C S Lewis and the spirit of Adlestrop

Something of the spirit of ‘Adlestrop’ can be found in C.S. Lewis’s wonderful novel, That Hideous Strength. As her husband drives off to destruction in a fast car, Jane Studdock takes a very slow train towards her redemption:

“The smoke which our imaginary observer might have seen to the east of Edgestow would have indicated the train in which Jane Studdock was progressing slowly towards the village of St Anne’s. Edgestow itself, for those who had reached it from London, had all the appearance of a terminus; but if you looked a little about you, you might see presently, in a bay, a little train of two or three coaches and a tank engine – a train that sizzled and exuded steam from beneath the foot-boards and in which most of the passengers seemed to know one another. On some days, instead of the third coach, there might be a horse-box, and on the platform there would be hampers containing dead rabbits or live poultry, and men in brown bowler hats and gaiters, and perhaps a terrier or a sheepdog that seemed to be used to travelling. In this train, which started at half-past one, Jane jerked and rattled along an embankment whence she looked down through some bare leaves into Bragdon Wood itself and thence through the cutting and over the level crossing at Bragdon Camp and along the edge of Brawl Park (the great house was just visible at one point) and so to the first stop at Duke’s Eaton. Here, as at Woolham and Cure Hardy and Fourstones, the train settled back, when it stopped, with a little jerk and something like a sigh. And then there would be a noise of milk cans rolling and course boots treading on the platform and after that a pause which seemed to last long, during which the autumn sunlight grew warm on the window pane and smells of wood and field from beyond the tiny station floated in and seemed to claim the railway as part of the land.”

Then Lewis’s narrator begins to draw some conclusions that go unstated in Thomas’s poem:

“Passengers got in and out of her carriage at every stop; apple-faced men, and women with elastic-side boots and imitation fruit on their hats, and schoolboys. Jane hardly noticed them: for though she was theoretically an extreme democrat, no social class save her own had yet become a reality to her in any place except the printed page. And in between the stations things flitted past, so isolated from their context that each seemed to promise some unearthly happiness if one could have but have descended from the train at that very moment to seize it: a house backed with a group of haystacks and wide brown fields about it, two aged horses standing head to tail, a little orchard with washing hanging on a line, and a rabbit staring at the train, whose two eyes looked like dots, and his ears like the uprights, of a double exclamation mark. At quarter-past two she came to St Anne’s, which was the real terminus of the branch, and the end of everything.”  

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