In the beginning of The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis' narrator states:

However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, goods stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle.

I am assuming he means the bookstores were basic and catered to the needs of schoolchildren. Are there any other thoughts on what sort of bookshops sell The Works of Aristotle? To what purpose might Lewis refer to Aristotle at this point in the book?

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    In my country and in my era, such a shop would sell used books, and might well sell used (but unread) copies of Great Books of the Western World by Robert Hutchins. Feb 7, 2018 at 1:18
  • Heh, I saw the title and expected this to be a shopping question :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 7, 2018 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


I think we can reasonably infer that the work Lewis is referring to is The Works of Aristotle the Famous Philosopher, which, per Wikipedia, is a sex manual and book of midwifery, falsely claiming to be the work of Aristotle.

In other words, a work of pretentious smut. Just the sort of thing that Lewis liked to rail against.

So, the answer is: Smutty bookshops.

  • wow, I've never heard of this! you are more than likely right. +1000 for teaching me cool stuff. :) Feb 7, 2018 at 18:40
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    excellent -- I'm convinced you are spot on!!! Feb 7, 2018 at 19:41
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    From this article (publicdomainreview.org/2015/08/19/…) > "Within a decade [of 1595], the name Aristotle was used as a joking reference to sexual knowledge in plays performed upon the London stage. To many a browser upon a bookstall, the name Aristotle in the title meant — nudge nudge wink wink — a book about sex." Feb 7, 2018 at 19:47
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    Great research! You might want to connect the dots, and just add to your answer that we're basically talking a smutty bookstore here --something that fits in with Lewis' overall picture of a lower socioeconomic class slum. Feb 7, 2018 at 21:03
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    @ChrisSunami Done. But I would hesitate to identify this scene simply with the poor (lower socioeconomic class). Lewis was not a snob. It is rather the kind of industrial wasteland which horrified all of the Inklings that Lewis is describing here. To suggest that he was writing simply about poverty is to mischaracterize his thought, I believe. Now, the sentimental attachment of many intellectuals of that ear for a bygone rural England (as incarnated in the Narnia and the Shire) could be criticized as unrealistic and even reactionary. But it should not be seen as contempt for the poor.
    – user406
    Feb 7, 2018 at 23:30

He might mean boring bookstores rather than ones which sold "modern," more interesting fiction/adventure/romance etc. stories. The other images are of abandoned and broken buildings and businesses — places without hope, where no one wants to be.

Remember that The Great Divorce is a Christian book, explicitly about various people giving up their earthly obsessions so they can accept God/Heaven as the true thing they should focus their attentions on (or not, and never reaching Heaven). This Springsteen kind of street is a place where the shopkeepers keep clinging to their dreams no matter how obviously they have failed, and Lewis is implying that if they would just let go of these mortal concerns, they would be welcome in Heaven.

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    I was expecting at least one answer alluding to Aristotelianism vs Platonism or something... at least this is going in that direction +1 Feb 7, 2018 at 19:40

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