Authors: Wyndham Lewis

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist, critic, and artist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Tarr, 1918, 1928

The Childermass, 1928

The Apes of God, 1930

Snooty Baronet, 1932

The Roaring Queen, wr. 1936, pb. 1973

The Revenge for Love, 1937

The Vulgar Streak, 1941

Self Condemned, 1954

The Human Age: Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta, 1955

The Red Priest, 1956

Mrs. Dukes' Million, 1977

Short Fiction:

The Wild Body, 1927

Rotting Hill, 1951

Unlucky for Pringle, 1973

Drama:

Enemy of the Stars, pb. 1914, 1932

The Ideal Giant, pb. 1917

Poetry:

One-Way Song, 1933

Nonfiction:

The Caliph's Design: Architects! Where Is Your Vortex?, 1919

Harold Gilman, 1919

The Art of Being Ruled, 1926

The Enemy: A Review of Art and Literature, 1927

The Lion and the Fox: The Role of the Hero in Shakespeare's Plays, 1927

Time and Western Man, 1927

Paleface: The Philosophy of the Melting Pot, 1929

Satire and Fiction, 1930

The Diabolical Principle and the Dithyrambic Spectator, 1931

Hitler, 1931

The Doom of Youth, 1932

Filibusters in Barbary, 1932

The Old Gang and the New Gang, 1933

Men Without Art, 1934

Left Wings over Europe, 1936

Blasting and Bombardiering, 1937

Count Your Dead, They Are Alive, 1937

The Hitler Cult, 1939

The Jews, Are They Human?, 1939

Wyndham Lewis: The Artist from “Blast” to Burlington House, 1939

America, I Presume, 1940

Anglosaxony: A League That Works, 1941

America and Cosmic Man, 1948

Rude Assignment: A Narrative of My Career Up-to-Date, 1950

The Writer and the Absolute, 1952

Letters of Wyndham Lewis, 1963 (W. K. Rose, editor)

Wyndham Lewis on Art, 1969

Wyndham Lewis: An Anthology of His Prose, 1969 (E.W. F. Tomlin, editor)

Hitler, the Germans, and the Jews, 1973 (5 volumes)

Enemy Salvos: Selected Literary Criticism, 1976

Creatures of Habit, Creatures of Change, 1989

Miscellaneous:

Collected Poems and Plays, 1979

Biography

Percy Wyndham Lewis is one of the most important figures of British modernism and one of the best portrait painters of the twentieth century. As novelist, poet, critic, editor, philosopher, draftsman, and painter, he displays a volume and breadth in his work that are unrivaled among that of his contemporaries. He was born off the coast of Nova Scotia on his father’s yacht. Charles Edward Lewis, an American who had been awarded the rank of brevet captain for his valiant service to the Union Army in the Civil War, never held a permanent job after the war, depending, rather, on his family’s investments in mining and railroad companies. Lewis’s mother, Anne Stuart Prickett, who was English, cherished her son, who returned her affection: They had a close relationship throughout her life. The family lived in Maine and Canada until 1888, when they moved to the Isle of Wight. After Charles Lewis left with a housemaid in 1893, Wyndham and his mother were left with very little means of support. Lewis was to spend the rest of his life in poverty or near-poverty, always struggling to survive.{$I[AN]9810000938}{$I[A]Lewis, Wyndham}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Lewis, Wyndham}{$I[tim]1882;Lewis, Wyndham}

Wyndham Lewis

(Library of Congress)

Lewis attended Rugby School and the Slade School of Art from 1897 to 1901. His interest in art and culture led him to Paris, where until 1908 he pursued a career as both a writer and an artist. He first gained prominence in England as editor of Blast, the manifesto for Vorticism, a revolutionary movement in both literature and the visual arts launched by Lewis, Ezra Pound, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, and T. S. Eliot. The periodical’s shocking pink covers, bold block lettering, abstract paintings, and unorthodox essays, poems, plays, and stories stridently announced the revolutionary energy and intensity central to the movement’s defiance of convention and naturalism. Violent energy and defiance continued to be the hallmarks of Lewis’s art. Tarr, his first novel, soon followed. A satire of much of the hypocrisy in the bohemian Paris where Lewis had lived, the novel is most striking for its stylistic innovations. With fragmented sentences and unorthodox grammar and punctuation, Lewis attempted to approximate in prose the energetic abstraction of his paintings.

