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Criticism of Society in the English Novel between the Wars

Hena Maes-Jelinek

Wyndham Lewis

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  • 1 Wyndham Lewis, One-Way Song, London, 1960, p. 46.

Ours is a clownish age. If so the man
You be to understand it then you can
Scarcely be other than a man in an Iron Mask
Or choose but choose a most invidious task. –
Henceforth the voice you hear is the deep growl –
The mask, if any, the notorious scowl –
Of Enemy Number One.1

  • 2 Letter to Leonard Amster, The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, ed. by W.K. Rose, London, 1963, p. 275.
  • 3 T.S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism,” The Criterion, II, 5 (October 1923), 34.
  • 4 Among them was Charles Maurras, Paul Bourget, Henri Massis, Ernest Seillière, Julien Benda, Pierre (...)

1Wyndham Lewis was so prolific a writer that one sometimes tends to forget he was a painter in the first place, though his method owes much to the painter’s approach to his subject. His basic motive as a writer was to defend Western civilization and art, which, in his eyes, were threatened with the deterioration of “enius.” “Many of my books,” he writes, “are merely a protest against Anglo-Saxon civilization, which puts so many obstacles in the way of the artists.”2 In his creative work he does not so much attempt to represent the classical tradition, to which, in his opinion, Western civilization owes its greatness, as wage war on all that degrades it: Romanticism, Bergson’s philosophy, relativism, emphasis on instinct rather than intellect, the English “nouveau roman,” amateurism in art, and, more generally, the hypocrisy which he detected everywhere in English society. He makes Romanticism the source of all evils, and his opposition to it must be seen in relation to the opposition between Classicism and Romanticism, which was the subject of much controversy in the second and third decades of this century. To the detractors of Romanticism this antithesis was “a difference between the complete and the fragmentary, the adult and the immature, the orderly and the chaotic.”3 Lewis’s criticism of the decline of Western civilization owes much to the French neo-classicists who, before the First World War, were engaged in denouncing Romanticism and Berg-sonism,4 but his views remained substantially the same to the end of his career. Though he claimed that his “philosophical criticism,” as he called it, grew out of his creative genius, it is almost impossible to understand his fiction without some knowledge of his philosophical analysis of the contemporary scene. But since many of his essays are repetitive, I shall only discuss Time and Western Man, which contains the essence of his thought. The pessimism and intellectual arrogance of his critical writing are matched by the inhumanity of his fiction.

  • 5 In Rude Assignment Lewis acknowledged that the character was partly autobiographical.

2Tarr, published in 1918, is not immediately concerned with English society but with a conflict of values in which, according to Lewis, Western civilization is at stake. In the person of the pseudo-artist Kreisler Lewis presents German Romanticism as a dangerous threat to the intellectual values which have contributed to man’s greatest achievements and are, or should be, the be-all of life. At the same time, he offers a portrait of the artist and of the role he is to play in society, which illustrates his own philosophical, social, and political views. Tarr5 is a young English painter who lives in Paris and is closely associated with the international Bohemia, particularly with its German representatives. The milieu in which he lives is described with the same contempt as Lewis was to show for the Bohemia of Bloomsbury, his main objection being that these artists, semi-artists and hangers-on vulgarize art and undermine it. From the very beginning of the novel, Tarr asserts his separateness and is anxious to dissociate him-self from amateurs, particularly if they are English. Through a violent and often cruel exposure of their amateurism, he tries to convince them that real art is above their reach because they submit to the conventions of their class and can never be original. Hobson, another English painter, is the favourite target of Tarr’s diatribes, because he is not a true revolutionary and is unworthy of belonging to an artistic élite:

  • 6 Wyndham Lewis, Tarr, London, 1951, p. 11.

Hobson, he considered, was a crowd. You could not say he was an individual, he was in fact a set. He sat there, a cultivated audience, with the aplomb and absence of self-consciousness of numbers, of the herd – of those who know they are not alone. Tarr was shy and the reverse by turns; he was alone.6

3Tarr reproaches Hobson with his affected untidiness; he sees it as a sentimental indulgence, not a mark of poverty. Hobson wears the uniform of his set, the shabby Cambridge graduates who parade their Bohemianism:

You have bought, have you not, for eight hundred pounds at an aristocratic establishment a complete mental outfit, a programme of manners: for four years you trained with other recruits: you are a perfectly disciplined social unit, with a profound esprit de corps. The Cambridge set that you represent is, as observed, a hybrid of the Quaker, the homosexual and the Chelsea artist…. You represent the dregs of Anglo-Saxon civilization: there is absolutely nothing softer on the earth. Your flabby potion is a mixture of the lees of liberalism, the poor froth blown off the decadent Nineties, the wardrobe-leavings of a vulgar bohemianism with its headquarters in the suburb of Carlyle and Whistler. (p. 17)

  • 7 Lewis, who had joined the Omega Workshops in 1912, broke with Fry in 1913 and founded his own Rebe (...)

4This is obviously intended as an attack upon the Chelsea and Bloomsbury artists from whom Lewis had dissociated himself when he quarrelled with Roger Fry.7 Its virulence is disproportionate to its object, for Hobson is rather inoffensive and can hardly be said to represent English Art. But for Lewis the fact that such people are allowed to dabble in art, simply because they have leisure and money, is a symptom of a dangerous social laxity which threatens to kill good art altogether. The aggressiveness with which Tarr discusses Hobson with Hobson himself is unpleasant and uncharitable. But as an artist, Tarr thinks that it is his duty to criticize regardless of what people feel: “I am one of the people who see: that is a responsibility.” (p. 19) Tarr claims insight and a sense of responsibility because intellectually he is above the common herd of men. He is always trying to protect his artistic, i.e., his intellectual, self from the insidious influence of the senses. When the novel opens, he has just broken with his German fiancée, Bertha Lunken, but he is not entirely free from her and he goes back to her in an attempt to overcome his sensual self and to assert his indifference. Detachment and freedom from Bertha mean detachment from life, which to him is the artist’s ultimate purpose. If a part of himself is attached to stupidity, as he feels it is in his relationship with Bertha, it is because “his artist’s asceticism could not support anything more serious than such an elementary rival.” (p. 219) When later in the novel Tarr starts a relationship with Anastasya Vasek, who is intellectually superior to Bertha, he makes sure that he treats her as a prostitute and does not allow her to impinge upon the essential part of himself. “Surrender to a woman was a sort of suicide for the artist. Nature, who never forgives the artist, would not allow her to forgive. So he has two enemies instead of one.” (p. 221)

5The theme of Tarr is the conflict between art and life; it is illustrated by Tarr’s long and eventually successful efforts to master life through his intellect. In answer to Anastasya’s question “What is life?” Tarr answers: “Everything that is not yet purified so that it is art.” (p. 326) For Tarr life is mainly sexuality because this is the only aspect of life which thwarts the free play of his intellect. Sex and emotions are repulsive and make him wish to transcend ordinary life. They determine Otto Kreisler’s attitude, which Lewis condemns as a dangerous source of nihilism and cynicism in Western thought and culture. Kreisler is thirty-six years old and the eternal student. He feels that he is near the end and that “his life might almost have been regarded as a long and careful preparation for voluntary death, a self-murder.” (p. 170) Deadness is indeed the most striking feature of his life. Its futility, aimlessness and stupid, provocative noisiness are described in a chapter appropriately entitled “Doomed, Evidently.” At a party organized for the German colony of artists he behaves with the utmost rudeness and caddishness in order to shock people, to defy society and to revenge himself on it. But he is merely made more conscious of his own nothingness and dismissed as a brute. The next morning Kreisler decides that he will commit suicide, though he temporizes because he enjoys wallowing in unhealthy imaginary sufferings. He exploits his sentimental and meaningless revolt until he loses all dignity. He wishes to “bare” Anastasya’s soul: “If he could insult her enough she would be bared-souled. There would be the naked weibliche Seete. Then he would spit on it.” (p. 160) He has no opportunity to effect such violation, but he rapes Bertha, who had come to pose for him. Kreisler might be said to foreshadow Spandrell in Huxley’s Point Counter Point, who is also a romantic and makes it a point to degrade life and women when occasion offers. But for Spandrell, as for most thwarted romantic idealists, nihilism is a by-product of disillusion: he is in quest of an absolute, and he sins against life because he is disappointed with it. Kreisler, on the other hand, literally feeds on nihilism and on his conviction that he is a victim of fate. This is also true of Bertha Lunken, in whose life Kreisler himself becomes the instrument of destiny.

6Both Kreisler and Bertha are presented as symptoms of the emptiness and deadness which lie at the core of German Romanticism. Kreisler, in whom the senses prevail, is incapable of self-control; the confusion in his existence is constantly associated with his sensuality and his Romanticism. The same can be said of Bertha, “this high-standard aryan bitch.” Not only does she sentimentalize her relationship with Tarr, though in a small bourgeois way since her ultimate purpose is marriage, but she has, as Tarr says, “a nice healthy bent for self-immolation.” (p. 24) She is ready for self-sacrifice when on the evening of the party she sees in Kreisler “a romantic enigma.” She deliberately romanticizes her relationship with him: “The meanness, the strangeness, the déchéance, in consorting with this sorry bird, must be heightened into poetry and thickened with luscious fiction.” (p. 197) When he rapes her, she is momentarily appalled, crushed by the terrible absence of romance, but after Kreisler has apologized in grand style, she feels that

a brilliant light of grateful confusion of all the emotions emanating from Kreisler had been afforded by this demonstration: the notion he had evoked in parting, that they had been doing something splendid together – a life-saving, a heroism – found a hospitable ground in her spirit. Taking one thing with another, things had been miraculously transformed. Her late depression now merged in a steadily growing exaltation. (p. 210)

7In the same way, Kreisler attempts to romanticize his duel with Soltyk. Actually, he merely wants to vent his hatred on the latter and to provoke a crisis in his own life. His very wish to fight a duel is a romantic aberration associated in his mind with his idea of German respectability. Kreisler offers to forego the duel if Soltyk kisses him; as Soltyk refuses, Kreisler kills him when he is not even looking. Kreisler realizes that he has made a mess of everything and that there is nothing for him to do but to die, and he commits suicide in the prison of a frontier town. Although he had foreseen this end and even appointed a date for it, his death is as void of significance as his life has been and without the least trace of dignity. He is merely conscious of a repulsive physical sensation, and this symbolizes his whole attitude to life: “He hung, gradually choking – the last thing he was conscious of his tongue.” (p. 308)

8Kreisler’s fate is the inevitable outcome of his unbounded Romanticism, to which he is unable to give expression in art for want of talent and of dedication. He is “pure german (sic), of the true grain, “homesick” for the romantic stiff ideals of the german students of his generation,” (p. 121) and unwilling to abandon “the old romantic personal values he was used to in his fatherland.” (p. 81) In creating Kreisler, Lewis was aiming at both Romanticism and Germany. Kreisler’s undignified and senseless death is in keeping with his complete transformation into a “machine.” According to Lewis, the more romantic and emotional people are, the more “mechanical” they become. This is because by yielding to their emotions and failing to use their intellect, they are reduced to a body, i.e., to a machine, a “thing,” and are therefore “dead.” That is why Kreisler and Bertha are called “machines” whenever they behave emotionally. When Bertha, a “lump of half-humanity,” is being romantic about Kreisler, “the machine, the sentimental, the indiscriminate side of her awakes.” (p. 146) When he rapes her, he is said to “revenge himself as a machine might do, in a nightmare of violent action.” (p. 206) Anastasya herself, who outdoes Bertha in physical opulence, is described as “an even more substantial machine … women possessed of such an intense life as Anastasya always appeared on the verge of a dark spasm of unconsciousness: with their organism of fierce mechanical reactions their self-possession must be rather a bluff, and to have on your hands a blind force of those dimensions!” (p. 221)

9Lewis distinguishes between the deadness of man as an animal-machine and the deadness which is a requisite for art. We have seen that people who do not use their intellect are “dead,” and that Lewis equates all life that takes place on a purely animal or emotional level with death. That is why Tarr says that “Death is the one attribute that is peculiar to life,” whereas Art is identical with the idea of permanence. Art is a continuity and not an individual spasm.” (pp. 326-7) On the other hand, since art must transcend the movement and the flux of life, it must have a quality of deadness:

‘Anything living, quick and changing is bad art always; naked men and women are the worst art of all, because there are fewer semi-dead things about them. The shell of a tortoise, the plumage of a bird, makes these animals approach nearer to art. Soft, quivering and quick flesh is as far from art as it is possible for an object to be.’
‘Art is merely the dead, then?’
‘No, but deadness is the first condition of art. The armoured hide of the hippopotamus, the shell of the tortoise, feathers and machinery, you may put in one camp; naked pulsing and moving of the soft inside of life – along with elasticity of movement and consciousness – that goes in the opposite camp. Deadness is the first condition for art.’ (pp. 327-8)

  • 8 John MCCormick, Catastrophe and Imagination, An Interpretation of the Recent English and American (...)
  • 9 Viola Hunt, I have this to Say, p. 211, quoted by Geoffrey WAGNER, op. cit., p. 140.

10This definition of art tallies with Lewis’s “Vorticism,” which “asserts the metaphor of experience as a vortex, the only important aspect of which is the still centre, as opposed to the violent but unimportant flux of the mass in motion around the centre.”8 Lewis himself explained Vorticism as follows: “You think at once of a whirlpool. At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated. And there at the point of concentration is the vorticist.”9 “Vortex is energy,” Lewis wrote in the first issue of Blast; its aim is to trap some essential, “to get to the essential truth.” It is worth noting, however, that if Lewis painted masterpieces as a vorticist, none of his novels exemplify the stillness of art as a term of reference against which life might be viewed. In this respect, we must remember that it is the vorticist who is at the heart of the whirlpool, not the product of his imagination. Tarr theorizes about art and life but he is never caught in a moment of vision or understanding, and he is himself immersed in life. But keeping in mind the opposition between the stillness of art as a product of the intellect and the movement of life symbolized in the novel by sex, we can at least understand Tarr’s interpretation of Kreisler’s behaviour:

I believe that all the fuss he made was an attempt to get out of Art back into Life again. … Back into sex I think would describe where he wanted to get to: he was doing his best to get back into sex again out of a little puddle of art where he felt he was gradually expiring. … The sex-instinct of the average sensual man had become perverted into a false channel. Put it the other way round and say his art-instinct had been rooted out of sex, where it was useful, and naturally flourished, and had been exalted into a department by itself, where it bungled. The nearest the general run get to art is Action: sex is their form of art: the battle for existence is their picture. (pp. 329-30)

11If we remember that “when the events of his life became too unwieldy or overwhelming, he converted them into love,” (p. 100) instead of using his intellect and converting them into art, we perceive why Kreisler could never be an artist, since he committed the unforgivable sin of mixing life with art. Lewis presents action as an alternative for people who are incapable of being artists. Kreisler is frequently described as a man of action: he has taken part in a fight in Italy, his duel with Soltyk is the consequence of a compulsion to act and so is his outrageous behaviour at the party. Action in this sense is peculiar to people who are the slaves of their emotions because it is merely a response to stimuli which are provoked by emotions. But Lewis also uses the word “action” in a quite different sense, meaning the intellectual energy which masters “things” and transforms them into art. Walking in a park where he comes regularly, Tarr feels that it is dyed

with personal colour for the rest of his existence. No one, he was quite convinced, had squandered so much of the imaginative stuff of life in the neighbourhood of these terraces, ponds, and lawns. So this was more nearly his Park than it was anybody else’s: he should never walk through it without bitter and soothing recognition from it. Well, that was what the ‘man of action’ accomplished. In four idle years he had been, when most inactive, experimenting with the man of action’s job. He had captured a Park! – Well! he had spent himself into the earth, the trees had his sap in them. (pp. 245-6)

12This conception of art as a form of superior activity transcending ordinary life naturally leads to the view that the artist is separated from, and superior to, the herd of ordinary men. “To produce is the sacrifice of genius,” Tarr says. His passion for art makes him “fond of chaos,” for that is where he gets the material for his art, and he knows that “it is the artist’s fate almost always to be exiled among the slaves.” (p. 250) But this doesn’t prevent him from being “free,” not subject to the ordinary laws of men. “You can’t have ‘freedom’ both ways and I prefer the artist to be free, and the crowd not to be * artists.’” (p. 247) This obviously means that the crowd can neither be free nor have any sense of art. It is the privilege of a few to be artists since very few people are capable of it, and art, provided it is exceptionally good, raises the individual above the common herd. Tarr-Lewis strongly objects to the vulgarization of art:

What does all our emotional talk about the wonderful artist-nation, etc., amount to? – we exclaim and point because we find thirty-five million petits-maîtres; each individually possessing very little taste, really, living together and prettifying their towns and themselves. (pp. 247-8)

13Lewis associates this vulgarization with Romanticism or more precisely with his own conception of Romanticism: to believe in the natural goodness of all men leads inevitably to the conviction that all men are naturally capable of, or entitled to, any activity. This assumption too often induces all those who can afford to, to dabble in art. Lewis is convinced that good art is always produced by a few exceptional individuals:

Success is always personal. More than ever he was steadily convinced that above a certain level co-operation, group-genius was a slavish pretence and in fact absurd. Mob-talent and popular art was a good thing, it was a big, diffuse, vehement giant; but he was quite sure the only songs of the popular muse that were exciting were composed by great individuals, submerged in an unfavourable time. (p. 344)

  • 10 V.S. Pritchett, “The Eye Man,” in Books in General, London, 1953, p. 252.

14Because he considers himself as a superior individual, Tarr feels he has a right to exploit other people for his own purposes, even in human relationships, and, as we have seen, he experiments with the “moribund Bertha” in a selfish attempt to test his own feelings and his capacity to resist the appeal of the senses. Bertha’s submissiveness may be considered as an illustration of Lewis’s conviction that the slaves do nor want freedom and are glad to have a master to submit to. But before he can master other people, Tarr must first of all master himself. His experience with Bertha allows him to treat Anastasya as a mere object, and the latter does not particularly mind. Tarr could never marry her anyway because she is too intelligent. She proves it by willingly declining to “possess” Tarr, by keeping in her proper place and showing her awareness of the part she is to play. The scene in the restaurant during which they discuss art, is repulsive because so much emphasis is laid on the gross sensuality displayed by Anastasya, but their indulgence in sensuality appears almost as a purification for Tarr, and it is immediately afterwards that he feels he has conquered. At the beginning of the novel he had told Hobson: “‘Half of myself I have to hide. I am bitterly ashamed of a slovenly common portion of my life that has been isolated and repudiated by the energies of which I am so proud.’” (p. 14) At the end of the novel he no longer hides his sensual self, he gives it its proper place in his life. His self-division is not presented as an evil which should be overcome but as a reality which must be reckoned with and emphasized. The “Self,” i.e., the senses, is associated with emotions and romance and should never be allowed to weaken the intellect or the “Not-self.” Lewis does not use this terminology in Tarr, but he illustrates the opposition between “Self” and “Not-self” in his hero. Significantly, Tarr is a painter who observes people from without with his “Not-self,” which is symbolized by the “eye.” This accounts for Tarr’s cruelty towards his fellow-beings. As V.S. Pritchett says, “Tarr does not apologize for being a two-girl man: he does not moralize, he does not torture himself, he is not even cynical.”10

15Although Tarr deals essentially with the right attitude of the artist, its social implications are obvious. Lewis’s conviction that the artist is an exceptional being and is entitled to privilege is stated in Time and Western Man:

  • 11 Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man, Boston, 1957, p. 25.

