decline?

Bentley died August 5, 2020. He was nearly 104 years old. The Lord gave him lots of time to turn back to Himself. I surely hope he did. 


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