We certainly like her better than her husband, don't we? Start to finish? We also understand her better, as Lewis spends a good deal of the novel telling us the story from her point of view, not only in what she observes, but what she feels about it. Lewis is not generalising about all young academic women. she is a full character. It is we who expect that any young academic female in fiction represents all of them. It is required that she stand in for all of them.
I recall when I first read That Hideous Strength that much of what Lewis was saying about Jane was not going to go down well. It seemed very much an old-fashioned sexism by a man who just didn't get it. You're not supposed to make fun of women for being able to discuss codpieces in professional discussions of literature but feel timid about considering the marriage bed. You aren't supposed to regard a woman who is determined to keep her freedom and resist obligations and expectations as wrong in any way. And you certainly aren't supposed to suggest at the end that she has done something wrong by not having a baby.
It just seemed wrong-footed, that someone who seemed in other places to understand the human character so well should bungle this so badly. Yet because of my own prejudices and stereotypes, I just chalked it up to his having written in the 1940s, a benighted era in which men were chauvinists, even more than they were in the late 70s. It was further surprising when I learned that he treated female colleagues and students remarkably well and had decades of correspondence with women from whom he sought advice and criticism. He was noted for it, and sometimes chided about it, enough that he called himself The Old Woman of Oxford. He was aware of feminine parts of himself and expected that most women would have some masculine aspects.
I did not think to question further, because I had my stereotypes in place.
I don't think I changed my mind about this gradually, though there may have been thoughts in the background. My impression is that one day a few years ago I thought "Maybe Lewis actually understood what was supposed to be said and intentionally wrote something else instead. What if he understands us quite well and it is we who don't understand him?" A lot of dominoes fall pretty quickly. Jane Studdock is not an archetypal or representative young female academic or professional. She's Jane Studdock. If anything, it's her husband Mark who is a bit stock or two-dimensional. Lewis knows very well what he is expected to say, but chooses to say something deeper instead. He does not so much argue for an opposite as attempt to transcend the debate. I hear you clearly. I just think you are wrong. I think there's something deeper you're not looking at here. Let me make a case for that.