In art, as in anything else, all revolutionary impulse comes in the first place from the exceptional individual. No collectivity ever conceives, or, having done so, would be able to carry through, an insurrection or a reform of any intensity, or of any magnitude. That is always the work of individuals or minorities. It is invariably the man who is privileged and free, as Plato was, who initiates or purposes, and plans out such further ambitious advances for our race. The rest follow.11

  • 12 Ibid., p. 454.

16This is a fairly moderate assertion in spite of the fact that the freedom of the artist is supposed to justify his selfishness and his arrogance. It does not simply mean freedom to create and exemption from the constraints to which ordinary people are subject, it also means freedom from other human beings, a purpose which Tarr tries to achieve all along: “The absolute would be the individual of individuals, the self that has never broken down but has maintained its isolation.”12 Tarr repeatedly alludes to his isolation, though he does not always succeed in maintaining it. Like Lewis, he advocates the cult of reason and rejects emotions because the man who yields to them is to some extent at the mercy of the object of his feelings. Tarr resents depending emotionally on anyone, particularly on women, who in his mind are associated with all that is weak and soft:

God was man: the woman was a lower form of life. Every-thing started female and most so continued: a jellyish diffuseness spread itself and gaped upon all the beds and bas-fonds of everything: above a certain level sex disappeared, just as in highly-organized sensualism sex vanishes. On the other hand, everything beneath that line was female … he enumerated acquaintances palpably below that absolute line: a lack of energy, permanently mesmeric state, almost purely emotional, they all displayed it, they were true ‘women.’ (pp. 344-5)

  • 13 Time and Western Man, p. 377.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 9.
  • 15 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 98.

17In Time and Western Man Lewis criticizes feminism as “a revolution that aims at reversing the respective positions of the sexes, and so returning to the supposed conditions of the primitive Matriarchate.” (p. 36) Reason is associated with masculinity, whereas emotions are considered as a feminine attribute and of a lower order. “We should make a new world of Reason for ourselves,”13 Lewis writes in his defence of the “classical.” “The ‘classical’ is the rational, aloof and aristocratical; the ‘romantic’ is the popular, sensational and ‘cosmically’ confused. That is the permanent political reference in those terms.”14 The rejection of Romanticism in Tarr implies a rejection of the “popular” and of what is in any way vulgarized or connected with the crowd. At the beginning of the novel Tarr explains that because of her emotionalism Bertha is “very near to the ‘people’ … Bertha is a bourgeoise or rather bourgeois-bohemian, reminiscent of the popular maiden: she is the popular maiden at one remove – I am not in love with the popular maiden.” (p. 24) Lewis’s horror of the “popular,” of what he calls the emotional and sensational character of the masses, often amounts to an obsession. Tarr, the impersonation of the “Enemy,” has an almost vicious pleasure in challenging all that reminds him of the “Many.” But his arrogant assumption that the greater part of humanity is despicable and deserves to be exploited is outrageous because it seems so gratuitous. Tarr condemns humanity in the name of an art which serves no other purpose than itself. Geoffrey Wagner is certainly right when he writes that Lewis is “far closer to the nineteenth-century aesthete than he likes to imagine.”15

18Tarr’s insistence on the unique role of the artist as an “intellectual” detached from the flux of life reflects Lewis’s belief, fundamental in his work, that the artist guided by reason is the creator of Western civilization and alone responsible for preserving it:

  • 16 Time and Western Man, p. 263.

The Not-self, and especially the physical, is almost the patent and property of the Western genius. The ‘natural magic’ of Western poetry owes its peculiar and penetrating quality to the intense relations of the Western mind to this alien physical world of ‘nature.’ … It is in non-personal modes of feeling – that is in thought, or in feeling that is so dissociated from the hot, immediate egoism of sensational life that it becomes automatically intellectual – that the non-religious Western Man has always expressed himself, at his profoundest, at his purest. That is, of course, the heritage that is being repudiated in the present ‘time’-modes. We are busy in everything, in the West, substituting the personal for the impersonal, the private for the public.16

  • 17 T.S. Eliot, “A Commentary,” The Criterion, VI, 4 (November 1927), 387
  • 18 Ibid., 386.

19This conception of the artist is far from being substantiated in Lewis’s works; it is even contradicted in the very book in which Lewis develops it. Time and Western Man is a long and difficult essay full of repetitions, digressions and contradictions. Yet, when it was first published, it was hailed by T.S. Eliot as the product of “the most remarkable example in England of the actual mutation of the artist into a philosopher of a type hitherto unknown.”17 Eliot was referring to the impossibility for the intellectual to avoid considering “the problem of Liberty and Authority, both in politics and in the organization of speculative thought. Politics has become too serious a matter to be left to politicians.”18

  • 19 Lewis’s condemnation of “action” stands in contradiction with his admiration for the Action França (...)

20Time and Western Man (1927) throws light on the relation Wyndham Lewis makes between Romanticism and Bergsonism on the one hand, and social and political democratization on the other. It also shows Lewis’s insight into the revolutionary character of the period, though he looked upon the transformation as a symptom of decadence rather than of revolution. He accuses Bergson and the “time-philosophers” of debasing art, literature, and philosophy because they advocate an approach to them which makes sensations all-important and which should therefore be confined to music. According to Lewis, this approach is essentially romantic and, like all attitudes derived from Romanticism, is responsible for all that is vulgar, immature, or unhealthy whether in art, in ordinary life, or even in politics. He accumulates examples such as advertisement, an unhealthy preoccupation with sex, the doctrine of action,19 so-called “revolutionary” art movements, the predominance of the mass over the individual, the Russian ballet, the cult of the savage and the child-cult.

21For Lewis the romantic approach to life and art is “the opposite of the real.” A romantic person is someone who has not much grasp of present and actual things. The majority of men in modern society are “romantic” because they live in a dream of non-existent things such as “the world of cheap art, education and publicity.” A “romantic” is a “dreamer,” but the kind of dreamer who would want, for instance, to destroy all machinery. Far from alluding to the part played by dream in romantic art, Lewis simply means that the “romantic” is unrealistic. He concludes his reflections on the romantic mind with the following definition:

We say ‘romantic’ when we wish to define something too emotionalized … something opposed to the actual or the real: a self-indulgent habit of mind or a tendency to shut the eyes to what is unpleasant, in favour of things arbitrarily chosen for their flattering pleasantness. Or else we apply it to the effects of an egoism that bathes in the self-feeling to the exclusion of contradictory realities, including the Not-Self; achieving what we see to be a false unity and optimism, regarding all the circumstances. (p. 10)

  • 20 It is interesting to note that the first issue of Blast contained the following assertion: “All ar (...)

22On the basis of this definition Lewis criticizes the work of Joyce, Pound, and Gertrude Stein, and dismisses it as romantic art. I shall deal later with Lewis’s criticism of Ulysses. Where Pound is concerned, he shows that the poet is in love with the past – the worst heresy – and that he wants “action.” The work of Gertrude Stein is “dead,” “romantic,” “unreal,” and she is a supporter of the child-cult. Moreover, she is an eminent writer in what Lewis calls “our musical society; that is our time-society, the highly-intellectualized High Bohemia.” (p. 49) “Musical society” is Lewis’s contemptuous expression for the artistic coteries of the Twenties. Music is an art in time, an emotional art: it must be remembered, it is felt and thus involves the senses. Like Spengler, Lewis distinguishes between music and the plastic arts, though he criticizes him for doing so, above all for thinking that the “musical” is superior to the “plastic.”20 He draws a parallel between Spengler and Bergson: what the former calls “life,” “will,” “movement-quality” are simply Bergson’s “élan vital,” and Spengler’s notion of the world-as-history could be called world-as-time because it is the psychological world, the world of human emotions. Spengler is the true “philosopher of Zeitgeist” because he considers everything as a time-phenomenon; Lewis sees him as a product of German Romanticism, an upholder of the vitalism which gave rise to the First World War.

  • 21 At this stage Lewis is naturally concerned with Italian fascism only; he professed little admirati (...)
  • 22 Time and Western Man, p. 335. Lewis misinterprets Behaviorism, which rejects the concept of instin (...)

23It is perhaps significant that Lewis makes no distinction between Spengler and his defence of “Faustian” culture, and men like Darwin, Einstein, Schopenhauer and Bergson. For him they are all guilty of the same heresy because all have contributed by their work to man’s loss of individuality. Lewis asserts that biology, mathematics and metaphysics as developed by Darwin, Einstein and Bergson have acted upon one another to produce the “time-philosophy,” which does away with the traditional categories in all fields of experience and enquiry, stresses the organic and dynamic aspects of life and reveres life in the raw as opposed to life disciplined and organized by the mind. Thus “Bergson’s ‘creative evolution’ is as Darwinian as was the ‘will to power’ of Nietzsche,” (p. 209) and his “élan vital” is equivalent to Schopenhauer’s “will.” The political implications of these philosophical doctrines are obvious: by emphasizing the unconscious in man, they make him lose his individuality, for man can only be an individual when he is conscious. Having lost his individuality, he lives in a state of “common humanity” and gives precedence to what Plato calls “the mob of the senses.” Life at this level is purely “sensational,” and we know that Lewis associates the life of the senses with the “subhuman” majority. This loss of individuality necessarily leads to political democratization. People are encouraged to give up their personal responsibility and to hand over their life to the community: “Discouragement of all exercise of will, or belief in individual power, that is the prevalent contemporary attitude for better or for worse.” (p. 306) On the other hand, the doctrine of action which derives from the Darwinian doctrine of “‘the struggle for existence” and from Bergson’s vitalism leads to fascism.21 Bergson’s philosophy is thus held responsible for the development of both communism and fascism. Lewis himself was to become an admirer of fascism, particularly of the German brand, but when he recanted his fascist opinions just before the Second World War, he again associated fascism with democracy on the ground that both were mass movements. Meanwhile, he also attacked at length Behaviorism, which, so he thought, gave the final blow to consciousness and substituted the body for the mind. Professor Watson, he said, describes man as a human body or a machine which possesses only instincts and habits but no mind.22 Still, the worst mischief-maker remains Bergson, whom Lewis even accuses of dishonesty. Though he often declares that philosophers are the victims of politicians who exploit their ideas for their own purposes, where Bergson is concerned, he asserts that the latter’s philosophy deliberately attempts to deceive men and ultimately aims at destroying individuality.

  • 23 “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 39, 2 (1924), 229-53, reprinted in English Romantic (...)
  • 24 “The Concept of ‘Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, I, 1 (1949), 1-23, 147 (...)
  • 25 “Romanticism Re-examined,” in Romanticism Reconsidered, ed. by North-rop Frye, New York, pp. 107-3 (...)
  • 26 “German and English Romanticism: A Confrontation,” Confrontations, Princeton, 1965, pp. 3-33.

24Time and Western Man belongs to the same trend as the reaction against Romanticism initiated in France by the neo-classicists and in the Anglo-Saxon world by such men as Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, T.S. Eliot and T.E. Hulme. Irving Babbitt’s Rousseau and Romanticism (1919) no doubt stimulated many of the attempts which have since been made to define the nature of Romanticism. Thus in 1924 Arthur Lovejoy, taking as a starting point the disagreement between the definitions of some neo-classicists (Lasserre, Seillière, Babbitt and More), wrote “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,”23 an essay in which he asserted the “plurality of Romanticisms” and argued that “any attempt at a general appraisal even of a single chronologically determinate Romanticism – still more, of ‘Romanticism’ as a whole – is a fatuity.” It was only in 1949 that René Wellek met Lovejoy’s challenge to exhibit “some common denominator” of all forms of Romanticism. In “The Concept of ‘Romanticism’ in Literary History”24 he argued that “we find throughout Europe the same conceptions of poetry and of the workings and nature of poetic imagination, the same conception of nature and its relation to man, and basically the same poetic style.” (pp. 160-1) In “Romanticism Re-examined”25 he surveyed the attempts made chiefly after the Second World War to define the term “Romanticism” and found that all these studies agree with regard to “the central creed of the great romantic poets in England, Germany, and France”; they all see in romantic poetry an endeavour “to overcome the split between subject and object, the self and the world, the conscious and the unconscious.” (p. 132) On the other hand, in a recent comparison between German and English Romanticism26 René Wellek assumes that “there is a common core of Romantic thought and art through-out Europe,” but then proceeds to bring out the differences between German and English Romanticism. In his introduction to Romanticism Reconsidered Northrop Frye presents Romanticism in its historical perspective and insists on the concern of scholars to examine “the degree of real content which Romanticism has” rather than counter the influence of the anti-Romantic movement in criticism. Literary criticism, particularly of the last twenty years or so, abounds in studies on Romanticism which could thus be cited to testify to a widespread interest in this movement and its effects on art or more generally on civilization. I have alluded to some significant comments on this subject to stress the variety of interpretations that have been given of Romanticism but also to underline the fact that, whatever their definition, all scholars agree that Romanticism was a serious endeavour on the part of the artist to redefine man’s relation to the world and to describe the part played by imagination in this reassessment. None of them would seriously consider Lewis’s definition of Romanticism as an attempt to “dehumanize” man and to destroy all authority in life and art.

  • 27 Professor Wellek has noted the tendency to make Rousseau the wellspring of all Romanticism and to (...)
  • 28 Irving Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism, New York, 1962, p. 58.
  • 29 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., pp. 13-14.
  • 30 Irving Babbitt, op. cit., pp. 17-18.
  • 31 “The Values of the Doctrine behind ‘Subjective’ Art,” The Criterion, VI, 1 (July 1927), 12.
  • 32 René Wellek, Concepts of Criticism, p. 165.
  • 33 Benda’s La Trahison des Clercs, also published in 1927, is markedly anti-German but puts the case (...)
  • 34 See René Wellek’s assertion that German Romanticism, in contrast with English and French Romantici (...)

25What Lewis calls Romanticism is actually Rousseauism as defined by Irving Babbitt: ‘The Rousseauist27 …specializes in his own sensations. He goes in quest of emotional thrills for their own sake.”28 Incidentally, Geoffrey Wagner shows that the English anti-romanticists translated, and did not originate, anti-romantic criticism; their works merely “prolonged a battle fought out in France earlier and in America.”29 In fact, Lewis’s attack against Romanticism is not merely lacking in originality; it is indiscriminate and ignores, whether deliberately or not it is difficult to say, those features which are usually recognized as belonging to English, German, or French Romanticism and some-times to all three. I am thinking, for instance, of the idealistic philosophy which underlies German Romanticism, or of the romantic conception of the artist and of imagination, all of which are relevant to Lewis’s criticism of Romanticism. It should be noted that whereas Irving Babbitt is careful to specify that he is not dealing with Romanticism in general but “only with a particular type of romanticism [which] needs to be seen as a recoil …from a particular type of classicism,”30 Lewis simply assumes that Romanticism in general implies a mechanistic approach to life because it gives precedence to the subconscious and values instinct above intellect. It is characteristic of his approach to his subject that although he repeatedly criticizes the organic conception of the world represented by the Romantics, he does not once refer to the contrast between the mechanical and the organic as it was first described by the Romantics themselves. He terms “mechanical” exactly the opposite of what the Romantics mean by it and takes it for granted that his own terminology holds good. Similarly, in his defence of the intellect he does not realize how very limited his antithesis intellect vs. instinct is. What he opposes to instinct is merely discursive reason. Elsewhere he wrote “I should say that you could make good art out of almost anything, whether good or bad from the standpoint of right reason,”31 but he does not make clear what he means by “right reason.” Unlike Irving Babbitt, he does not seem to believe in the controlling power of imagination, and he would have scoffed at René Wellek’s assertion that German Romanticism “emphasizes the totality of man’s forces, not reason alone, nor sentiment alone, but rather intuition, ‘intellectual intuition,’ imagination.”32 As a matter of fact, Lewis’s association of the emotional, the sensual and the popular with German Romanticism in particular is difficult to account for, unless he has in mind the more pervasive character of Romanticism in Germany than in other countries or the collaboration there between music and the other arts. In this respect as in other matters, he seems to have been influenced by the French neo-classicists.33 Evidently, he also sees German Romanticism as a form of Rousseauism.34 On the whole, he uses the word “romantic” in its popular sense, and his conception of Romanticism has little in common with English Romanticism.

  • 35 See among others Benda, op. cit. (1927), and Henry Massis’s Défense de l’Occident, published in 19 (...)

26Time and Western Man, like many other works published by neo-classicists at approximately the same time,35 was written in defence of Western civilization, whose greatness, according to Lewis, has always depended on the rationalistic tradition inherited from the Greeks. To the romantic “time-philosophy” of Bergson Lewis opposes a rational philosophy which he calls “spatial philosophy” or “philosophy of the eye,” which attaches itself to the concrete and radiant reality of the optic sense.” (p. 403) The eye apprehends the reality of “common sense,” which is the kind of reality we have inherited from pagan antiquity. Lewis’s approach to reality is external, discursive, rational:

As much as [Bergson] enjoys the sight of things ‘penetrating’ and ‘merging,’ do we enjoy the opposite picture of them standing apart … much as he enjoys the ‘indistinctive,’ the ‘qualitative,’ the misty, sensational and ecstatic, very much more do we value the distinct, the geometric, the universal, non-qualitied – the clear and the light, the unsen-sational. (p. 428)

  • 36 Quoted by Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 269.

27“The image purified of the sensational” is one of Lewis’s definitions of the classical. He also insists that “the external approach to things belongs to the ‘classical’ manner of apprehending.”36 But his main claim to classicism rests on his defence of the superior intellect and its rational powers. He explains that one must think even in one’s approach to God, and not have an intuition of his existence. The only acceptable form of belief is rational: the Greek Logos is the “true God.” In fact, Lewis confuses the rational process with the rationalist himself, and asserts that the more individual and separate man is by the originality of his thought the nearest he comes to being an “Absolute”:

The sense of personality, of being a person, is, according to us, the most vivid and fundamental sense that we possess. … In our approaches to God, in consequence, we do not need to ‘magnify’ a human body, but only to intensify that consciousness of a separated and transcendent life. So God becomes the supreme symbol of our separation and of our limited transcendence…. It is, then, because the sense of personality is posited as our greatest ‘real,’ that we require a ‘God,’ a something that is nothing but a person, secure in its absolute egoism, to be the rationale of this sense…. God must be a sexless image,… a head and its mind. (pp. 446-7)

  • 37 W.A. Thorpe, Review of Time and Western Man, The Criterion, VII, 1 (January 1928), 72.
  • 38 E.R. Curtius, “Restoration of the Reason,” The Criterion, VI, 5 (Novem-ber 1927), 396.
  • 39 T.S. Eliot, Review of Reason and Romanticism by Herbert Read and Messages by Ramon Fernandez, The (...)
  • 40 T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose, London, 1963, p. 23.
  • 41 Nowadays, critics tend to consider the antithesis “classical-romantic” as unsatisfactory and draw (...)