Lewis enlisted in 1916 and served as a gunner and bombardier–and later as a war artist–during World War I. His two most important literary works following the war are nonfiction. Both The Art of Being Ruled and Time and Western Man attempt to account for the moral and cultural deterioration which followed the war. Along with Paleface and Men Without Art, they are among the first works that seriously examine the authors and precepts of modernism and include piercing analyses of the work of James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, George Bernard Shaw, Henri Bergson, and Virginia Woolf. The Apes of God, a satiric novel and a scathing exposé of many of the leading figures in London’s cultural scene, set the tone for the 1930’s. The Revenge for Love appeared in 1937. Its main concern is not the pre-Civil War Spain where the story is set nor the Fascist or Communist Parties, but rather the fictional main characters, to whom he gives more depth than he had done previously. Dread of war and poverty led Lewis and his wife Froanna (Gladys Anne Hoskyns), whom he married on October 9, 1930, to emigrate to America in September of 1939. They were poor and often alienated and alone during their six years in Canada and the United States, where Lewis supported himself mostly as a lecturer or instructor at various universities and colleges.

Lewis developed eye problems during the early years of his stay in America, and by 1951 he was totally blind. Perhaps because of the trauma of his blindness, his final works, especially the semiautobiographical novel Self Condemned and the epic The Human Age (a two-part conclusion of The Childermass), lack his former vitriolic tone; their more humane estimations of humankind are also couched within a plainer, more straightforward style, which contrasts considerably with the self-conscious mannerisms of his early work. Undaunted by his blindness, Lewis was working on two novels when he died on March 7, 1957, in Westminster Hospital, London.

Although W. B. Yeats, Eliot, and Pound esteemed Lewis throughout their lives, his combative, almost paranoid personality gained him many enemies and defined his reputation. The Apes of God, for example, won for him the enmity of many London celebrities who could have advanced his career. His strong, fixed opinions also hampered his fame. His elevation of the individual led him, for example, to misinterpret Adolf Hitler and his aims. The misguided Hitler and Left Wings over Europe earned him much ill will, which was not significantly dissipated by his renouncements of these works in The Hitler Cult and The Jews, Are They Human?–whose satiric title belies its content, a defense of the Jews. This cloud of bad feeling in the 1930’s overshadowed the publication of the satiric novel The Revenge for Love, one of his best works. Early scholars of modernism for the most part neglected Lewis. Hugh Kenner and Timothy Materer rescued him from oblivion and reminded critics of his importance to Vorticism and Ezra Pound’s circle. Fredric Jameson’s psychoanalytic and Marxist study of Lewis’s theories and style further broadened Lewis’s significance.

