Surprised by Joy

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Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life
Surprised By Joy C.S. Lewis First Edition.jpg
First edition (UK)
AuthorC. S. Lewis
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherGeoffrey Bles (UK)
Harcourt Brace (US)
Publication date
Media typePaperback

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life is a partial autobiography published by C. S. Lewis in 1955. The work describes Lewis’s life from very early childhood (born 1898) until his conversion to Christianity in 1931, but does not go beyond that date.[1]


Lewis' purpose in writing was not primarily historical. His aim was instead to identify and describe the events surrounding his accidental discovery of and consequent search for the phenomenon he labeled "Joy", his best translation of the idea of Sehnsucht (German: longing). This Joy was so intense for something so good and so high up it could not be explained with words. He is struck with "stabs of joy" throughout his life. "Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longing."

Overall, the book contains less detail concerning specific events than a typical autobiography, although it is not devoid of information about his life. Lewis recounts and remembers his early years with a measure of amusement sometimes mixed with pain. However, while he does describe his life, the principal theme of the book is Joy as he defined it for his own purpose.

Lewis ultimately discovers the true nature and purpose of Joy and its place in his own life. The book's last two chapters cover the end of his search as he makes the leap from atheism to theism and then from theism to Christianity and, as a result, he realizes that Joy is like a "signpost" to those lost in the woods, pointing the way, and that its appearance is not as important "when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles."[2]

Allusions of title[edit]

Surprised by Joy is an allusion to William Wordsworth's poem, "Surprised By Joy — Impatient As The Wind", relating an incident when Wordsworth forgot the death of his beloved daughter:[citation needed]

Surprised by joy — impatient as the Wind
I turned to share the transport — Oh! with whom
But Thee, deep buried in the silent tomb,
That spot which no vicissitude can find?
Love, faithful love, recalled thee to my mind —
But how could I forget thee? Through what power,
Even for the least division of an hour,
Have I been so beguiled as to be blind
To my most grievous loss? — That thought's return
Was the worst pang that sorrow ever bore,
Save one, one only, when I stood forlorn,
Knowing my heart's best treasure was no more;
That neither present time, nor years unborn
Could to my sight that heavenly face restore.

Contrary to assumptions, Surprised by Joy is not about the American poet and writer Joy Gresham, who edited its final draft and would become Lewis' unexpected wife two years after its publication. However, his friends and contemporaries were quick to notice the coincidence, frequently remarking that Lewis had really been "Surprised by Joy".[3]


  1. ^ "An Outline of the Life of C. S. Lewis". Into the Wardrobe – a C. S. Lewis website. Retrieved 2018-05-31.
  2. ^ Surprised by Joy
  3. ^ Lancelyn Green, Roger and Hooper, Walter (2002). C.S.Lewis: A Biography, p. 330. HarperCollins, London. ISBN 0-00-628164-8.

External links[edit]