28The first thing we note about Lewis’s Classicism is that, like his conception of Romanticism, it is very limited. It is nothing more than a method, certainly not a conception of art which reflects the classical spirit. W.A. Thorpe writes that Lewis’s Aristotelianism is sentimental and he even calls it “a prejudice rather than a philosophy.”37 It is essentially based on a defence of the intellect, which is about the only element that Lewis recognizes in Greek Classicism. What he says of it in Time and Western Man is a long way off from the purpose of the neo-classicists, which is “not to resuscitate Aristotelianism and Thomism artificially, but to revive the spirit that created them.”38 Lewis’s Classicism is very different from that propounded by those of his contemporaries whom Eliot describes as “being on the side of what we call ‘the intelligence.’”39 For instance, it stands in contradiction with Babbitt’s and Eliot’s assertions that classical art is not unique but representative of a class and that the classical imagination works from an ethical centre. It also contradicts Eliot’s conception of tradition, his belief that “no artist has his complete meaning alone.”40 In the context of the controversies about authority and order in Western civilization which took place in the Twenties, the conflict between Classicism and Romanticism was inflated because of the political implications attached to these terms by the neo-classicists.41 Even Eliot associated authority in thought with authority in politics. However, Lewis, who was so vehement in his denunciation of Romanticism, did not contribute to the creation of the true Classicism to which he and other neo-classicists aspired. On the contrary, his literary work shows that he is a characteristically “romantic figure.”

  • 42 T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose, pp. 25, 29 and 26.
  • 43 Philip Le Brun, “T.S. Eliot and Henri Bergson,” RES. New Series, XVIII, 70 and 71 (1967), 149-161, (...)
  • 44 Cf. “Reality is to be sought in the self or the person.” Time and Western Man, p. 454.

29A brief comparison between Eliot’s theory of the impersonality of art and Lewis’s conception of the artist is a convenient starting point to demonstrate Lewis’s unclassical attitude. For Eliot art must be impersonal, and he explains that the sacrifice of the artist is “a continual extinction of personality…. Poetry is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality … the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.”42 The poet is a medium who achieves detachment not by rejecting emotion but by making it impersonal through art. Though, as it has been shown, Eliot’s theory may contain an element of romanticism,43 it is in keeping with the generally accepted conception of Classicism. This theory is the expression of Eliot’s endeavour to transcend the personal element in feeling and emotion, which to the neo-classicists is the most distasteful characteristic of romantic art. In contradistinction to this theory is Lewis’s definition of the artist as “a person, secure in its absolute egoism.”44 It is difficult, however, to distinguish between the selfishness to which, according to Lewis, the artist is entitled and what he calls the “fanatical self-feeling” of the romantics or “the hot, immediate egoism of sensational life.” His artist strives to achieve the individuality and the indifference of a transcendent God. He is at the centre of the Vortex, arrogantly detached from the flux of life. Tarr, for instance, ignores the senses – after he has satisfied them with the contempt they deserve. He makes the park his and derives an additional satisfaction from the fact that no one can see it in the same light as he. This is very far from the “still centre” which Babbitt described and which inspired Eliot. The “still centre” is reached through imaginative insight into the universal as it manifests itself in life. For Lewis, on the contrary, the aim of the artist is to impose his own arbitrary form on the world. His conception of society dominated by an intellectual elite is not merely aristocratic, it is tyrannical since the artist has the right to use society for his own purposes and to fulfil himself as an individual at the expense of the majority. At the end of Time and Western Man Lewis denounces the form of altruism which incites men “to legislate for the subhuman.” (p. 440) In Shelley’s Defence of Poetry poets are also compared to God because they are Creators; they participate in the divine in so far as they transcend their own time and place. Poets are the “legislators of the world.” However, unlike Lewis, who resents the poet’s obligations to the world, Shelley stresses the unselfish character of the poet’s attitude and of his task, and brings out the connection between poetry and social good. The poet’s imagination is an instrument of moral good because it reveals unknown aspects of life, conduces to self-knowledge, and makes men understand and share in the pains and pleasures of other human beings. According to Shelley, poetry in the widest sense of the word “connects, animates, and sustains the life of all”; the creation of poetry “in its most perfect and universal form” springs from a generous impulse and is an instrument of social renovation.

  • 45 S.V.Pritchett, “The Eye-Man,” in op. cit., p. 249.
  • 46 On the contrary, for Arthur O. Lovejoy “The one ‘Romanticism’ which has an indisputable title to t (...)
  • 47 Irving Babbitt, op. cit., p. 117.

30The selfishness of Lewis’s artist is neither a classical nor a romantic attitude: he stands alone and insists on standing alone in a world which he challenges, but he is not a victim of society, rather an intellectual exploiter of it. As V.S. Pritchett rightly says, “the new note in Tarr [is] the notion of human relationships as mere fodder for a master race, the artists, those distorted Martians, all eye and brain and the will to power.”45 Whatever Tarr may say about the sacrifice of the creative artist, he does not apprehend his “vision” at the cost of suffering and he does not represent “the artist in isolation.” Nevertheless, Lewis’s attitude is romantic in other respects, and it is often so in the sense that Babbitt gives to Romanticism: Lewis puts the arts at the centre of civilization; he believes that the intellectual genius is beyond good and evil and has no moral responsibility.46 But he is also a romantic in that his attacks against the stupidity of mankind are the product of a violent disillusion and pessimism which made him despise “humanity in the lump.”47 To describe the latter, he even uses a method favoured by the German Romantic writers: the grotesque. His assertion that creative art is “magic” is also romantic, and he shares with the German Romantics the belief that the artist can transform nature and make it his by imposing his own order upon it. Fichte saw man as a creative being at the centre of the universe imposing his own rule upon it; he insisted however, that noblesse oblige, whereas Lewis suggests nothing of the kind. As we shall see, Lewis’s belief in the unquestionable superiority of the artist and in his authority made him reject one aberration for another. He denounced the deliberate search for sensations, but he advocated reason for its own sake. He criticized democracy and humanitarianism as “sham,” but his glorification of the artist-individual drove him to a very “romantic” political extremism and to admiration for a system based on the very “values” he had condemned in Tarr. He is, unfortunately, an example of the confusion he attributes to others.

  • 48 S.L. Goldberg, Joyce, Writers and Critics Series, London, 1962, p. 94.
  • 49 J.I.M. Stewart, James Joyce, Writers and their Work Series, London, 1957.
  • 50 In a letter to Richard Aldington, however, Lewis writes: “The Ulyssean ‘thought-stream’ method is (...)
  • 51 In a recent article David Ward also draws attention to the similarity between the two theories and (...)
  • 52 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Books, 1964.
  • 53 Time and Western Man, pp. 90 and 115.

31The artist whom Lewis most criticized for using the “mental” method derived from the philosophy of time is Joyce. The “mental” method “leads, as it is intended to lead, to a physical disintegration and a formal confusion” (p. 115); “it imposes a softness, flabbiness and vagueness everywhere in its bergsonian fluidity.” (p. 103) Joyce’s use of local colour and of psychological time in Ulysses makes it a masterpiece of romantic art. This novel is “unorganized brute material,” (p. 91) yet it is also the work of a craftsman, and “what [Joyce] thinks seems to be of a conventional and fixed order, as though perhaps not to embarrass the neighbouring evolution of his highly progressive and eclective craftsmanship.” (p. 93) Lewis’s treatment of Joyce in Time and Western Man, The Human Age and The Apes of God invites comment and has been variously interpreted. For Goldberg Ulysses shows weaknesses which substantiate Lewis’s interpretation.48 J.I.M. Stewart also agrees with Lewis and several times refers with approval to his criticism.49 But Harry Levin and Geoffrey Wagner are of opinion that Lewis is malicious. Wagner adds that his misunderstanding of Joyce cannot but be deliberate, and he shows how full of contradictions Lewis is in his “Analysis of the Mind of James Joyce.” Lewis’s attitude towards Joyce as it appears in his letters differs from the views expressed in Time and Western Man, for in the former he repeatedly praises him,50 and to Joyce himself he wrote approvingly of Ulysses. Lewis does not question the importance of Joyce’s work; he criticizes it as an illustration of Bergson’s philosophy, which he takes as a symptom of decadence. As in his approach to Bergson, he simply ignores the aspects of Ulysses which might contradict his opinion. Because Ulysses is a “time-book” and because Joyce makes use of the interior monologue, Lewis refuses to consider the composition of Ulysses. Far from being a mere display of emotions and feelings brought to light by “automatic writing,” the novel emphasizes the lack of genuine relations between the characters. It is curious that Lewis, who was concerned with conveying the deadness of the “Many,” should not have realized that this was precisely what Joyce was doing, nor that Stephen conforms to his (Lewis’s) conception of the artist. It is true that this conception is very differently illustrated in Ulysses and in Tarr. Tarr takes his separateness for granted. Stephen acknowledges his indebtedness to his parents, to the Church, to Ireland, but he frees himself from all three, one after the other, and each tearing away involves a struggle which brings him nearer to impersonality. Joyce’s theory of the depersonalization of the artist, which he expounds in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, has something in common with Eliot’s views on the subject as they are stated in Tradition and the Individual Talent.51 Joyce sees this depersonalization as a progress, at the last stage of which the personality of the artist “finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself, so to speak.”52 This progress, by which the artist purifies life, allows him to achieve an “aesthetic stasis” in which his mind is raised above emotion. Far from being “an instinctive” and from revelling in “the fluid material gushing of undisciplined life,”53 Joyce condemns mere emotional expression and says that improper art, the art which gives rise to such feelings as desire or loathing and awakens a physical sensation, is kinetic as opposed to the ideal refined emotion which has been purified and transcended by the artist. Ironically, Lewis’s picture of society in The Human Age and, to a lesser extent, in The Apes of God and Self Condemned is intended to arouse loathing in the reader; as such it may be considered as “improper art.” Lewis’s art is “kinetic” in that he often attacks individuals without having first digested the emotions which provoked the attack. It is Lewis’s tragedy as a writer that he never achieved the “aesthetic stasis” described by Joyce. His caricature of the latter in The Human Age is a striking example of it.

  • 54 Wyndham Lewis, Childermass, London, 1956, p. 463.

32Childermass (1928), the first part of The Human Age, which was to be Lewis’s most important work, is mainly a satire of Bergsonism and Bergsonians. Its theme is similar to that of Time and Western Man but is developed in an ambitious and difficult allegory. The scene is a camp “outside Heaven,” some kind of Limbo where people wait for admission to the “Magnetic City.” It is a desert separated by the “Styx” from the “Outposts or investing belt of Beelzebub.” The Bailiff describes it as “the Plain of Death … full of an empty whirling underneath – its movements signify nothing.”54 The two main characters, Pullman and Satterthwaite – Pulley and Satters – meet outside the camp and decide they will try to reach the city. Pullman was a famous writer on earth, and Satters was his fag when they were together at Chatterhouse. Their relationship remains throughout one of prefect and fag, Pullman adopting from the start a commanding and protective attitude towards the babyish and apparently homosexual Satters “reincarnated” as a sixteen-year old boy. In the first part of the book Pullman and Satters start walking, presumably towards the city. Actually, their journey is an excursion into “space-time” during which they undergo changes of identity and are subject to visions, mirages or illusory experiences. Pullman’s appearance as well as some details about his early life – the famous writer born a Roman Catholic, who was in Trieste at the outbreak of the War – makes it clear that he is a caricature of James Joyce. Sam, the rich Jew presented as a sham – “I am an impostor from head to foot” (p. 132) – is meant to represent Gertrude Stein. Pullman, “a veteran rat trotting in an aerial gutter,” guides Satters to their “point of vantage” (probably the “flux of space-time”). “Once they get there he will rest, and have a dream perhaps, of gigantic apparitions inhabiting the dangerous hollows inside the world.” (p. 16) The two men are always referred to as automata or machines. When Satters unexpectedly falls upon Pullman, the latter is wandering beside the Styx, “a lost automaton rather than a lost soul.” They start walking together “both pairs of eyes withdrawn into the respective shells,” Satters “with a long-legged slouch,” Pullman “with a slowing down of his light-limbed machine.” Such words as machine, automaton, shell, disk (for the eye), mask, doll, clockwork (referring to movements) occur on practically every page, not only in connection with Pullman and Satters but with anyone who inhabits the “Plain of Death.” Yet the two main characters belong to a superior cast and are particularly conscious of it when they meet the peons, i.e., “the multitudes of personalities which God, having created, is unable to destroy.” (p. 37) The peons are apparently slaves and seem to stand for the masses. They don’t work but they are in a position which simulates what-ever action they are supposed to be engaged in. This seems to fit in with Lewis’s often expressed opinion, particularly in Rotting Hill and The Vulgar Streak, that the working classes are the people who work least. Satters’s eyes are attracted “to these halted human shells as though to a suddenly perceived vacuum but with them it is not the abstract abyss.” (p. 23) Pullman, who mistrusts “the mysterious inflammability of all more instinctive organism,” tries to divert his attention from this “zoo of men” among whom “many don’t know they exist. If you don’t take any notice they continue to think they’re not there and of course then it’s all right.” (p. 30)

33Although the first part of the book is better than the second, it makes repulsive reading, because the account of the characters’ wanderings is at moments frankly nauseating. This is obviously intended to create disgust for the interior world described by artists like Joyce and for what Lewis calls sensationalism. While he walks with Pullman,

Satters day-dreams and stares and steins while he clings to his new-found instrument for all he’s worth. Pulley has been most terribly helpful and kind there’s no use excusing himself Pulley has been most terribly helpful and kind – most terribly helpful and he’s been kind. He’s been most terribly kind and helpful, there are two things, he’s been most kind he’s been terribly helpful, he’s kind he can’t help being – he’s terribly. He’s been most fearfully tiresome when he likes and he’s been tiresome too but who doesn’t when they’re not? He has been most terribly. But who does ever? Oh I don’t know! There can be no mistake about it all’s not on one side when it’s not all smooth sailing it shouldn’t be – there are one-sided housetops – brickholds and there are mutual arrangements not one-sided I mean they are mutual. That is his or he should say theirs. He’s sure it was so. He’s been terribly kind and helpful. Every fellow’s not then in the camp he’s sure this is the first. One doesn’t know when, to be well off. As well off. (pp. 50-51)

  • 55 Time and Western Man, pp. 62-63.
  • 56 Ibid., p. 203.

34This is only one of several passages in which Gertrude Stein’s style is parodied. Satters’s relations with “Miss Pullman” are definitely equivocal, and the emphasis on his wayward childishness and on his refusal to become more mature is so insistent that it becomes ridiculous. “In burning appropriate soliloquy the first neuter show-baby hen-pecks his dolly Pulley to himself and comes out of his nursery, with a cave-man scowl for the rejuvenating mask at his side.” (p. 55) All this illustrates Lewis’s opinion that “this capable colossal authoress relapses into the role and mental habits of childhood…. But the child with her is always overshadowed by the imbecile.”55 The “neuter show-baby” is no doubt an allusion to Lewis’s belief that as a result of William James’s teachings “we are asked to conceive of ourselves as neutral or neuter … and our segregations are to be broken down.”56

  • 57 It seems that Lewis’s reference to Paine’s Rights of Man is simply intended as a pun: the rights o (...)

35As Pullman and Satters progress through Bergsonian land, everything shifts and changes. They see trees and try to reach them but when they do, the trees disappear, sometimes to be seen some distance further. The objective and exterior world is thus made unstable and subject to flux. Pullman and Satters fall by turns into some kind of fits when they enter “timeless” moments during which they behave unconsciously. Pullman advises Satters to think of the maxim Nothing is but thinking makes it so in order to regain self-control. At other times they are the victims of “Time-Hallucinations.” Satters calls one of them a “picture” and is reluctant to enter it, but he is forced to do so by Pullman. “It’s hollow! It’s only Time,” the latter says to encourage him. indeed stepping into the “picture” or “hallucination” they find that “it’s like being in a vacuum.” (p. 106) The vacuum turns out to be England: “It’s all desiccated … It’s not alive. … Nothing here is living.” (p. 107) They find themselves in Old England and witness seventeenth-century pastoral scenes. Pullman feels quite at home, but as he alludes to his father, “the father-son motif crops up, with savage appeals from its stage-tomtoms.” Pullman protests vehemently against fathers: “they are like reason, overrated and not essential at all.” When the fathers depart, a “small select chorus of stealthy matronly papas” representing Big Business appear and offer “meat-pale sunkist fleshings of celanese silk stuffed with chocolates, crossword-puzzles, tombola-tickets for crystal-sets, and free-passes for war-films, to the million-headed herd of tiny tots of all ages but one size.” (pp. 116-17) After this satire of Big Business stupefying the masses with toys to keep them quiet, we find Pullman and Satters in a Lilliput eighteenth-century England. They come to the Old Red Lion Tavern, where they see Thomas Paine, the author of The Rights of Man. Symbolically, Satters quarrels with him and tramples him to death “in an ecstasy of cruelty.”57

36The Bailiff, whom Pullman greatly admires, is described as a “dark-robed polichinelle.” (p. 161) He is often addressed as “Puppet,” and his tribunal is in the form of “a lofty tapering Punch-and-Judy theatre.” He denies the individuality of man and asserts that “it is only imbeciles that suppose themselves of any importance.” (pp. 280-1) His motto is “I’m primitive and proud of it.” (p. 336) He and his chorus of homosexuals celebrate his negroid origins, then he starts a half-hysterical incantation in baby-talk and negro-talk which ends with a parody of Joyce:

Ant add narfter thort wilt? nope one mild one just this dear Shaun as ever was comminxed wid Shem Hanp ant Japhet for luck (for he’s a great mixer is Master Joys of Potluck, Joys of Jingles, whom men call Crossword-Joys for his apt circumsolutions but whom the gods call just Joys or Shimmy, shut and short. – ‘Sure and oi will bighorror!’ sez the dedalan Sham-up-to-date with a most genteelest soft-budding gem of a hipcough. (pp. 215-16)

37D.H. Lawrence also gets his due. But the main point of the second part of the book appears in the arguments between the Bailiff and his principal opponent, Hyperides. The latter, who defends classical thought, is the leader of a sect with fascist leanings: its members wear Swastikas, and Hyperides asks to be represented by Alectryon, a young man who used to belong to the Aciron Française. The Bergsonian Bailiff is supposed to be a time-philosopher, while Hyperides and Alectryon are Lewis’s mouthpieces. They first argue about time. When the Bailiff says that time commences for anything “when it is in touch with something else,” he is challenged by Hyperides, whose objection is that the philosophy of time destroys a long cultural tradition by which the primitive and the mechanical in man had been overcome. The future of humanity is at stake: by favouring intuition and the senses at the expense of the intellect, one reduces people to “the dead level of some kind of mad robot of sex.” (p 194) Hyperides accuses the Bailiff of attempting to rule men like an undifferentiated “marine underworld” or like an “insect-swarm”:

You are drilling an army of tremulous earthworms to over-throw our human principle of life, not in open battle but by sentimental or cultural infection so that at last indeed there will be nothing but these sponges of your making left. – You do not believe in the sex-goods you deal in. … You need not – power is your vice. … It is your complex; with you sex like money is merely a congenial instrument in its service, and quite secondary.” (p. 196)

38The Bailiff’s enemy is the male with his lordly and absurd pretensions. Homosexuality is a branch of the Feminist Revolution since large-scale male perversion is the logical male answer to the New Woman. “Homosexuality is a department of Social Revolution”; (p. 389) it is essentially a romantic and sentimental phenomenon, a “snobbery or cult” encouraged, together with feminism, in order “to lay the foundations of a neuter-class of child-less workers” and to destroy the European Family already doomed by the machine-age. The Bailiff’s answer to Alectryon’s appeal in favour of the “doomed herd” is that they are not doomed since they don’t enjoy the privilege of reason and are not human: “If you succeeded in removing the bandages they would trample you to death for robbing them of their illusions, that’s what they are like.” (p. 393) The Bailiff’s answer is meant to emphasize his cynicism, for, as we shall see, he appears to glorify the masses while he actually despises them. But in saying that the masses are not human, he expresses one of Lewis’s favourite ideas, which shows how inconsistent or confusing the latter can be.

