This month, I am teaching a short course called “The Four Loves,” using C.S. Lewis’s work of the same title to examine the personal relationships of each of the Oxford Inklings. What does the information we have about the biographies of Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and Barfield tell us about the ways the four types of love–Storge (affection), Philia (friendship), Eros (romantic love) and Agape (divine love)–manifested in their lives? You might be surprised by some of the details of the romantic life of Lewis’s friend and intellectual sparring partner, Owen Barfield.
Barfield often visited Cornwall as a young man. During one of these trips, he fell deeply in love with an unnamed young woman. When she rejected him, he “got very, very miserable, utterly depressed.” He realized eventually that his despair had less to do with romantic rejection and more with his feeling of oppression by “the materialism of the age.” He came to understand that he “would be able to find all the beauty [he] had fallen for in this young woman in the whole world of nature.” He attempted to express this release from grief in a poem, only one line of which he was later able to recall: “O, Eve, my soul, my eyes with which I see.”
Barfield later married Maud Douie, another woman he encountered during his adventures in Cornwall. In the first year of their marriage, Barfield found an outlet for his poetic disposition and his passion for nature in the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner. Maud had no patience for what she regarded as Steiner’s unwholesome philosophy and reportedly said that, had she known that Barfield was the type to succumb to such thinking, she would not have married him. During a trial separation from her husband, she wrote the following: “Again, I made the mistake of thinking you were happy at Milan chiefly because I was with you until I found it was far more due to the emotional effect some of the pictures had on you. Everything seems just to point to the fact that you are going through discoveries of the soul and the spirit and that occasionally I am just the peg on which you hang your feelings.”
Just before her death in 1980, Maud made the apparently conciliatory gesture of requesting admission into the Anthroposophical Society. After learning of this, Barfield would sometimes read to her from anthroposophical literature but, by that time, her memory was going and she did not seem to take in the ideas her husband was attempting to share. Barfield described Maud’s rejection of anthroposophy as “a sword through the marital knot,” though he made the decision to remain with her and raise a family, in spite of the temptation of women with minds more sympathetic to his own. For Maud’s part, she lamented that Barfield “seemed to be satisfied to start off alone without any desire to find out what [her] mind was like or on what high quest [she] might be traveling.”
Source: Owen Barfield: Romanticism Come of Age–A Biography by Simon Blaxland Delange