C. S. Lewis and the neurotic imagination : a Horneyan analysis

  • Simon Alan Vaughan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


Standard accounts of C. S. Lewis’s life and work have typically struggled to explain the complexity of the data and its apparent contradictions, and reduce his conversion to an inscrutable metaphysical event of unquestioned validity. Such treatments of Lewis are often constrained by the shared evangelical intent of the scholars concerned. This thesis argues, sympathetically but critically, that sense can more easily be made of Lewis’s life and work in general, and of his conversion and poetry in particular, if they are understood as the outworking of a dynamic psychological process, one bound up with his failure in early manhood to achieve success (in terms of either recognition or creative potency) as a poet. It argues further that after his conversion his creativity was hampered by the metaphysical constraints he placed on it, which were themselves partly an expression of neurotic demands he made on himself as a consequence of the earlier failure. In giving such an account, the thesis avoids the pitfalls of a Freudian analysis (the only kind to which Lewis has so far been subjected). Instead, the methodology used draws on the psychoanalytical theories of Karen Horney as applied within a broader humanist framework.

Horney’s theory posits the imaginative creation in the neurotic person’s mind of an idealized self as a substitute for the real self, which is despised (Chapter 2). The idealized self must then be defended from the incursions of reality by the adoption of various defensive postures (Chapters 3 and 4). These postures, however, offer only partial solutions to the neurotic conflict and are inherently unstable, providing a spurious sense of integration (Chapter 5), as evidenced by the shifting from one solution to another in moments of crisis. Lewis is shown both to have undergone this self-idealization and, to some degree, to have intuited it, without extricating himself entirely from the process (Chapter 6).
Date of AwardJun 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorJudith Wolfe (Supervisor)


  • C.S. Lewis
  • Karen Horney
  • Erich Fromm
  • Ludwig Feuerbach
  • Theology
  • Psychology
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Neo-Freudianism
  • Neurosis
  • Anxiety
  • Selfhood
  • Imagination
  • Poetry
  • Religious conversion

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 16th April 2025

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