39In the second part of Childermass Hyperides and his followers make clear the political implications of the time-philosophy, and the book becomes a political allegory. Lewis suggests that dictators or rulers of the Bailiff’s type want everybody, even naturally gifted men, to become like the herd. “Persons possessed of conspicuous undemocratic abilities must become ourcasre in the midst of the modernist class-conscious orthodoxy. … The fanatical ‘proletariat’ of mediocrity must exclude them or attack them in its holy war against privilege, the privileges of nature being even less palatable than the privilege that is the benefice of men.” (p. 377) The Bailiff declares unequivocally his opposition to artists and intellectuals and expresses his dislike for the image and the word: “articulateness is not a recommendation to us;” (p. 253) the Bailiff further insists that in the “Magnetic City” they prefer bank clerks to artists. He describes for the appellants the kind of regime they are to expect and tells them that they are not entitled to Habeas Corpus or to anything resembling it: “There is no Rule of Law for us, you are absolutely without rights independently of my will.” (p. 262) Only the peons are privileged, their person is sacrosanct, and they even have the right to kill with impunity. The Bailiff celebrates the liberation of the working mass by the Modern jazz-age Men, and he triumphantly exclaims: “Le mob c’est moi!” (p. 333)

40The personality of the Bailiff is another element that lends itself to political interpretation since he obviously personifies some kind of political ruler. The insistence with which he is referred to as a puppet suggests that he merely represents a higher power undefined and unknown to the crowd. This is also substantiated by his function as bailiff. The fact that his tribunal is a kind of Punch-and-Judy show and that he is such a good actor points to the reasons for which he has been chosen. He is the arch-trick performer, the ideal Impostor of Impostors, who satisfies the whims of “that dear stupid awe-struck thing – the Eternal Public – that will have its favourite show.” (p. 230) While performing his tricks, the Bailiff looks like “a greatly enlarged mask of Chaplin.” But he is also “the Bloody Balie in the flesh, helmeted in the semi-Phrygian red of Punch of Red Revolution and Red Passion, the beast set there to mock and madden, at the gate of what?” (p. 290) Macrob detects the menacing tone behind his over-sweet exhortations, his hypocritical appeals to the people’s love and his false bestowal of privileges. The Bailiff is clever enough to let the crowd judge those who dare to protest; he assumes the attitude of a victim, and his indignant guards either kill the rebels – before he has had time to intervene – or the crowd lynch them as they do with Macrob. Of course, the Bailiff pretends to be sorry, particularly when a lower-class appellant is killed by his guards and he realizes that he incurs the wrath of the crowd. He need not fear them because they are easily taken in by his tricks. But the massacre of innocent appellants becomes a true “Childermass,” not only in the real sense of the word but also figuratively since the appellants are innocents deceived by the Bailiff, who does his best to make them surrender their individuality. Even an intelligent man like Pullman is deceived and doesn’t fully grasp what the Bailiff really stands for. At some point Pullman tells Satters that the Bailiff recommends intellect and will, which is exactly the contrary of what he does. Evidently, he cultivates confusion among his hearers. The novel ends with his return to the “Citadel of Unreality” while one of Hyperides ‘disciples wonders “Who is to be real – this hyperbolical puppet or we? Answer, oh destiny!’(p. 400)

41For one unacquainted with Lewis’s thought Childermass is hardly readable. The first part is hallucinatory and very obscure, perhaps deliberately so in order to render the confusion which reigns in the interior world when human beings cease to recognize the laws by which what is primitive in their nature can be conquered. The numerous imitations of Gertrude Stein’s and Joyce’s style ridicule their experiments with language, which is the main instrument through which thought is being deteriorated. These writers are responsible for the decay of Western thought because they deprive the intellect of the means of expressing itself with clarity and order and render rational thinking all but impossible. Yet, Pullman and Satters, who indulge in such experiments, are the dupes of the Bailiff, the Bergsonian representative of an unknown power. It is obvious that they gain nothing, at least momentarily, from being where they are. “We behave as we do from memory. … We behave as though we were now what we used to be, in life.” (p. 91) Being after death what they were when they lived may suggest that their life had already a quality of deadness about it. One thing is certain: their excursions into the “Unconscious” does not regenerate them. On the contrary, it brings out what is repulsive, violent, perverse in them and deprives them of self-control. As to the Bailiff, he embodies all that Lewis condemns in contemporary thought, its political implications and its consequences for the individual. There is no doubt that the system he represents is communism – or what Lewis takes for communism – as the allusions to “Red Revolution,” “Red Passion” and “red beast” indicate. Still, at the end of Childermass we cannot be absolutely certain of Lewis’s meaning apart from the fact that he criticizes Joyce and Gertrude Stein for their approach to art. However, it doesn’t seem too fantastic to suppose that the Limbo in which Pullman and Satters set on an expedition and in which the accepted notions of time and space have been abolished, is the seat of an ordeal at the end of which they hope to reach some kind of “Heaven.” Though they don’t know it yet, it is the “Heaven” of a communist state. They are not deterred by the Massacre of Innocents, which is presented as an inevitable episode of the Punch-and-Judy show; nor is Pullman influenced by the arguments of Hyperides. He sets on his way determinedly in order to discover the “reality” of the Bailiff’s paradise. Pullman will learn who the Bailiff is when he arrives in Third City (called “Magnetic City” in the camp outside). There the Bailiff is overthrown without difficulty since he never had any real power at all, though no one had ever objected to his assuming the semblance of it. “My whole existence is a pure bluff,” he tells Pullman, confessing that what made his show of power possible was the people’s credulity.

  • 58 Wyndham Lewis, Monstre Gai, London, 1955, p. 284.

42The political character of The Human Age becomes more obvious in Monstre Gai (1955). The title of this second volume refers to an expression which describes the Bailiff in a hysterical outburst shrieking uninterruptedly on his “puppet-stage” “Die the man – die the man – die the man.”58 This sequel to Childermass was not published until twenty seven years later, but the thought which underlies it is fundamentally the same, for Lewis’s outlook has changed remarkably little in the meantime. It is true that the “democratization” which followed the Second World War gave him new reasons for attacking communism, but it is rather surprising to find that his attack is still connected with the child-cult, the youth-cult and homosexuality, and that he satirizes with the same contempt Satters and his refusal “to vizualize himself at any time later than his sixteenth year.” Pullman is now less of an innocent and a dupe and may therefore be held responsible for choosing to serve the Bailiff, who here represents “gangster-wealth” at its most irresponsible.

43When Pullman enters Third City, he feels “a tremendous violent romantic disillusion. The splendours of the imagination crashed.” (p. 7) He had expected some kind of Heaven, and all he sees are thousands of people wearing bowler hats and looking like idiots. Third City is a kind of Welfare State in which Lewis has introduced all that he hates in modern society and holds responsible for its decline, all that he associates, often wrongly, with Left-wing politics: the child-cult, the youth-cult – “Perhaps fifty percent of the city is the desiccated remains of youth-propaganda of forty years ago.” (p. 33) – homosexuality, negro-worship, etc. Money is provided gratis, and people are paid to be maintained in idleness and idiocy. “Was there ever so irresponsible a dole!” (p. 41) Third City is primarily intended as a Heaven for Mr. Everyman; on the whole, the Bailiff is very careful to keep out intelligent men. The only efficient thing in the city is the police-force. Mannock, who introduces Pullman to the city, describes the regime as “the decay of an at one time more sensible system.” (pp. 25-26) The satire on the obtuse English clubmen is directed against a vestige of that system. An innovation, however, is that women are confined to a “yenery” on the outskirts of the city. Its immediate purpose is to provide the Bailiff with an important income from the sale of illicit liquor and dope, and from the commerce of prostitutes. The women live there in appalling conditions and fifty percent commit suicide. No particular reason is given for the existence of the yenery except that “there is a great weight of prejudice in high places against women.” (p. 206) It may be intended to canalize all the emotions of men towards another goal or to make sure that they will become perverts and easier to control. Perhaps Lewis satirizes the attempt made in some communist countries to have men and women live in separate camps. The important point is that the family is non-existent; society in Third City is degenerate and chaotic.

44The “Padisha” is a handsome but stupid giant, an angel reduced to man-size. “Everything to do with Man [fills] him with an immense fatigue, a passionate lack of interest,” (p. 154) and he governs the city “as a God would govern a stinking swamp, or as a man would govern a cemetery full of ill-favoured spectres.” (p. 154) He is at war with the Devil, who provokes terrible storms over Third City and threatens it with destruction. The inhabitants are deeply shaken by these storms, and many of them die. The knowledge that they can be blotted out at any moment by a thunderbolt only encourages them to indulge in the mediocre materialism of their existence.

For this was their life (if one can speak in this way of people, who, to be quite strict about it, were dead). If they were to be destroyed, and that for ever, the next day, or the next week, why should they behave differently now, than they had always done, drifting meaninglessly, acting the living without being the living – acting the young without being the young. … They were all half alive in a mysterious void; and so long as their hearts ticked and their brains functioned, tant bien que mal, and the breath came and went in their nostrils, they must continue to play this game for what it was worth, prepared for a thunderbolt which would blot them out at any moment. (pp. 85-86)

45This again illustrates Lewis’s conviction that most people lead a purely animal life and that their dread of destruction, which has considerably increased in twenty-five years, makes them even more attached to their material possessions. “The human kind here consists of a horde of idiots … there are perhaps a few dozen – perhaps a few hundred – men of intelligence.” (p. 166) But the men of intelligence, personified by Pullman, have sold them-selves to the Bailiff because “for a writer of his experimental sort it was to the Left wing that he must turn for sympathy and patronage,” (p. 262) as he had always done in his earthly life. At the end of the book “the major disharmonies of the contemporary scene on earth” are concentrated in a public square. Father Ryan represents Tradition, Vogel is the voice of Social Revolution, Hyperides is a fascist leader. The fourth power is naturally the Bailiff, who dominates the scene and has Hyperides assassinated behind a smokescreen while he dances on his stage like a lunatic puppet. But he has now exasperated the people too much, and he is forced to flee from Third City taking with him Satters and Pullman, who feels he is committing himself to the Devil but lacks the will to break with him.

46In Malign Fiesta (1955) the Bailiff arrives in Heaven with Pullman and Satters. Pullman only realizes where he is when he enters the Bailiff’s house, and he understands he has made a mistake. Matapolis is essentially a punishing centre, and all its inhabitants are involved in one way or another in its major activity. Soon Pullman and Satters see a convoy of sinners arriving in Matapolis:

  • 59 Wyndham Lewis, Malign Fiesta, London, 1955, p. 443.

The Sinners were four abreast, and all the way down, upon either side, were guards with rifles slung over their shoulders. The knowledge of what awaited these people horrified Pullman, but the expression of their faces showed that they were quite unprepared for what was in store for them, especially the women.59

47It is evident that Dis (the Punishment Centre) is a concentra-tionary universe which outdoes all one has heard of about concentration camps. Some of the scenes imagined by Lewis are too horrible to bear thinking of. Pullman witnesses all this “without turning a hair” and even becomes the confident and counsellor of Sammael, the puritan Devil who reigns over Matapolis. The two are united by their contempt for man: Sammael became a torturer because of his abhorrence for man and his abominable playmate woman: “As it is men become more depraved every day – more vulgarly sensual, more grotesquely wicked. The spectacle of some little creature attaining the depths of dirtiness unequalled in the past and actually believing he can deceive me, revolts me.” (p. 346) When Sammael wonders whether he and his angels will not have to choose between being angels or men, it is Pullman who devises a plan for the “humanization of the Divine.” By proposing to change angels into men, Sammael plans “a liquefaction, as it were, of those titanic immortal units – their immortality will dissolve into mortality, their vast individual shapes will cut up into thousands of facsimiles of themselves. There would be everywhere a swarming of ephemeral units in place of a world of larger and more stable things.” (p. 479) In order to inaugurate this “Human Age” Pullman organizes a “Malign Fiesta,” and advises Sammael to introduce women into Angeltown. The “Humanization of the Divine,” of the “Angel-nature,” is achieved by forcing upon it woman “with all her sexish-ness, her nursery-mind, her vulgarity.” This is an act of hatred on Sammael’s part since he is a strict puritan and loathes woman. During the Fiesta Pullman suddenly realizes that Sammael is resolved “to explode the supernatural, ultimately to make an end of God” and that he himself “has been actively assisting at the annihilation of the Divine.” (p. 511) This understanding of his fault comes rather late and is somewhat surprising for, after all, the intelligent Pullman knew all the time what he was doing; he had also advised Sammael to organize an efficient police in Angeltown and to choose the ex-Bailiff as the head of the secret service. When he receives a message from God, he becomes terribly frightened and he is eventually carried away by two white Angels, presumably to be tried by God.

48It is a pity that The Trial of Man was never finished for we don’t know how Lewis intended to conclude The Human Age. The emphasis on the “humanization of the Divine” in Malign Fiesta can be interpreted as an illustration of the destructive influence of contemporary thinkers, which, according to Lewis, breaks down the individual. If we remember that the more separate, the more isolated man is, the nearer he comes to the Divine, we can understand the nature of Pullman’s sin. We may wonder, however, whether there is any relation between Sammael’s violation of the Divine and his role as a torturer since it is in this double capacity that he appears in the book. Pullman also is shown assenting to the horrors he witnesses and participating in the destruction of the Divine. His arrival in Matapolis among concentration camp torturers seems almost inevitable after his commitment to the Bailiff, who is first presented as a Bergsonian philosopher, then as a representative of gangster-wealth, then as a citizen of Hell. If there is some kind of continuity in the trilogy, the time-philosophy exploited by politicians must be interpreted to lead to state-socialism and ultimately to dictatorial regimes and concentration camps. Lewis strikes rather indiscriminately at his favourite targets, but the general argument of The Human Age, might be described as follows: the Bergsonians, who insist on the necessity to develop intuition at the expense of the intellect, encourage man to indulge in the senses and in the confusion of his inner world. By exploring his subconscious, man brings out what is lowest in him, and the importance he gives to instincts naturally leads him to a cult of the child, in whom instinct is predominant, and to a cult of what is primitive in man. The child-cult is associated to the mother-cult; as a result of the growing feminism, man, who is despised for his virility, is tempted to turn homosexual. Lewis considers that feminism, homosexuality and contempt for the male, which are responsible for the destruction of the family, are exploited by politicians who are only too glad to divest people of their differences and reduce them to neuter will-less beings. They incite people to sexual perversion or merely endeavour to transform them into sense- or sex-machines, which will diminish their self-control, impair their intellect and make them more pliable and submissive. They also deprive man of his claim to individuality by insisting that the human personality is part of the surrounding world. Philosophical communism conduces to political communism, and this is how most Western countries to-day are infected with it. No action is intact. Lewis also considers communism or socialism as a means used by Big Business to exploit the great majority of people, the middle class even more than the masses. Indeed, although the masses are being stupefied into a state of quasi-animalism, they enjoy privileges that the middle class don’t have. Lewis has developed this last point with obsessive emphasis in Rotting Hill (1951). His contempt for the masses is such that all his characters express it whatever attitude or ideology they are supposed to stand for. “Humanization” where ordinary men are concerned means “animalization” or “deadening.” England is now a dead country threatened with atomic warfare and not wholly free of the spirit which makes concentration camps possible.

49The Human Age offers a striking picture of the mediocre life to which, according to Lewis, democratization might lead. It also draws attention to the inhumanity of men in the modern world and to the irresponsibility with which the “person” now contributes to schemes which threaten mankind with destruction. Unfortunately, Lewis’s imagination is frequently subordinated to his criticism instead of being stimulated by it. Monstre Gai and Malign Fiesta are less discursive than Childermass, but the whole fails to convey a sense of the human tragedy which this trilogy is supposed to interpret. We are very seldom inclined to mistake Lewis’s puppets for real human beings, which is of course the reaction that he meant to arouse. On the other hand, it is difficult to infer from his satire the standards by which his puppets are judged. Lewis too often gives the impression that he is lashing out right and left out of mere personal hatred.

  • 60 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 186.
  • 61 Henri Bergson, L’Evolution créatrice, in Œuvres, Paris, 1963, p. 657.
  • 62 Ibid., p. 623.