BibliographyAyers, David. Wyndham Lewis and Western Man. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. See especially Ayers’s chapter on Lewis and Bergson. Ayers is particularly concerned with Lewis’s concept of self. Includes detailed notes and bibliography.Edwards, Paul. “Wyndham Lewis’s Narrative of Origins: ‘The Death of the Ankou.’” The Modern Language Review 92 (January, 1997): 22-35. Traces Lewis’s modernist style, satire, and primitivism; compares his misleading autobiographical account of writing the original story and the story as published; argues that the series of displacements that take place in the story indicate an artist in a relationship with a tragic reality.Foshay, Toby Avard. Wyndham Lewis and the Avant-Garde: The Politics of Intellect. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 1992. Foshay explores the reasons for Lewis’s “perverse” opposition to modernism. Includes detailed notes and excellent bibliography.Grigson, Geoffrey. A Master of Our Time: A Study of Wyndham Lewis. London: Methuen, 1951. Grigson, a strong admirer of Lewis, argues that “all Lewis’s work is one work” and that, whether he was right or wrong about life and politics, one can profit from his intellectual passion and his “crystalline” understanding of art. Grigson also praises Lewis’s prose as “Nashe-like,” a prose that “demands reading” and that “cannot be absorbed effortlessly like air.”Head, Dominic. The Modernist Short Story: A Study in Theory and Practice. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Head devotes a chapter to Lewis’s development of the Vorticist short story. Argues that his collection The Wild Body represents a systematic application of the Vorticist program to the short story. Claims that the fluid representation of personality in modernist literature, a challenge to the limitations of short-story form, was anathema to Lewis; the result is that his characters are isolated.Jameson, Fredric. Fables of Aggression. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979. Jameson, ironically, applies Marxist criticism and psychoanalysis to a staunch anticommunist to argue that Lewis’s explosive language practice was a symbolic political act. He explores in Lewis’s canon his aggressiveness, sexism, flirtation with Fascism, and polemics against the countercultural trends of his age. He finds Lewis contemplating a sham world filled with unreal puppets, “a paper world of falsefaces and hollow effigies, walking caricatures, split-men, scarecrows and automata,” and ultimately denouncing himself for the innocence that led him to misread the political trends of his age.Kenner, Hugh. Wyndham Lewis. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions, 1954. This critical estimate of the importance of Lewis’s writings is reliable and convincing, though its style might be daunting for students. Lewis himself called it a “splendid study.” It places each work in the progression of Lewis’s career to argue that “Lewis reveals the time’s nature” and that “this tough-minded failure … was right … about Western Man” though wrong about himself as an antithesis. He calls Lewis’s harangues “electrifying” and traces themes and concerns throughout his fiction as a whole: his interest in the unreal and in gradations of unreality, in the disharmony of reason and power and the mechanistic nature of human behavior.Meyers, Jeffrey, ed. Wyndham Lewis: A Revaluation. London: Athlone Press, 1980. Describing Lewis as “the most neglected and underrated major author of this century,” Meyers hopes to “stimulate critical appreciation of the depth and diversity of Lewis’s fifty years of creative life” by providing essays on his prose style and imagery, his philosophical influences, and representative works in a variety of genres (autobiography, short story, mystery, play, Nietzschean novel, fantasy, satire, political tract, travelogue, and literary criticism). Along with Saul Bellow, he praises Lewis as “a brilliant, thoughtful and original observer” of contemporary society.Pritchard, William. Wyndham Lewis. New York: Twayne, 1968. Pritchard examines Lewis’s canon by exploring his various roles: as satiric humorist, sage and mocker, dystopic social critic, literary critic, vulgarian, and self-appraiser. He calls Rotting Hill Lewis’s “greyist and least artistic” fictive work.Schenker, Daniel. Wyndham Lewis: Religion and Modernism. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1992. Compare chapter 1, “Wyndham Lewis in the Modernist Canon: Dissent, Division, and Displacement,” to Foshay’s study. Includes detailed notes and extensive bibliography.Sherry, Vincent. Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, and Radical Modernism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Examines Pound’s and Lewis’s claim that aesthetic principles could apply to politics; traces the source of this claim in European history.Stockton, Sharon. “Aesthetics, Politics, and the Staging of the World: Wyndham Lewis and the Renaissance.” Twentieth Century Literature 42 (Winter, 1996): 494-515. Discovers the origin of Lewis’s combination of aesthetics with politics in an obscure work Lewis did on the English Renaissance; claims that in his work on William Shakespeare, Lewis constructs a way to validate a binary model of oppression and opposition that extends other modernist binary models to their full political potential.Wagner, Geoffrey. Wyndham Lewis: A Portrait of the Artist as Enemy. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957. Wagner discusses Lewis’s interest in group rhythms and herd instinct, his elitism, and his attack on “time.” He labels his antagonism toward women partly French and partly antiromanticism. Wagner is puzzled “that a man so sensitive to words could use them so wildly and irresponsibly” in his political writings, finds his satire lacking in universality and his later works indicative of artistic decline, but he praises The Apes of God as Lewis’s best book: its ideas honest, its every page functional. This study contains a large bibliography but its mine of information about Lewis itself overwhelms the critique.
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