Finding a deeper truth in irony

Alan Jacobs in The Hedgehog Review:

John Betjeman’s life at Oxford was complicated. He wrote poems and made friends, he discovered beauty and rejoiced in it, but he struggled academically, in part because of an impossible relationship with his tutor, who thought him an “idle prig” and did nothing to disguise his hostility. The tutor complained about Betjeman’s silly aestheticism in his diary, but didn’t confine himself to private musings: He treated Betjeman with open contempt, and when Betjeman needed a supportive letter from him, he wrote a rather obviously unsupportive one––which was one reason among several that Betjeman never managed to graduate. What the tutor did not realize was that Betjeman’s frivolous manner was a kind of protective carapace, a way to shield himself from suffering and emotional upheaval.

The tutor’s name was C.S. Lewis, and before you are too hard on him, please remember that he had just begun teaching, and moreover was not yet a Christian. Later on he and Betjeman had a partial mending of their relationship, but Betjeman never really got over the sting of rejection. He dedicated a book of his poems to Lewis, “whose jolly personality and encouragement to the author in his youth have remained an unfading memory for the author’s declining years.” (Betjeman was 27 at the time.) Later on he wrote a long, anguished, half-apologetic and half-accusatory letter to Lewis, but probably never sent it.

Ultimately they had a lot in common, more and more as years went by and Betjeman drew deeper from the wells of Christian faith and practice. But he never lost the frivolous manner.

More here.