50As in Time and Western Man, the most significant aspect of Lewis’s criticism in his trilogy is his awareness of the forces at work in modern thought, particularly of the impact of the “time philosophy.” However, the first question that comes to mind is whether Lewis’s interpretation of Bergsonism is correct. As Geoffrey Wagner writes, “Bergson’s philosophy suffers injustice at the hands of the neo-classicists and, in Lewis’s case, injury is added to insult when we find him considerably indebted to Bergson’s Le Rire.”60 Indeed, Lewis is unfair to Bergson, for the latter is not so arbitrarily and stupidly opposed to the intellect as Lewis suggests, though it is important to point out that Bergson talks of “intelligence” whereas Lewis says “intellect” and always shows man acting clearly under the influence of either the intellect or the senses. Bergson insists on the important part played by intelligence in apprehending reality: “Agir et se savoir agir, entrer en contact avec la réalité et même la vivre, mais dans la mesure seulement où elle intéresse l’œuvre qui s’accomplit et le sillon qui se creuse, voilà la fonction de l’intelligence.”61 What Bergson insists on, is that instinct is not inferior to intelligence as it was generally admitted since Aristotle; the difference between instinct and intelligence is not one of intensity or degree, but of nature. Intelligence and instinct oppose and complete each other; they imply two utterly different forms of knowledge: “Il y a des choses que l’intelligence seule est capable de chercher, mais que par elle-même elle ne trouvera jamais. Ces choses, l’instinct seul les trouverait; mais il ne les cherchera jamais.”62 On the other hand, when intelligence cannot apprehend some aspects of life, it is complemented by intuition, which is

  • 63 Ibid., pp. 645-6.

l’instinct devenu intéressé, conscient de lui-même, capable de réfléchir sur son object et de l’élargir indéfiniment; l’intelligence reste le noyau lumineux duquel l’instinct, même élargi et épuré en intuition, ne forme qu’une nébulosité vague. Mais à défaut de la connaissance proprement dite réservée à la pure intelligence, l’intuition pourra nous faire saisir ce que les données de l’intelligence ont ici d’insuffisant et nous laisser entrevoir le moyen de les compléter.63

51Obviously, Bergson’s purpose was to make what he calls “l’intelli-gence” more inclusive than “intellect,” and “intuition” more inclusive than “instinct.” On the contrary, Lewis separates the two, and champions abstract intellect and discursive reason as cut off from, and even opposed to, instinctive forces. What he also fails to mention is that in spite of the importance he grants to intuition, Bergson believes that intelligence and intuition should cooperate:

  • 64 Ibid., pp. 649-50.

L’intuition au premier abord semble bien préférable à l’intelligence, puisque la vie et la conscience y restent intérieures à elles-mêmes. Mais le spectacle de l’évolution des êtres vivants nous montre qu’elle ne pouvait aller bien loin. Du côté de l’intuition, la conscience s’est trouvée à tel point comprimée par son enveloppe qu’elle a dû rétrécir l’intuition en instinct, c’est-à-dire n’embrasser que la très petite portion de vie qui l’intéressait; – encore l’embrasse-t-elle dans l’ombre, en la touchant sans presque la voir. De ce côté, l’horizon s’est tout de suite fermé. Au contraire, la conscience se déterminant en intelligence, c’est-à-dire se concentrant d’abord sur la matière, semble ainsi s’extérioriser par rapport à elle-même; mais justement parce qu’elle s’adapte aux objets du dehors, elle arrive à circuler au milieu d’eux, à tourner les barrières qu’ils lui opposent, à élargir indéfiniment son domaine. Une fois libérée, elle peut d’ailleurs se replier à l’intérieur et réveiller les virtualités d’intuition qui sommeillent encore en elle.64

  • 65 John Middleton Murry, “Towards a Synthesis,” The Criterion, V, 3 (June 1927), 294-313. Murry’s art (...)
  • 66 Eliot is rather vague on the subject: “To me both intelligence and intuition are mysterious.” (“Mr (...)
  • 67 Quoted by T.S. Eliot, in The Criterion, IV, 752.
  • 68 Ibid.
  • 69 Richard Aldington, “Notes,” The Criterion, I, 4 (July 1923), 421-2.

52Like his attacks on Romanticism, Lewis’s satire on Bergson must be viewed in the context of the strong opposition of the neo-classicists to anything that endangered rationalism. I have already alluded to this in my discussion of Time and Western Man and of the antithesis “classical-romantic”; to consider intelligence as antagonistic to intuition is another way of stating this antithesis. A controversy on this subject was carried on for a year in The Criterion between John Middleton Murry and T.S. Eliot; it began with Murry’s plea for a new synthesis between intelligence and intuition that would serve as a basis for the new Classicism.65 The writers who took part in the argument (Charles Mauron and Ramon Fernandez were also involved in it) were all anxious to redefine intelligence and intuition in answer to Bergson’s definition of the two. Though they disagreed as to the exact meaning of these words,66 they all criticized the Bergsonians’ departure from rationalism and the relativism of their philosophy as conducive to spiritual anarchy. Fernandez’s objection to Proust’s work, for instance, is that “elle n’édifie point une hiérarchie des valeurs, et elle ne manifeste de son début à sa conclusion, aucun progrès spirituel.”67 Eliot adds to this that for such writers as Proust and Joyce “the dissolution of value [has] in itself a positive value.”68 The position of these neo-classicists is clearly formulated in an editorial note of The Criterion: “… the voices of reason and beauty are drowned in the shouts of charlatans; and the mass of the nation, without authority and without judgment, authorizes and supports an intellectual chaos, a spiritual infer-iority.”69 This is exactly the kind of protest that Lewis dramatizes in The Human Age. However, that work itself shows that Lewis mistakes the sterile intellect for intelligence.

53It is almost inevitable that Lewis’s external approach to his subject should make him intolerant, for he can only observe what he sees, and at best grasp it intellectually, since the eye is symbolical of the intellect and even is the intellect. But he can never feel with anyone, indeed he deliberately and defiantly refuses to do so. By rejecting insight into man’s inner world, he necessarily misses one part at least of the truth, and he is himself liable to be subjective. As Stephen Spender rightly remarks,

  • 70 Stephen Spender, The Destructive Element, London, 1937, p. 214.

The fact is that by imposing an external order on internal disorder, by ruggedly insisting on and accepting only the outsides of things, one does not improve matters. One merely shouts and grows angry with anyone who has a point of view different from one’s own. For another point of view is sure to seem visceral, internal, decadent. One is, in a word, merely asserting that one is afraid of the symptoms which one dislikes in oneself, and more particularly in other people, not that one can cure them.
Take this insistence on the external into the world of politics, and what is it but fascism? It is saying that we must suppress the effeminate, dark members of our society (the Jews), we must arrange our façade to look as well as possible, to appeal to the eye (the private armies), we must drive the symptoms of decadence underground.70

  • 71 Wyndham Lewis, Hitler, London, 1931, p. 84.
  • 72 Time and Western Man, p. 119.
  • 73 The Art of Being Ruled, p. 95, quoted by Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 69.
  • 74 Wyndham Lewis, The Diabolical Principle and the Dithyrambic Spectator, London, 1931, p. 126.

54Spender’s association of an artistic method with a political attitude may seem far-fetched, but it is worth noting that Lewis himself associated Classicism (and thus the external approach) with fascism. In Hitler he wrote that “the Hitlerist dream [was] full of an imminent classical serenity,”71 and in Childermass he states quite explicitly that the Hyperideans, who defend the classical, are fascists. Lewis himself considered that he was apolitical: “In a period of such obsessing political controversy as the present, I believe that I am that strange animal, the individual without any ‘politics’ at all. You will find neither the politics of communism nor those of the militant Right here.”72 Lewis admired both fascists and communists for admitting “that there must be a master.”73 In The Diabolical Principle he described his politics as “partly communist and partly fascist, with a distinct streak of monarchism in my marxism, but at bottom anarchist with a healthy passion for order.”74 This sounds paradoxical, but Lewis’s political attitude is, indeed, full of contradictions.

  • 75 Hitler, Left Wings over Europe, and Count Your Dead: They are Alive!
  • 76 Hitler, p. 32.
  • 77 Wyndham Lewis, Left Wings over Europe, London, 1936, p. 323.
  • 78 Hitler, pp. 19-20.
  • 79 Wyndham Lewis, Count Your Dead: They Are Alive!, London, 1937, p. 79.
  • 80 Left Wings over Europe, p. 164.
  • 81 Count your Dead, p. 83.
  • 82 Wyndham Lewis, The Hitler Cult, London, 1939, p. 254.

55However much Lewis may claim to be impartial and unprejudiced – and he repeatedly does so – it is hard to take him at his word, for in three works75 at least he comes out definitely for Hitler and Germany. He praises Hitler for being a “Man of Peace”76 and a prodigious organizer. “I myself am content to regard him as the expression of current German manhood – resolved with that admirable tenacity, hardihood and intellectual acumen of the Teuton, not to take their politics at second-hand, not also to drift, but to seize the big bull of Finance by the horns, and to take a chance for the sake of freedom.” (pp. 201-2) Even Hitler’s crimes could be explained away: “The Judenfrage finds if not its justification, at least its rationale,” he says, and his advice to the British is: “Do not allow a mere Bagatelle of a Judenfrage to stand in the way.” (p. 242) In Left Wings over Europe, a pamphlet supposedly on peace, Lewis criticizes the English government for “denying Germany the most elementary right of a Sovereign State: namely to fortify its own territory against attack.”77 It is difficult to see how Lewis reconciles his desire for peace with his wish to rearm Germany. He further asserts that only the German communists have arms while the nazis “have only fists and sticks to defend themselves with,” but he concedes on the next page that the nazis arm themselves “in response to extreme provocation.”78 Lewis contends that if there is a war, the League of Nations and the Extreme Left will be responsible for it, and that it is probably France that will attack Germany. In both Left Wings over Europe and Count your Dead he comes out strongly against Baldwin and the English conservatives (the “Bolsho-Tories”): “The present system of government in England is a fake antique. It is a machine-made grandfather’s clock…. A disarming façade of ‘democracy’ conceals what is in fact a money Trust, which runs like a national waxworks but for whom we are a side-line, not the main concern. … As a ‘nation’ we have ceased to exist.”79 Lewis also believes that the Russians and the English have the strongest armies in the world, while the Germans are quickly trying to get a tank or two to defend themselves against the French. He calls the Abyssinian War a war of liberation: “It is not such a tragedy that the industrious and ingenious Italian, rather than the lazy, stupid predatory Ethiopian, should control Abyssinia.”80 He naturally supports Franco and asserts that Marx is nor the only solution to the confused situation created in Western Europe and the enslavement resulting from “Loan-Capital”: “Fascism is at least a better solution than that. Fascism might be a very good solution indeed.”81 This was in 1937. In 1939 Lewis reversed his opinions (he calls it “giving up his neutrality”) and in The Hitler Cult he revised a number of views he had so inconsiderately expressed in Hitler. He now thought that the Englishman would make a better job of the future than the German: “The mere thought of Hitler’s Germany reconciles one, does it not, to our ramshackle civilization.”82 In 1939 Lewis also wrote a pamphlet entitled The Jews, Are They Human? in which he attacked anti-semitism, praised the qualities of the Jewish race and criticized the German policy towards the Jews. This change of attitude is naturally reflected in his fiction.

  • 83 Stephen Spender, “Writers and Politics,” The Partisan Review, XXXIV, 3 (Summer 1967), 372. Spender (...)
  • 84 The Diabolical Principle, p. 40.

56The purpose of these comments is not to demonstrate Lewis’s fascists sympathies but to clarify his position in order to throw light on the fiction he wrote in the Thirties. Moreover, Lewis’s inconsistency in politics is a fairly good example of the contradictions which are to be found in his work. His sincerity has been questioned, but, paradoxically, it seems that in politics he is saved by his contradictions, for a man who is not sincere takes at least good care to be consistent. In so far as his attitude needs an explanation, I rather agree with Stephen Spender, who writes that “the politics of [the reactionaries] are secondary effects of their thoughts about the tragedy of culture in modern industrial societies.”83 Still, considering the aspect of his work that concerns us, these politics do indicate a muddled thought, a complete lack of political insight and even an ignorance of facts which it is difficult to forgive in one who devoted so much time and energy to writing political pamphlets and who – in his own words – assumed the role of a prophet. Lewis seems to have rather enjoyed his part as the “Enemy.” His political attitude is of the same order: provocative, defiant, arrogant, or simply ludicrous, and it certainly damaged his reputation as an artist. He never put into practice his own belief that “to root politics out of art is a highly necessary undertaking: for the freedom of art like that of science, depends entirely upon its objectivity and non-practical, non-partisan passion.”84 James Joyce, whom he so often critized for cultivating a form of literature leading to some kind of intellectual or spiritual communism and hence to decadence, succeeded much better than he did in keeping above political passions.

57The Apes of God (1930), Lewis’s most important satire, is a merciless denunciation of people who contribute to the “humanization of the Divine” by aping it. Amateurism in art is one form – the most important as far Lewis is concerned – of the degradation of authority and excellence, observable in all fields. “A maniacal taste for debunking the literary heroes of the past century” is the outcome of a “self-immolating hysterical liberalism” and is matched with a “wave of perversion among the young.” The “Encyclical” composed by Pierpoint epitomizes Lewis’s criticism of the “apes.” The latter are the dream of the economist-utopist come true. Every man with means and leisure can now claim to be an artist, and everyone who can afford to can be a Bohemian:

  • 85 Wyndham Lewis, The Apes of God, London, 1935, p. 121.

All these masses of Gossip-mad, vulgar, pseudo-artists, good-timers – the very freedom and excess usually of whose life implies a considerable total of money, concentrated in the upkeep of this costly ‘bohemian’ life – are the last people, as every artist will tell you, from whom support for any art can be expected.85

58These people cause damage to creative art because they are iden-tified in the mind of the public with art and intelligence. They produce a little art themselves “more than inconsequent daubing and dabbing but less than the ‘real thing.’” (p. 122) Most of them have private means, though they play the part of the penniless “genius.” They naturally hate real, living genius: the hatred of the mediocre for the great is a recurrent motive in Lewis’s work and it sometimes reveals his persecution mania. Lewis satirizes the malicious gossip of “those prosperous mountebanks who alternately imitate and mock at and traduce those figures they at once admire and hate.” (p. 123) At the lunch party “chez Lionel Kein” the guests discuss and criticize Pierpoint although they have been influenced by him and have borrowed some of his ideas, and Zagreus explains how the notion of eminence is being deteriorated because everybody is becoming “eminent.”

59Zagreus introduces the nineteen-year old Dan Boleyn to different types of “Apes.” Dan is his latest discovery, for the sixty-year-old Zagreus likes to be surrounded by good-looking young men whom he flatters by attributing to them artistic inclinations or “genius,” which they never possessed. Dan has just come from Dublin, where his father called “Stephen” lives. There is a good deal of mockery in the book at people who claim an Irish origin and affect an Irish accent; it is probably intended to ridicule Joyce’s “obsession with his province.” Dan, the “virgin” with a “madonna-face, sensitively painted lips, blushing cheeks” is quite stupid, a puppet like all those whom Lewis associates with death-in-life. The first Ape he meets, a prominent one, is a caricature of Joyce, Julius Ratner, a Jewish writer and publisher, who is exceedingly preoccupied with his own person. “Jamesjulius, Jimmiejulius, Jujubejimmie, Juliojim, Joojulius,” as Lewis calls him, acts the child. His “personal prose” is described as “automatic writing” and “spirit-tapping.” He is called the split-man throughout the satire and is chosen symbolically by Zagreus to be split on the stage during a conjuror’s trick at Lord Osmund’s party. For this occasion Zagreus gives him the costume of an “African half-man”: “I should have liked, Julius, to have fitted you out as a homunculus, a disembodied mind. Or as the Holy Ghost – the most tremendous of all feminine roles.” (p. 330) However, the half-man adequately represents Julius since he has only developed one part of his personality.

60After his lunch with Ratner Dan pays a call on Dick Whittingdon, a painter with more money than talent, who acts the young man, “Charlestons” all the time and rents a whole block of studios. Dan finds him discussing one of his pictures with some friends; the discussion is meaningless and they repeat the same things over and over again. Dan writes in his diary: “Discovered Apes in bitter argument over masterpieces of Apish art. Expected from moment to moment these higher Apes to fly at each other’s throats. As far as I was able to discover, a red brick dwelling the subject of this dispute.” (p. 183) At Pamela Farnham’s tea-party the majority of the Apes are women who cajole a young man named Jimmy, while an insolent foreigner watches them and derides “these women and their pekinese.” Their futile and sense-less talk is reminiscent of Firkank – an analogy Lewis would have disliked – though Firbank is much better than Lewis at reproducing drawing-room conversations. Dan discovers in Jimmy a rival in youth and judges him severely:

As he looked at Jimmie he might have been regarding one of those life-size dolls, with mechanically revolving eyes, made for the children of the rich – or have been imagining, as their crooning mistress manipulated them, a glimmer of waxen sensuality stealing out of their glassy ocellation towards their possessor, soliciting an unnatural caress – a veiled, mechanically-repeated ogle, the thickening of a brutal coquetry in the squeak. Maturing in the bees-wax bosom, he might have conceived the voluptuous processes that would perhaps be evolved by the ingenious doll, appropriate to its puppet’s condition. .. . Pammie-mammie: the love of babyhood, the return to the womb, the corruption of the cradle – the severe eyes of Daniel seemed to miss nothing of these far-flung analogies. (p. 204)

  • 86 Wyndham Lewis, The Doom of Youth, London, 1932, p. 265.
  • 87 Ibid., foreword ix.

61Yet it is chiefly in Dan that the youth-cult is satirized, and the fact that he is stupid and inarticulate is meant to emphasize the senselessness of that cult and the imbecility which Lewis associates with it. In The Doom of Youth he condemns the “erecting of ‘Youth’ into a unique value.”86 He asserts that an age-war is replacing the class-war and that the transformation of youth into a political ideology divides the world into two rigid and hostile parties: the old and the young. The youth-cult is exploited politically: “the term ‘youth-politics’ signifies the management of this system of education and propaganda-politics, in which Ma and Pa Everyman are two childlike persons, of course.”87 However, whereas the age-snobbery may have serious consequences for the poor (while seeking employment, for instance), for the rich it is, as in everything else, a sham-fight. The cult of youth is derided throughout The Apes of God, and since homo-sexuality is associated with this cult, most characters are homosexuals. Lewis is hardest on the Finnian Shaws, whom Starr-Smith, not older than twenty-five himself, considers as “God’s own Peterpaniest family.” He describes their family-group as “a sort of middle-aged youth-movement. .. . This they have become in their capacity of ‘rebels’ against authority. The dangers of the war must have driven them into that attitude. The idea of ‘youth’ supervened – afterwards. It coloured with a desirable advertisement-value their special brand of rich-man’s gilded bolshevism. In the fairy-tales they have spun about this theme ever since, Cockeye has always been the wicked giant who tried to kill them during the big bad naughty World War.” (p. 565) Cockeye represents the old generation in the child-parent war which Harriet and Osmund Finnian-Shaw try to perpetuate. According to the rules of this war-game, Cockeye is responsible for the War, he is “the Old Man who made the War”:

‘You must bear in mind,’ says Blackshirt to Daniel, ‘that it is always the War that in fact they are talking about. The child-parent-war-game was manufactured in the War-time. … There would be no harm in that if it did not serve to screen the actual villain. It is important that the true cause should not be lost sight of. But both the sex-war, and the child-parent-war, each of them advance with a romantic bitterness their bogus claimants, for the honour of being the arch-villain of the European War. The authentic villain rubs his hands I should think as he looks on – and watches from his ambush these subsidiary Wars of our Peace-life, which have come out of the stinking bowels of the big one – and plots, who can doubt it, a bigger!’ (pp. 555-6)

  • 88 Wyndham Lewis, The Old Gang and the New Gang, London, 1933, pp. 59 and 62-63.

