Mothers play pivotal roles in the lives of their children—either by their involvement or their absence. This was certainly true with C.S. Lewis, who had both a mother and an “adopted” mother.
Florence (Flora) Augusta Hamilton was descended from a titled Scottish family and an Anglo-Norman family that had been landowners in Ireland since the 12th Century. Her father and several relatives were ministers. Flora graduated from Queens College, Belfast, with First Class Honors in logic and Second Class Honors in mathematics. She had a promising career as a mathematician ahead of her when in 1894 she married Albert Lewis, a Welsh solicitor (attorney), the first professional in his family. Their first son, Warren, was born in 1895, followed three years later by “Jack.”
Lewis grew up in a household that valued education, reading, and music—both parents were voracious readers, and their house was filled with books. The boys began their education at home; Lewis learned French and Latin from his mother, as well as other subjects from a governess, Annie Harper.
The Lewises, because of their prosperity, chose to educate their sons as English gentlemen, which meant the boys were eventually sent away to a series of boarding schools, some good and some bad. The boys had to leave Ireland and live in England because their parents thought English training would afford the boys greater social mobility and “right connections” as men.
On the emotional side, Lewis was closest to his mother. Flora’s serene temperament balanced Albert’s moody disposition. The Lewises developed close family bonds of love and respect. Unfortunately, this happiness was relatively short-lived. Flora contracted cancer when Lewis was nine years old and she slowly died at home. He wrote in Surprised by Joy: "With my mother's death, all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy; but no more of the old security."
The death of his mother had profound effects on the future of Lewis’ life. When Flora was sick, Lewis fervently prayed to God to heal his mother. When she died, Lewis’ faith was shaken. He figured there either wasn’t a God, or if God did exist, he was impotent, cruel or both. Also, it was after Flora’s death that Lewis was sent away to his first boarding school, which Lewis later referred to as Belsen (after the Nazi concentration camp); the school was closed two years later and the headmaster sent to an insane asylum. This experience, plus succeeding tutors who taught that there was no God, lead Lewis to proclaim himself an atheist by the age of 16.
"Adopted" Mother—Jane Moore
In 1916, Lewis won a scholarship to University College, Oxford while World War I was raging. Because he was Irish, Lewis was exempt from being drafted, but against his father’s wishes he enlisted in the British Army in 1917. He was commissioned as an officer in the third Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Lewis arrived at the front line in the Somme Valley in France on his 19th birthday.
While receiving military training, Lewis shared a room with another army cadet, Edward Courtnay Francis "Paddy" Moore. Paddy introduced Lewis to his mother, Jane King Moore, and his sister Maureen, and they all spent time together during furloughs. A deep friendship between the teenage Lewis and his friend’s mother quickly developed.
This friendship with Mrs. Moore was particularly important to Lewis after he was wounded in the war. She traveled to London to be near him while he recovered (and while she was waiting for news of her own son). Lewis appreciated this loving gesture, especially since his father, who had an almost pathological reluctance to break free from the routine of his Belfast practice, could not bring himself to visit Lewis. According to one Lewis biographer, “The experience of being mothered, for the first time in his life since he was nine years old, was having a profound effect on Jack.”
Lewis and Paddy had become the best of friends. They made a mutual pact that if either died during the war, the survivor would take care of both their families. When Paddy was killed in action in 1918, Lewis kept his promise. After the war ended and Lewis was released from the army, he moved in with Mrs. Moore and her daughter. Lewis routinely introduced Mrs. Moore as his “mother,” and referred to her as such in many of his letters. In correspondence to his childhood and lifelong friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis referred to Greeves and Mrs. Moore as “the two people who matter most to me in the world.”
In 1930, Lewis and his brother Warren moved, with Mrs. Moore and Maureen, into "The Kilns," a house on the outskirts of Oxford. (The house was built in 1922 on a site that had been used to make bricks for the local area. Its name came from two old, funnel-shaped kilns that were still located on the property. With the home also came a brick-drying house, tennis court, woods, and a pond.) The Lewises and the Moores all contributed financially to the purchase of the house, although the title was held solely by Mrs. Moore, with Jack and Warren having rights of life-long tenancy. After Warren’s death in 1973, the home passed on to Maureen, then Dame Maureen Dunbar. It is now owned by the C.S. Lewis Foundation and used as a place for writers to congregate.
Mrs. Moore was often described as being possessive and controlling (demanding that Lewis do household chores), as well as a sufferer of “pathological illnesses.” However, she was also reported to be a warmhearted, affectionate and hospitable woman who was well liked by her neighbors at The Kilns. Lewis said of Mrs. Moore: “She was generous and taught me to be generous, too." Another Lewis biographer postulated that "Moore quite likely provided Lewis with a measure of emotional and domestic stability that he welcomed as an escape from the daily rigors of academe.”
In her later years, Mrs. Moore suffered from dementia and was eventually moved into a nursing home, where she died in 1951. Lewis visited her every day in this home until her death.
Although the exact relationship between Lewis and Mrs. Moore has been questioned, it is clear that it was mutually rewarding. Mrs. Moore became the mother Lewis had lost in childhood, and Lewis became the son Mrs. Moore had lost in the war.
From his mother, Lewis experienced unconditional love, developed a passion for books and music, knew security, and felt happiness and joy. From his “adopted” mother, he achieved a sense of stability and learned responsibility, the value of companionship, and generosity. All of these qualities were great gifts from mothers to their son. Both had powerful influences on his personality and approach to life, and provided resource material for many of his greatest literary works.