62Lewis objected to the war literature written in the Twenties because, as he said in The Old Gand and the New Gang, “it occults, rather than discloses, the true ‘universal’ extent and significance of the tragedy – The deliberate ‘youth-hysterics’ of now ageing men, young at the outset of the War, has thrown smoke-screens of emotions around the cold facts. Engaged in these clamorous disputes with his ancestors the War novelist of 1927-30 never even began to think of who his real enemy might be!”88

63One of the major events which take place during Dan’s initiation is the lunch Chez Lionel Kein Esq. This is a satire of the rich Jew who plays at being Proust. He and his wife are “blottis in a furnished paralleloped with all required by the human worm for its needs. … There they would be observing with conspiratorial glee each other’s obscenities – cheating time with professional unction.” (p. 237) In spite of lengthy discussions, this chapter is on the whole a successful evocation of a social gathering at which snobs attempt to outshine each other and either flatter or criticize people maliciously. They are all “in search of an author, the people who have never been able to become Fiction. How portentously they suffer for the want of a great artist to effect that immortal translation.” (pp. 293-4) This is partly why they attend a party at the house of a potential Proust: “Fiction in its more high-brow form is in fact the private news-sheet, the big Gossip-book – the expansion of a Society newspaper-paragraph – of the Reigning Order.” (p. 262) Since they despair of finding a real author, they all write about each other and about themselves. During lunch Zagreus “broadcasts” Pierpoint, which means that he repeats word for word what Pierpoint usually says. While he is prolonging his broadcast for the sake of Dan, he hears Isabel Kein discuss him openly, and he retaliates by describing her to Dan and by pointing out to him what kind of Apes her guests are. He is asked to leave the house, but before he does so, we are given a picture of the vulgarity and pettiness of people who pretend to distinction and refinement but whose very snobbery is a form of vulgarity.

64The crowning event of Dan’s initiation is Lord Edmund’s Lenten Party, which is chiefly a satire on a well-known London literary family. The main basis for the satirical portraiture of the Finnian Shaws is, as we have seen, their affected youth and childishness, but Lewis also exposes the snobbery, self-esteem and ridiculous presumption as well as the intrigues of people in a coterie. The account of the party, which takes up almost three hundred pages, is presented in twenty-three “tableaux vivants” which reproduce different forms of “aping”:

In fact in a sort of ill-acted Commedia dell’ Arte, with its pantalones and Arlechinos, this family-circle passed its time. A passion for the stilted miniature drama of average social life, as it immediately surrounded them, had assumed the proportions with this family of a startling self-abuse, incessantly indulged in. Their theatre was always with them. (pp. 354-5)

65Zagreus, Ratner, Dan, and Margolin, a “sham-Yid” or “militant slum-Jew in excelsis,” are the spectators of this grotesque spectacle and, as usual, Zagreus interprets what they see and comments in Pierpoint’s words. They witness this “Zoo of sham kings-in-the-forest” eagerly play a part which, they hope, will be described in the gossip-column and invent small catastrophes to provide them-selves with sources of excitement. In the midst of the party the Finnian Shaws retire to “private apartments” with a select group of friends; their create a new circle of privileged snobs within their larger “menagerie” and provoke a rush at which they indignantly protest. Starr-Smith, the Blackshirt, is denied admittance, until he produces a press-card, when he is suddenly flattered by all the Finnian Shaws, who hope to have their poems included in an anthology he is editing. He is the only person in the book who is not satirized and who appears to be honest and disinterested. He is Pierpoint’s political secretary and his warmest disciple, a less uncompromising denunciator of “aping” than Zagreus, and particularly hard on Jews and negroes such as Ratner and the barman or “tropical man.” He also exposes Zagreus, who has not paid Pierpoint his due for all the ideas the latter has given him. Starr-Smith challenges him publicly while he is performing The Vanish, a trick which symbolizes what was to happen to that society of “Apes.”

66Zagreus plays a twofold part in the book: he denounces the “Apes,” but he is at the same time Pierpoint’s spokesman, and for that very reason he is himself an Ape. He has been identified with Lewis, but this is doubtful since Zagreus merely “acts” Pierpoint, who is probably Lewis himself. “Horace [Zagreus] is one of the crowd,” Ratner says, “he doesn’t pick pockets – he picks Brains.” (p. 419) At the end of the satire Zagreus rejects Dan for Margolin, charging the former with offences he has not committed in order to get rid of him. The General Strike breaks out, and Dan, the “moron,” the “dummy,” with a face “like a shell of mutton-fat” wanders unhappily about the streets of London without understanding the cause of the unaccustomed aspect of the city. The novel ends, as it had begun, with Zagreus’ visit to Lady Fredegonde Follett, the “oldest spoilt-baby in Britain,” the “oldest veteran Gossip-star” who “steins away night and morning to herself, making patterns of conversations, with odds and ends from dead disputes.” (pp. 13-23) She is in her drawing-room with her husband, who has just died, and she tells Zagreus that she has deliberately provoked his death. She has also succeeded in cheating Dick Whittingdon of his heritage. She now declares her love to Zagreus, and he accepts to marry her, old and grotesque as she is, only because he needs her money. Lewis spares no pains to arouse disgust at the lack of dignity and the sordid rapacity of distinguished Bloomsbury highbrows.

67Like The Human Age, The Apes of God criticizes all that Lewis condemns in modern society: the child-cult, the youth-cult, homosexuality and what he considers as a wave of bolshevism among the upper classes. He shows these evils at work among English intellectuals or rather so-called intellectuals and artists. He called his satire a “massacre of the insignificants,” but many critics reproached him precisely with having chosen an insignificant target for such a tremendous literary effort. Indeed, Lewis’s scorn is disproportionate to its object, though for him more than artistic amateurism is at stake since his purpose is to defend all that is “eminent” and valuable in all fields of life. When Zagreus deplores the disappearance of the Hero from modern literature or the substitution of “crowd-eminence” for the eminence of the really great individual, he is alluding to the theme which underlies The Apes of God and which Lewis explains in The Lion and the Fox:

  • 89 Wyndham Lewis, The Lion and the Fox, London, 1955, p. 135.

For in the universal organized revolt against authority it is not only the head of a state or the head of a family – the king (on account of political privilege), the employer (on account of his monopoly of wealth) – but, with an ingenious thoroughness, every form of even the most modest eminence, that is attacked. Indeed, the centre of attack is rapidly shifting from the really eminent (who are considered as already destroyed) to the perir bourgeois mass of the smally privileged.89

  • 90 Ibid., p. 137.
  • 91 Wyndham Lewis, The Wild Body, London, 1927, pp. 243 and 246.

68By ignoring or denigrating the real artist, the “Apes” hope to make their own “Levellers’ Club” more eminent, though, like the majority of human beings, they are only parasites subsisting on the individual, in their case on Pierpoint. Like a god, Pierpoint is surrounded with mystery, he is invisible and he is isolated. This “painter turned philosopher,” who thus allies talent and intelligence, might well be “the Person, the One, the responsible representative of others.”90 Lewis’s conception of the “Many” as opposed to the “One” is closely related to his division of human beings into “things” and “Persons.” The “things” are the “Many,” the crowd, people who live on an animal or dead level, whereas the “Person” is the man of intelligence who uses his “intellect” and is isolated from the crowd. He is a real human being who reaches “godhood” through his individuality and is opposed to the machine, the puppet, the split-man or the automaton. In The Wild Body Lewis wrote that “One must assume the dichotomy between body and mind – we have to postulate two creatures, one that never enters into life, but travels about in a vessel to whose destiny it is momentarily attached. That is, of course, the laughing observer, and the other is the Wild Body. … The root of the comic is to be sought in the sensations resulting from the observations of a thing behaving like a person.”91 Lewis’s conception of satire is much indebted to Bergson, whose lectures he followed at the Collège de France. Bergson writes:

  • 92 Henri Bergson, Le Rire, in op. cit., pp. 401 and 457.

Les attitudes, gestes et mouvements du corps humain sont risibles dans l’exacte mesure où ce corps nous fait penser à une simple mécanique. … Ce qui est comique c’est ce qu’il y a de tout fait dans notre personne. Le personnage comique est un type.92

  • 93 Ibid., p. 414.

69Lewis’s satire consists in deriding puppets who have much in common with Bergson’s “Pantin à ficelles.” But whereas Bergson says “Nous rions toutes les fois qu’une personne nous donne l’impression d’une chose,”93 Lewis postulates that people are “things” and makes fun of them for believing that they are persons. The “Apes” of God are of course “things” attempting to be “persons” or god-like beings. But it should be noted that to be a “thing” or a “person” is not a matter of class since the “Apes” belong to the higher-middle class, though it is obvious that the working class could never be anything but “things.”

  • 94 Satire and Fiction, p. 46, quoted by Geoffrey WAGNER, op. cit., p. 269.
  • 95 Bergson also brings out the cruelty of laughter as an instrument of social criticism: “Le rire est (...)

70Lewis also wrote about The Apes of God that “no book has ever been written that has paid more attention to the outside of people.”94 His external approach is fairly successful in the description of characters, though his satire gives an impression of superficiality. The dialogues, which often give a foretaste of Ionesco’s plays, imply nothing more than the futility or the idiocy of the characters who are presented as symptoms of a decadent society. But is this enough to convey a picture of the decay of culture, civilized values and social hierarchy? Lewis’s target is too limited to the caricature of the “Apes” to achieve this purpose. We have to take his word for it that this is what “aping” leads to. He considers that the artist is above morals, and Zagreus’ assertion that to be good, satire must be “unfair,” “single-minded” and “backed by intense anger”95 – all of which characterize The Apes of God – is in keeping with his claim. But Lewis’s anger prevents him from transcending his subject and limits the bearing of a work which is otherwise full of pungent and ferocious humour. His view of humanity is terribly grim, and one is reminded that Tarr had “conceived the world as emptied of all dignity, sense and generosity.” (p. 257)

  • 96 Wyndham LEWIS, Snooty Baronet, London, 1932, p. 233.

71Snooty Baronet (1932), another satire, is harsh and destructive to the point of boredom. The narrator himself says: “Look for nothing but descriptions out of a vision of a person who has given up hoping for Man, but who is scrupulous and just, if only out of contempt for those who are so much the contrary.”96 Most characters in the novel are so unpleasant – the narrator even more so than the people he derides – that it is not surprising he should be disgusted with the human race. The wonder is that he is not disgusted with himself. Snooty Baronet has much in common with The Apes of God for here again the literary Bohemia of London is Lewis’s target, but the picture he gives of it is more sordid and never comic. Snooty Baronet, Sir Michael Kell-Imrie, is a writer who has taken up the study of man “upon exactly the same footing as ape or insect.” His victims are “‘progressive,’ popular, even ‘fashionable persons,’ of the topdog race and showy class…. Members of those ape-like congeries – gangs, sets, ant-armies, forces of Lilliput, number-brave coteries, militant sheep-clans-fraternities, rotaries and crews.” (pp. 63-65) There is nothing new in all this, nor in the description of Snooty as the artist who is “alone with his hard vision” and can trust no one alive. He has an affair with Valerie Ritter, an ageing gossip-column “girl of fashion,” who writes pornographic novels and represents the world of emotions. Yet Snooty himself is not the god-like artist who transcends the animal and mechanical world: he has a wooden leg and a plate in his skull, and this makes him partly mechanical; moreover, he cannot refrain from sexual inter-course although it makes him sick. It seems that his partial subjection to the mechanical and the animal makes him more fiercely determined to degrade other men. His literary agent, Humph, is a typical “puppet,” “automaton,” “animal,” “moron,” a sham always acting a part. He wants Snooty to go to Persia to study the cult of Mithras and write a book on it. Snooty starts on the trip with Humph and Val; when they get there, he shoots Humph in the back in an entirely gratuitous act. He abandons Val, ill with small-pox, among bandits and more likely to die than to survive. She does recover and goes back to England, but she is disfigured for life. One character in the novel is presented sympathetically: this is Robert McPhail – a portrait of the poet Roy Campbell – whom Snooty visits in the South of France on his way to Persia. McPhail is killed in a bull-fight in which he need not have taken part; the crowd positively relish the sight of his wounds and blood. His death is symbolical of the sacrifice of the “One” to the “Many” in a diseased society.

  • 97 Lewis is drawing conclusions from the Behaviorist theory, but he does not describe it fairly and h (...)

72In Time and Western Man Lewis describes Behaviorism as “the final kick or touch that was required to precipitate the ‘mind’ into the abyss.” (p. 336) For him Behaviorism is related to the philosophy of time because it “substitutes the body for the mind”; “the human body is a machine … all the facts about the human machine can be stated ‘in terms of stimulus and response.’” (pp. 333-5) Walking in the Strand, Snooty sees in a shop-window an automaton raising a hat and replacing it on its head. Like Humph, the puppet has a prominent chin and short legs. Snooty realizes that most people are puppets, not only Humph and those in the street who stop to look at the automaton but he himself also. “The puppet was one of us as much as the people at my side.” (p. 161) Snooty thinks he illustrates the behaviorist conception of man when he kills Humph, who behaves like a friend towards him. Because he hates man in general and because the people he knows are “all-puppet cast,” he asserts that he merely obeys one of his impulses or “stimuli” by killing a man who is nothing but an automaton. Snooty seems to have a double personality, one aspect of it being the artist, the observer, the mind, the other the “wild body,” who ironically turns out to be criminal when he is supposedly acting as a behaviorist: “I behave as a Behaviorist and as such I claim I should be accepted, and if there is nothing else that I can do to prove it, I will at least continue to behave as you have seen me behaving through these pages, and as all true Behaviorist must behave. If you are a true Behaviorist and not merely a sham one, you behave as I have behaved! Put that in your pipe and smoke it, all you professors of this implacable doctrine!”97 (p. 309)

  • 98 Lewis may have borrowed the idea of the cult of Mithra(s) from Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Roma (...)
  • 99 According to Geoffrey Wagner, Lewis went so far as to suggest that “Lawrence died of a most unplea (...)
  • 100 Scrutiny, III 2 (September 1934). This is a review of T.S. Eliot’s After Strange Gods. Dr. Leavis (...)

73Snooty’s description of the cult of Mithras, which, he says, gave rise to bull-fighting, is a satire on the glorification of sex as propagated by D.H. Lawrence. Snooty’s interest in “Mithraism” leads him to read a book entitled Sol Invictus-Bull Unsexed supposedly written by D.H. Lawrence. Lewis describes Mithras as a kind of generalissimo, and his cult as a popular religion which glorifies action.98 “Their God is a God of Time, ‘Boundless Time’ while we are of temporal stuff, the children of Time. D.H. Lawrence was attracted by the thought of a Mithraic Europe as much as by the Bull.” (p. 94) Lewis was prejudiced against many of his contemporaries; his criticism of Lawrence may not be wholly unfounded, but it is bigoted and often based on misunderstanding. His condemnation of Lawrence’s “cult of the primitive” is understandable considering his (Lewis’s) position on this subject, but his unrelenting abuse and his personal criticism reveal a strange vindictiveness.99 Still worse is the singular lack of insight and judgment implied in his assertion that “one can never laugh enough at a literary man like Lawrence.” Dr. Leavis, who defended Lawrence in an article entitled “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Wyndham Lewis and Lawrence,”100 questioned Lewis’s ability to judge Lawrence and asserted that Lewis’s own treatment of sex was “hard-boiled, cynical and external.” This is particularly true with reference to Snooty Baronet, and the same can be said not only of his treatment of sex but of man in general. Snooty says that, like Lawrence, he is on the side of Nature. But this can only mean that he is on the side of Nature against Man not with him:

  • 101 By nature Snooty simply means what England, a country “flowing with milk and honey,” has to offer. (...)

It is not Nature101 but it is Man who is responsible for the transformation of this land into a waterless desert. That is why I have thrown in my lot with nature – that is why I break the social contract, and the human pact. (p. 113)

74Obviously, that is also why Snooty feels entitled “to hatch a plot against Mankind.” (p. 63)

  • 102 Wyndham Lewis, The Revenge {or Love, London, 1952, p. 1.

75In The Revenge for Love (1937) Lewis creates characters who are not mere puppets but human beings capable of loving and suffering, and for the first time his satire turns into a tragedy. The theme of the novel is the hypocrisy of modern society, whether in love, art or politics, and the inevitable defeat of the man who is honest and takes that sham society seriously. It is defined from the start by Don Alvaro, the warder of Percy Hardcaster in a Spanish prison, who says that “We are only free once in our lives. … That is when we gaze into the bottom of the heart of our beloved and find that it is false – like everything else in the world.”102This is almost immediately illustrated by a young Spanish girl who brings Hardcaster his food in a basket with a false bottom. Alvaro discovers a letter under it, but he doesn’t disclose his discovery and doesn’t prevent Hardcaster from attempting to escape. He then shoots the guard who had let him out and wounds Hardcaster in the leg. Thanks to his Spanish adventure the latter becomes aware of what is false in people and ideas. He understands that Alvaro, whom he had taken for a gentleman, “was false”; he learns that Serafín, who had helped him to escape, was paid by both sides; and he realizes that his own politics are not free from sham either:

Bluff was the tactical basis of the latter-day revolutionary personality…. In Percy’s professional make-up he never quite knew what part of bluff went to what part of solid belief. … And Percy Hardcaster was as honest a fellow as any in the Party: and having learnt a part, he really played it con amove. … This basket was not in reality of simple manufacture. It was most of it honest false bottom. (pp. 48-49)

76Margot is another character who wonders about the reality of things and people; she attempts to preserve her integrity and that of her love for Victor Stamp. Love is her only motive and she will be made to pay dearly for it, as the intellectual Hardcaster will have to pay for the sincerity of his attachment to the party and for “playing the game” honestly. At the party given by Sean O’Hara in honour of Hardcaster on his return from Spain Margot finds herself amidst a crowd of Left-wing intellectuals and artists; she feels that these “wax-dolls,” these “shampoliticos,” these unreals are “a dangerous crowd of shadows” that hover over Victor and herself and try “to turn them into phantoms and so to suppress them.” (pp. 172-3) Victor is associated with them because he is a painter, but “he does not give a damn, one way or another for ‘the people.’” (p. 70) He knows that he is not a good artist, though occasionally and almost by chance he can create a good thing. He is a disillusioned man, a Kreisler who lives in a vacuum, with the difference that Margot attempts to redeem him by her excessive love and to save him from such critics as Pete Wallach (Reuben Wallach) “who [is] forcing Victor’s head in the gas-oven.” (p. 157) Margot doesn’t care whether Victor is a good painter or not. He is an artist and as such he must be supported, so that she is desperate because she realizes that “in the modern world – that meant the tragic scene upon which she and Victor lived and suffered – there was no place for the artist, no place at all.” (p. 156) Good art cannot flourish in a society of shams, and Margot’s fear that Victor may be “unreal” is justified. He cannot exist in any real sense as an artist because, as Percy later explains to her, “Art as you under-stand it is finished. Your sort of art is as dead as the dodo. … It was the fine flower of a system. … The system’s finished. Art is the first thing to be scrapped. … All these people want their money for Rolls-Royces. They don’t believe in their system any more themselves or (consequently) in the art of their system.” (pp. 326-7) This is substantiated by the fact that Abershaw, whom Margot has caught forging Victor’s signature, wants him to work for a rich and well-known art-dealer who runs a workshop where faked masterpieces are produced:

Help him to work honestly they would not. … They said no one could make an honest living to-day. And they saw to it that he shouldn’t. Indeed it was dishonest to make an honest living to-day … oh yes, to work was ‘bourgeois’ – and they disseminated the belief that because society was rotten, work was out of the question: for they wanted the whole world slowly to strike, to go into chronic unemployment and to be idle, that they might take it over and rule the roost, with a hand of iron. (p. 178)

77At first, Victor refuses to join the workshop, but they are so poor that he finally accepts Abershaw’s proposition for Margot’s sake and in spite of her protests. But he cannot stand it for long, and he destroys the picture he had been working on for several days.

78Insincerity in art is only one aspect of dishonesty in a society of fakers, and at least neither the dealer nor the painters pretend that they are being honest or doing something valuable. The worst fakers are to be found in politics: their action is more harmful because it affects everyone. At the party given for him Hardcaster takes it for granted that every educated person knows what propaganda is, and he tells atrocity-stories which he is supposed to have experienced in the Spanish prison and in hospital. He greatly enjoys the social prestige it gives him, particularly among women. This wins him the sympathy of Gillian Phipps, an enthusiastic communist who yet despises Margot for not being a lady and who is also rather contemptuous of Jack Cruze, a rich man but a vulgarian, whom she discusses openly with her husband in his presence, thus practising what she calls “mental communism.” She encourages him to court her without ever giving herself, and when she makes fun of him she compares him to Lawrence’s “escaped cock.” The allusion to Lawrence in this context is, of course, completely irrelevant. Gillian also bestows her favours on Percy, the communist hero, and when the latter tells her in good faith that his tales at the party were propaganda, she becomes indignant, because he is not a real hero but a paid agitator who has allowed himself to become a cripple, a “show-piece,” a “museum of class-war atrocities” through sheer carelessness. The whole scene is an exposure of the bluff that enters into politics but also of communists like Gillian, “sham-underdogs athirst for power: whose doctrine was a universal Sicilian Vespers, and which yet treated the real poor, when they were encountered, with such overweening contempt and even derision.” (p. 160) Indeed, Percy now “was turning into something definitely – beneath her eyes. Into a stupid fat little man, of the working class.” (p. 204)

79For Gillian politics are a game, like love, and she doesn’t even play it correctly. Percy tells her that she is playing with ideas and that she is a communist for the fun of it; he explains to her that the working classes and the middle or upper classes have different purposes in making the revolution. But he pays dearly for not having realized sooner that for most Left-wing intellectuals communism is merely a game. While he is arguing with Gillian, Jack Cruze comes in and is told that Percy has been insulting her. He beats Hardcaster, and when the latter is down, he kicks him ferociously under the eyes of the upper-class Gillian, for whom the sporting spirit and “playing the game” are so important. Lewis often derides the notion of “playing the game”; to him this is a sham that blurs the sense of reality of the English. Percy comes back from hospital a changed man physically and morally, no longer inclined to consort with parlour-communists. Yet he falls a victim to another kind of game. He is asked by Abershaw and O’Hara to smuggle arms into Spain and to take Victor and Margot to help him. Margot, who is very anxious about Victor, makes things difficult for them. But when Hardcaster suspects that Victor is being used in a dishonest way, he follows Margot to Spain in search of Victor, and he is taken prisoner. Victor is momentarily saved by Percy’s initiative, but he and Margot are killed in a storm while trying to get back to France. Before he abandons the car in which he thought he had smuggled arms, Victor discovers in its false bottom not guns but bricks, and he realizes too late that he could have been saved by Margot, who suspected all the time that he was being deceived. A forged letter supposedly written by Hardcaster is found on him so that Percy has little chance of leaving the Spanish prison:

He ‘played the game.’ As ever, with an incorruptible mind, he remained a true ‘sportsman.’ To himself, at least, he never pretended that he was hardly used. He accepted, for his political opinions, the status of a game – a game, of course, of life and death. He would have been more the ‘happy warrior’ certainly, in the class-battle, if he had been possessed of a more dishonest mind. But fresh hardships only seemed to have the effect of seasoning his vision. His integrity stiffened after each fresh buffet of fate. (p. 372)

  • 103 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 84.

80“In 1937,” says Geoffrey Wagner, “we reach the peak of Lewis’s interest in fascism, and it is necessary always to read The Revenge for Love, his principal political satire, against the background of these sympathies.”103 There are few direct allusions to fascism in the novel; Margot merely states her preference for Blackshirts rather than for communists because she feels that Left-wing politics in Great Britain are an “enormous sham.” Lewis insists that Western countries – Spain and England in particular – undermine their own foundations under the foreign influence of Marxism. The Spanish War is viewed as a fight between “políticos,” which the Spaniards have allowed to develop through weakness, and which destroys the traditional grandeur of Spain. “It was odd – or perhaps not! – that England should go the way of Spain. Two countries with a glorious past … going rotten at the bottom and at the top, where the nation ceased to be the nation – the inferior end abutting upon the animal kingdom, the upper end merging in the international abstractness of men – where there was no longer either Spanish men or English men, but a gathering of individuals who were nothing.” (p. 6) Lewis believes that politics are a necessary evil. In The Lion and the Fox he analyses Machiavelli and agrees with him that men are not good and must be held in check by some individual or by the state. Hardcaster himself considers that politics are necessarily Machiavellian: “He who goes out so save a fool, must do so as an impostor…. There is only one way of fighting a lie, and that’s with a lie…. There’s no room for George Washington in this sinful world…. If you don’t use the lie it is as if you made war upon a nation armed with bombs and gas with flintlocks or just with fists.” (pp. 48 and 202) However, having recognized the character of the political game, he plays it correctly and with respect for what people are. Thus he admits that Alvaro, who shot him in the leg, was a fine man in his way, and he respects Victor and Margot Stamp. His integrity comes up frequently against Left-wing orthodoxy. According to Gillian, he has no right to call an ex-civil-guard a fine man, and Mateu, the Catalan who really smuggles the arms while Victor is a mere “decoyduck,” objects to Percy’s effort to save Victor because it might endanger their smuggling. Tristram Phipps is also a victim of Left-wing orthodoxy. He is the only minor character who is sincere and honest; he is an indoctrinated innocent who goes so far as to leave his wife because they disagree about politics. As to Gillian, although she is satirized for “kissing ideas” and for being a communist in theory but not in practice, she expresses Lewis’s opinion that the intellectuals, not the working classes, make revolutions:

It was all for their sake that the Gillians and Tristrams of this world were going to make a revolution! … It is we so-called ‘intellectuals’ of the upper classes, who are the only real communists. … When a workman becomes a communist he only does so for what he can get! He regards it as just another job – a jolly sight better paid than any he can get out of the bosses. And when he makes himself into a communist he brings with him all his working-class cynicism, all his underdog cowardice and disbelief in everything and everybody. All his tinpot calculations regarding his precious value. That is why Marx insisted on the necessity of his hatred being exploited. It’s the only pure passion he is capable of! As a communist he has mixed with his communism the animal characteristics of his class. All that cheap sentiment and moral squalor. At the best he is a mercenary. And a mercenary is always a potential traitor! (pp. 219 and 225)

81The main object of The Revenge for Love as a political satire is to denounce the dishonesty and make-believe of Left-wing politics among English intellectuals in the Thirties. Lewis frankly suggests that many are communists out of interest, though for the majority politics is simply a game as art was for the rich Bohemians of the Twenties. Apart from Tristram Phipps and the main character, none of these intellectuals is honest, and it is obvious that none is ready to act up to his beliefs: “One and all in their hearts determined that it was more necessary than ever to see to it that they should remain the brains of the Revolution.” (p. 146) Margot, who sees through them, knows that she and Victor should have the strength “to call their noisy shadow-bluff”: “Spring up and face them, and they would give way before you. For they had no will. Their will to life was extinct, even if they were technically real.” (p. 174) However, Lewis is again somewhat inconsistent in his denunciation of Left-wing intellectuals, for he presents them both as fake-thinkers and as the people who really make the Revolution and are exploited by the working classes. Even the main characters, who are the victims of Left-wing intellectuals, enjoy deluding themselves and others in some way: Percy likes to indulge in self-pity; Victor is called a “deluded” man, and the fact that he is a painter without talent renders somewhat senseless Margot’s sacrifices for him. At one point the genuineness of her love for Victor is questioned, so that one wonders whether it is possible for any human being to be completely free from some element of make-believe. It is true that on the whole Margot and Hardcaster are presented sympathetically and that Victor improves by living with Margot. Lewis has at last created human beings whom he does not despise for experiencing emotions, people who can be devoted and disinterested. But he is even more pessimistic than in his previous satires, because he shows that such people don’t have a chance in modern society. They are mercilessly exploited and destroyed. They court disaster because their generosity runs counter to the interest of those who make use of naive and sincere people. The most cruel revenge is on Hardcaster for the integrity of his faith, and all through the novel there is a sense of impending catastrophe whenever Margot’s love for Victor is mentioned. Love and faith are doomed; they do not regenerate, they condemn men to death in a world in which everyone attempts to exploit everyone else.

  • 104 The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Desmond Flower, p. 242.
  • 105 Ibid., Letter to W.K. Rose, p. 509.
  • 106 The English communists themselves claimed this: see Stephen SPENDER, Forward from Liberalism, Lond (...)

82Most critics agree that The Revenge for Love is Lewis’s best novel, and Lewis himself wrote: “It is probably the best complete work of fiction I have written.”104 Yet it is a pity that he didn’t take care to make the plot plausible, for the most important part of the action is based on the smuggling of arms into Republican Spain, and the main characters die or are imprisoned for it, though it is difficult to understand why the Spanish Republicans should have condemned the people who were bringing them arms. If anyone was likely to interfere or to protest, it was the French, not the Spanish. The error is, of course, irrelevant to the meaning of the novel. If anything it helps to illustrate Lewis’s conception of politics as a dangerous, futile and meaningless sport. Henceforth, the main theme of his work is the impact of politics, communism in particular, on the individual. In answer to a question about Margot’s association with communists, he wrote that “Communism has something to do with everyone. Even when it seems a long way off.”105 The threat of communism is the more dangerous in England as it is not brutally imposed but insidiously permeates everyone’s life. The easy adherence of English intellectuals to communism is seen as the result of nineteenth-century liberalism and tolerance106. In The Red Priest Lewis even shows how religion is being used to attract people to communism by drawing a parallel between that political doctrine and Christianity. Actually, Lewis had some ground for his satire on English intellectuals, for the ease with which many of them publicly recanted their opinions showed that they had committed themselves without due consideration. As we shall see, Orwell condemned Left-wing intellectuals for the same reason though from a different standpoint.

  • 107 See The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Robert Hale, p. 306.
  • 108 Ibid., p. 332. He explains this in a letter to H.G. Wells.
  • 109 Ibid., Letter to Robert Hale, p. 306.
  • 110 Wyndham Lewis, The Vulgar Streak, London, 1941, p. 235.
  • 111 It would seem at first sight that Lewis is less contemptuous of the working classes in this novel (...)

83The Vulgar Streak, published in 1941, is also a condemnation of counterfeiters, though of a different kind. The hero is the son of a labourer, who counterfeits money and rises in the social scale by dressing well and acquiring a good accent. Lewis doesn’t consider the novel as a social satire but as a piece of tragic fiction.107 Like Victor Stamp, Vincent Penhale realizes too late the regenerating power of love and the fact that it may be stronger than class. His wife dies and he commits suicide. Lewis also intended his hero to be a twentieth-century Julien Sorel,108 a man afflicted with the same mal du siècle as Hitler: the worship of force and action. “Vincent Penhale is a child of his time and infected with a disease that as a by-product gives us fascism.”109 The Vulgar Streak is almost aggressively anti-Hitler; it is the fictional counterpart of The Hitler Cult. “I have proved … upon my little personal stage that force is barren,”110 Vincent says. However, his effort to maintain himself in the upper classes doesn’t seem a very good example of action for its own sake, because it is not so aimless as Lewis says it is. Rather, it is the importance Vincent attaches to the outward symbols of class particularly dress and accent, which are meaningless, as he eve-- tually comes to realize. In fact, Lewis himself criticizes class snobbery in England and the system of education which condemns a man to remain a slave if he was born one, a system which denies strong intellects the right to develop, thus depriving England of useful intelligent people. At the same time, he draws a fairly detailed picture of the working classes, whom he calls the worst snobs because they accept their status as “subhuman inferiors” and do everything they can to help their masters keep them down. Vincent’s family, among whom laziness, drink and vulgarity prevail, are presented as typical working-class specimens. Worst of all is their mass-spirit and their hatred of anyone who escapes from their “inferno.”111

84Lewis’s bias against the “changeless Many” is again evident in Self Condemned (1954), the first novel he published after the War. The theme of the novel is the struggle of a professor of history, René Harding, to keep his intellectual integrity. As an intelligent and creative man, he wants to break free from the Philistine majority who “inhabit a peculiarly violent Stone Age.” He resigns his professorship and emigrates to Canada, where he fails to find the cultural environment he needs in order to create. Canada is described as a country of the utmost intellectual and cultural poverty. After three years of “living death” in a hotel room Harding is prepared to compromise with intellectual orthodoxy. The hotel, “a microcosm fearfully and wickedly mismanaged,” like human society, is destroyed like Europe by a tremendous fire. Harding’s wife commits suicide because she thinks that his accepting a professorship at a Canadian university means that they won’t go back to England. Harding is momentarily crushed by this trial, then he recovers his exterior hardness. He becomes a “half-crazed replica of his former self,” for he is now a machine like everyone else. He is greatly pleased with the success of his latest book and glad to become a professor at an American university, which formerly he would have considered shameful. Harding is one of Lewis’s most unpleasant characters. Unlike Hardcaster, he suffers without dignity and is sickly sentimental when he experiences emotions. His attitude towards love, or rather sex, is simply repulsive; it is not surprising that he should find the latter degrading. His own final degradation, which he incurs as a kind of defiant gesture towards his dead wife, is not devoid of self-pity. The objective hardness on which his reputation as a historian rests is mainly a show, for he no longer believes in it and has lost the self-respect which had always dictated his behaviour.

  • 112 Wyndham Lewis, Self Condemned, London, 1955, p. 86.
  • 113 The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Mrs. Amor Liber, p. 558.

85Self Condemned is often marred by too long expositions of Harding’s theories, which are based on Lewis’s view that human history can only be vizualized and described as a “crime-story,” a “chaos” or a “burlesque.” This is because men ignore the products of creative minds as well as the heroic creators themselves who are “knocked down by the gang of criminals [the heads of states] with the assistance of course of the unenlightened herd.”112 Lewis may have intended to suggest that, given the circumstances in which the creative individual is forced to live in modern society, it is impossible for him to retain his integrity. This would take us a step further than The Human Age, in which Pullman felt he had to compromise with “Big Business” and “gangster wealth” because they at least provided the artist with the means of practising his art. Harding is often accused of having a destructive intelligence, though his friend “Rotter” claims the contrary and asserts that his writing contains “an implicit proposal for revaluation, moral and intellectual throughout society.” (p. 95) But on what basis? Since the novel is partly autobiographical, we might ask the same question about Lewis’s work. His assertion that men of intelligence should rule the world is rather vague as a basis for regeneration and irrelevant to humanity as a whole. Moreover, Lewis’s opinion about men of intelligence is somewhat arbitrary. He may not share the nihilism of his hero, whom he describes as “dangerous,”113 but Self Condemned and much of his work in general illustrate Harding’s conception of life:

If one condemns all history as trivial and unedifying, must not all human life be condemned on the same charge? Is not human life too short to have any real value, is it not too hopelessly compromised with the silliness involved in the reproduction of the species, of all the degradations accompanying the association of those of opposite sex to realize offspring? . .. The problem of problems is to find anything of value intact and undiluted in the vortex of slush and nonsense: to discover any foothold (however small) in the phenomenal chaos, for the ambitious mind: enough that is uncontaminated to make it worth-while to worry about life at all. And as to condemning the slush and nonsense, the pillage and carnage which we have glorified as ‘history’; why, that throws us back upon the futility of our daily lives, which also have to be condemned. (p. 351)

  • 114 “Restoration of the Reason,” The Criterion, VI, 5 (November 1927), 392.

86The significance of Lewis as a writer must be viewed in relation to the strong reaction against liberal democracy initiated by the French neo-classicists; it was during his association with them in Paris before the First World War that his views on art and politics were formed. Though he did not commit himself politically like Maurras, Lewis’s opinions developed in roughly the same manner as those of the French writer: like him, he started by violently attacking the Germans and their Romanticism and was eventually led to support Hitler in the name of order and discipline, though he was always sceptical of the merits of action and cannot have been blind to the irrational element in fascism. This development was entirely motivated by his ineradicable conviction that democratization was bringing about the collapse of Western civilization. As Ernst Curtius put it, “The anarchical condition of European intelligence [was] nothing other than the irruption of democracy into the sphere of the intellect.”114 The neo-classicists attributed the impact of democracy on all spheres of human activity to Romanticism and to Bergsonism: the former had largely contributed to diffuse the humanitarian ideal which eventually gave rise to democracy, and it was debasing art to the level of the popular and the vulgar by exalting emotions and sensations. The latter emphasized the “becoming” and the flux of life and thus did not only acknowledge its instability but encouraged it. By identifying man with his surrounding world, the Bergsonians were depriving him of his individuality. To these critics the “merging” and “penetrating” of all life in an attempt to grasp it as a whole was equivalent to a form of communism which degraded the achievement of the superior being who creates in isolation. Moreover, by giving prominence to instinct and intuition, the Bergsonians were discrediting the intellect and imparing the authority of the one instrument that ensures the continuity of Western culture and civilization. Lewis believed with Maurras that the masses should relinquish all responsibility to an intellectual elite but, unlike Maurras, he didn’t think this elite should be hereditary. He also shared the neo-classicists’ opinion that the real intellectual, the “clerc” was being corrupted either by his adherence to democracy, by the state, which made it impossible for him to keep aloof from the life of the ordinary citizen, or by international financiers who had become the actual rulers of the world. However, unlike most neo-classicists, Lewis was never a nationalist.

  • 115 In The Reactionaries, London, 1966, an often questionable analysis of the politics of Yeats, Lewis (...)
  • 116 Matthew Arnold, op. cit., p. 221.

87Lewis’s association of political democracy with the adulteration of culture115 made him exalt the “artist-hero” without realizing that the very concept was in contradiction with his idea of art as the supreme human activity. It is, indeed, difficult to reconcile his theoretical aestheticism with the political role he is prepared to assign to the artist and with his own mixing of politics and art. This inconsistency became more flagrant between the Wars when Lewis increasingly allowed the critic in him to supersede the artist. Given the nature of his political attitude, it gave rise to other inconsistencies which in the end are responsible for the controversial character of his work as novelist and critic of English society. For instance, in his criticism of “art-politics” Lewis appeals to a “classical” tradition of authority and order which is entirely foreign to the English cultural tradition. In socio-politics the order defended by English traditionalists is inherent in their conception of society as an organic whole; it is not the non-hierarchical order imposed by “One” on the “Many.” Moreover, it is an order which allows for the individual’s “free play of consciousness ”116 and is based on belief in human perfection, and not on a belief in the stupidity of the majority of human beings. Similarly, while allowing for exceptions, one must remember that the major English literary tradition was never “classical” in Lewis’s sense of the word, i.e., exclusively rationalist. It is also worth stressing that Lewis’s vision of the artist as the centre of the act of creation, and not as a medium, is hardly consistent with his advocacy of Classicism. If Eliot’s cult of impersonality in art is an attempt to escape from the personality of feelings and emotions, the selfishness of Lewis’s artist makes him necessarily subjective. His own extremism both in the attitudes he adopted and in the form of his satires could hardly be reconciled with his narrow conception of Classicism or for that matter with Classicism in general.

88In spite of the un-English character of the tradition he defends it is mainly English society and English art that Lewis criticizes in his fiction. But again, there is a discrepancy between the ambitious character of his purpose to illustrate the decline of Western civilization and the limited scope of his satire, which seldom rises above a mere denigration of individuals. Tarr and The Revenge for Love are exceptions, but in The Apes of God and The Human Age it is hardly possible to dissociate his denunciation of contemporary attitudes from the people who were supposed to uphold them. Thus to deride the youth-cult, the child-cult, the cult of action, primitivism, homosexuality, and the “demasculinization” of society which is ruining its structure, Lewis embodies them in well-known literary personalities of the inter-war period who seem to have been recognized by everyone at the time. The fact that their identification in Lewis’s satires considerably adds to the interest of these works is an indication of their weak-ness as literary products. True to his principle of separating art from life, Lewis did not hesitate to satirize even life-long friends, let alone artists whom he really despised like Lawrence. Setting himself up as public “Enemy” he exposed what he called the sham politics of Left-wing intellectuals, fakers in love and in art, and took Bloomsbury artists and their “societification” of art as his main target. Lewis is never so pessimistic as when he denounces hypocrisy, the disparity between people’s avowed principles and their actual behaviour. But his excessive anger prevents him from transmuting his criticism into an impersonal and universal satire. Moreover, he seldom discriminates between trivial and essential things and his indictment of modern society can be so disproportionate as to defeat its purpose.

89Lewis might be called a “revolutionary conservative.” He was a conservative in his opposition to democracy, his contempt for the present and its increasingly industrialized and disintegrating civilization, in his attachment to the tradition which had contributed to the greatness of Western culture. That he was opposed to change is not only manifest in his political views but in the stubbornness with which he kept fighting battles that had become irrelevant. Yet he considered himself as a true revolutionary on the ground that he belonged to the enlightened minority who are always responsible for any real change or progress in society. Only the “person,” the “One” is capable of generating advancement; the masses follow blindly. That is why Lewis was so fiercely critical of philosophers and artists who, in his opinion, contributed to the debasement of the “Many.” But this prevented him from appreciating what was truly revolutionary in the literary art of his time, in the works of Joyce, Lawrence and Virginia Woolf. He only saw that these artists exalted the inner life of the individual and that the characters in their novels revelled in emotions; he was too prejudiced, particularly towards Joyce, to discover anything else in their art.

  • 117 Henry Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, in op. cit., p. 15.

Si l’art qui ne donne que des sensations est un art inférieur, c’est que l’analyse ne démêle pas souvent dans une sensation autre chose que cette sensation même. Mais la plupart des émotions sont grosses de mille sensations, sentiments ou idées qui les pénètrent: chacune d’elle est donc un état unique en son genre, indéfinissable, et il semble qu’il faudrait revivre la vie de celui qui l’éprouve pour l’embrasser dans sa complexe originalité.117

90Lewis’s fiction fails entirely to convey the complexity of human nature because his external approach prevents him from investigating the hidden motives of the human psyche. Though he set out to revolutionize the arts, his original contribution to literature is limited. The dichotomy between body and mind on which his satire is based makes him convey the grotesque in man successfully. His pungent style, which relies almost entirely on the aggressiveness of his highly idiosyncratic arrangement of harsh words, gives his work an intensely personal character. But it is also obvious from his many repetitions, contradictions and inconsistencies that Lewis was an untrained thinker, which partly explains the lack of harmony in his work.

  • 118 Self Condemned, p. 147.
  • 119 The Hitter Cult, p. 173.

91The main theme of Lewis’s work is the “humanization of the Divine” in art and in politics. He saw this process as the outcome of a mechanization which was due to the disparagement of the intellect. In contradistinction to Lawrence, the mechanical was for him the emotional and the instinctive. Hence his contempt for women (at least in his fiction), who, in his eyes, stood for all that was soft, sentimental, “jellyish” in human behaviour. Harding’s remark that “he always forgot that Hester was a human being because she was so terribly much the woman”118 aptly illustrates Lewis’s opinion that indulging in emotions or sensations reduces man to an automaton. Most of his novels convey his vision of a mechanized humanity, of lifeless puppets, morons or half-men vegetating in mediocrity and stupidity. He does illustrate the violence of contemporary life and recreate the nightmarish atmosphere of big cities in which men lead a lifeless existence. But he doesn’t make clear in what particular way men are being dehumanized, because since they are mere puppets from beginning to end, his characters never change as human beings do. They do not degenerate since they are bad from the start. Nor can they ever be redeemed or, with the possible exception of Hardcaster, learn from experience. The few characters in his fiction who embody his own ideal of classical order and intellectual superiority are utterly unpleasant because of their arrogance, their defiant amorality and their hatred of humanity, the same hatred which makes Lewis lose all sense of measure and mars his criticism. His assertion that “merely by living we contaminate ourselves”119 gives the measure of his distaste for humanity and for life as distinct from art.

  • 120 “The Dithyrambic Spectator,” The Calendar of Modern Letters, I, 2 (April 1925), 94. Many of Lewis’ (...)

92Lewis’s criticism of society is mostly negative, for nothing in his work compensates for the disgust he attempts to arouse at the repulsiveness of humanity. Like most conservatives, he was a pessimist, but he turned his pessimism into contempt. His novels are essentially an expression of his misanthropy and of his belief in man’s weakness and stupidity. He is, in fact, an inverted romanticist fascinated by his vision of perverted mankind. The extravagance of his satire, the loudness and arrogance of his protest seem to be the product of disillusion and of personal discontent. Lewis lacked the humility of the true artist more preoccupied with his work than with himself, and that is why he did not achieve the detachment necessary to a work of art. He can never rank with artists who, like him, criticized the society of their time but were able to transcend their personal anger. Above all, he cannot rank with Lawrence, with whom at first sight he seems to have much in common. They both vehemently denounced contemporary civilization and the mechanization of man, and they were equally critical of the literary coteries of the Twenties. Their rendering of the atmosphere which prevailed in some social circles at the time shows precisely that Lawrence achieved universality where Lewis remained entangled with personalities without actually bringing them to life. Lawrence exalts life, its beauty and its richness; Lewis debases it with the intention of showing that it is being degraded by man, but he himself never suggests a better way of life. He cannot visualize characters who are wholly or harmoniously human, and his advocacy of reason is too often the expression of his dessicating conservatism. Ultimately, his failure is, as we have seen, artistic, though we must make allowance for his strong personality, his pungency, his intellectual independence. It is perhaps too soon to say how Lewis will be judged in the future. Ironically, he seems to illustrate his own assertion that “to-day … the performer exists chiefly in order that the critic may act – as a Critic.”120 I think, hovewer, that he will be considered as an important literary figure of the inter-war period and that interest in his work will revive periodically – perhaps when men are prepared to hear some uncomfortable truths about themselves.


1 Wyndham Lewis, One-Way Song, London, 1960, p. 46.

2 Letter to Leonard Amster, The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, ed. by W.K. Rose, London, 1963, p. 275.

3 T.S. Eliot, “The Function of Criticism,” The Criterion, II, 5 (October 1923), 34.

4 Among them was Charles Maurras, Paul Bourget, Henri Massis, Ernest Seillière, Julien Benda, Pierre Lasserre and Jacques Maritain, though it must be pointed out that they did not all hold the same views or criticize Romanticism and Bergsonism for the same reasons. For a detailed analysis of Lewis’s indebtedness to these writers see Geoffrey Wagner, Wyndham Lewis, A Portrait of the Artist as the Enemy, London, 1957.

5 In Rude Assignment Lewis acknowledged that the character was partly autobiographical.

6 Wyndham Lewis, Tarr, London, 1951, p. 11.

7 Lewis, who had joined the Omega Workshops in 1912, broke with Fry in 1913 and founded his own Rebel Art Centre.

8 John MCCormick, Catastrophe and Imagination, An Interpretation of the Recent English and American Novel, London, 1957, p. 295.

9 Viola Hunt, I have this to Say, p. 211, quoted by Geoffrey WAGNER, op. cit., p. 140.

10 V.S. Pritchett, “The Eye Man,” in Books in General, London, 1953, p. 252.

11 Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man, Boston, 1957, p. 25.

12 Ibid., p. 454.

13 Time and Western Man, p. 377.

14 Ibid., p. 9.

15 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 98.

16 Time and Western Man, p. 263.

17 T.S. Eliot, “A Commentary,” The Criterion, VI, 4 (November 1927), 387

18 Ibid., 386.

19 Lewis’s condemnation of “action” stands in contradiction with his admiration for the Action Française and later for Hitler, though he expressed the hope that the latter would promote “intelligent” action.

20 It is interesting to note that the first issue of Blast contained the following assertion: “All arts approach the condition of music.” Quoted by Frank Kermode in The Romantic Image, London, 1957, p. 134.

21 At this stage Lewis is naturally concerned with Italian fascism only; he professed little admiration for Mussolini.

22 Time and Western Man, p. 335. Lewis misinterprets Behaviorism, which rejects the concept of instinct and explains human behaviour in terms of responses to outside stimuli. He does not distinguish between instinct and the unconscious because both can give rise to forms of behaviour not controlled by intelligence.

23 “On the Discrimination of Romanticisms,” PMLA, 39, 2 (1924), 229-53, reprinted in English Romantic Poets, ed. by M.H. Abrams, (pp. 3-24), New York, 1960, p. 22.

24 “The Concept of ‘Romanticism’ in Literary History,” Comparative Literature, I, 1 (1949), 1-23, 147-72, reprinted in Concepts of Criticism, New Haven, 1963, pp. 128-98.

25 “Romanticism Re-examined,” in Romanticism Reconsidered, ed. by North-rop Frye, New York, pp. 107-33.

26 “German and English Romanticism: A Confrontation,” Confrontations, Princeton, 1965, pp. 3-33.

27 Professor Wellek has noted the tendency to make Rousseau the wellspring of all Romanticism and to reduce Romanticism to Rousseauism. In his opinion “Rousseau is duly overrated if he is made the originator of attitudes which he helped to popularize but did not invent.” Concepts of Criticism, p. 169.

28 Irving Babbitt, Rousseau and Romanticism, New York, 1962, p. 58.

29 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., pp. 13-14.

30 Irving Babbitt, op. cit., pp. 17-18.

31 “The Values of the Doctrine behind ‘Subjective’ Art,” The Criterion, VI, 1 (July 1927), 12.

32 René Wellek, Concepts of Criticism, p. 165.

33 Benda’s La Trahison des Clercs, also published in 1927, is markedly anti-German but puts the case against German Romanticism much more clearly than Time and Western Man.

34 See René Wellek’s assertion that German Romanticism, in contrast with English and French Romanticism, is not Rousseauistic. Confrontations, p. 19.

35 See among others Benda, op. cit. (1927), and Henry Massis’s Défense de l’Occident, published in 1925.

36 Quoted by Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 269.

37 W.A. Thorpe, Review of Time and Western Man, The Criterion, VII, 1 (January 1928), 72.

38 E.R. Curtius, “Restoration of the Reason,” The Criterion, VI, 5 (Novem-ber 1927), 396.

39 T.S. Eliot, Review of Reason and Romanticism by Herbert Read and Messages by Ramon Fernandez, The Criterion, IV, 4 (October 1926), 757.

40 T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose, London, 1963, p. 23.

41 Nowadays, critics tend to consider the antithesis “classical-romantic” as unsatisfactory and draw attention to the neo-Hellenism of German, English, and French romantics. In view of Lewis’s frequent references to Plato to counter Romanticism it is also worth noting that in his essay “Classical and Romantic,” published in 1923, H.J.C. Grierson had called Plato the first “great Romantic,” The Background of English Literature, Classical and Romantic, London, 1950, p. 273.

42 T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in Selected Prose, pp. 25, 29 and 26.

43 Philip Le Brun, “T.S. Eliot and Henri Bergson,” RES. New Series, XVIII, 70 and 71 (1967), 149-161, 274-286. Le Brun argues that Eliot’s theory of impersonality is “a highly sophisticated form of romantic theory.” (285) He shows Eliot’s indebtedness to Bergson for his cult of impersonality and even for his idea of an “objective correlative.”

44 Cf. “Reality is to be sought in the self or the person.” Time and Western Man, p. 454.

45 S.V.Pritchett, “The Eye-Man,” in op. cit., p. 249.

46 On the contrary, for Arthur O. Lovejoy “The one ‘Romanticism’ which has an indisputable title to the name was conceived as … a sense of the inner moral struggle as the distinctive fact in human experience.” Op. cit., p. 19.

47 Irving Babbitt, op. cit., p. 117.

48 S.L. Goldberg, Joyce, Writers and Critics Series, London, 1962, p. 94.

49 J.I.M. Stewart, James Joyce, Writers and their Work Series, London, 1957.

50 In a letter to Richard Aldington, however, Lewis writes: “The Ulyssean ‘thought-stream’ method is only appropriate to the depiction of children, morons, and the extremely infirm (Fredigonde).” The Letters of Wyndham Lewis. p. 191.

51 In a recent article David Ward also draws attention to the similarity between the two theories and writes that the publication of A Portrait o{ the Artist as a Young Man “helped to precipitate Eliot’s idea of Impersonality.” “The Cult of Impersonality: Eliot, St. Augustine and Flaubert,” Essays in Criticism, XVII, 2 (April 1967), 175.

52 James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Penguin Books, 1964.

53 Time and Western Man, pp. 90 and 115.

54 Wyndham Lewis, Childermass, London, 1956, p. 463.

55 Time and Western Man, pp. 62-63.

56 Ibid., p. 203.

57 It seems that Lewis’s reference to Paine’s Rights of Man is simply intended as a pun: the rights of Man as opposed to Woman, for Lewis is unlikely to be referring to what Paine stands for.

58 Wyndham Lewis, Monstre Gai, London, 1955, p. 284.

59 Wyndham Lewis, Malign Fiesta, London, 1955, p. 443.

60 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 186.

61 Henri Bergson, L’Evolution créatrice, in Œuvres, Paris, 1963, p. 657.

62 Ibid., p. 623.

63 Ibid., pp. 645-6.

64 Ibid., pp. 649-50.

65 John Middleton Murry, “Towards a Synthesis,” The Criterion, V, 3 (June 1927), 294-313. Murry’s article was prompted by Eliot’s review of Reason and Romanticism by Herbert Read and Messages by Ramon Fernandez in The Criterion, IV, 4 (October 1926), 751-7, see above p. 179n.

66 Eliot is rather vague on the subject: “To me both intelligence and intuition are mysterious.” (“Mr. Middleton Murry’s Synthesis,” The Criterion, VI, 4, October 1927, 343.) To Charles Mauron intuition “is nothing but a catchword applied to all the mental phenomena of which we have no clear idea.” (“Concerning ‘Intuition’,” The Criterion, VI, 3, September 1927, 235). For Ramon Fernandez intuition is intimately connected with intelligence, though he ultimately sides with Eliot – “perhaps for reasons which Mr. Eliot would not accept.” His position among the neo-classicists is the most nuancé and he sees the danger for them of adhering to a “short-sighted reason.”

67 Quoted by T.S. Eliot, in The Criterion, IV, 752.

68 Ibid.

69 Richard Aldington, “Notes,” The Criterion, I, 4 (July 1923), 421-2.

70 Stephen Spender, The Destructive Element, London, 1937, p. 214.

71 Wyndham Lewis, Hitler, London, 1931, p. 84.

72 Time and Western Man, p. 119.

73 The Art of Being Ruled, p. 95, quoted by Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 69.

74 Wyndham Lewis, The Diabolical Principle and the Dithyrambic Spectator, London, 1931, p. 126.

75 Hitler, Left Wings over Europe, and Count Your Dead: They are Alive!

76 Hitler, p. 32.

77 Wyndham Lewis, Left Wings over Europe, London, 1936, p. 323.

78 Hitler, pp. 19-20.

79 Wyndham Lewis, Count Your Dead: They Are Alive!, London, 1937, p. 79.

80 Left Wings over Europe, p. 164.

81 Count your Dead, p. 83.

82 Wyndham Lewis, The Hitler Cult, London, 1939, p. 254.

83 Stephen Spender, “Writers and Politics,” The Partisan Review, XXXIV, 3 (Summer 1967), 372. Spender’s article is a review of Journey to the Frontier by Peter Stansky and William Abrahams, of The Reactionaries by John Harrison and of Writers and Politics by Conor Cruise O’Brien.

84 The Diabolical Principle, p. 40.

85 Wyndham Lewis, The Apes of God, London, 1935, p. 121.

86 Wyndham Lewis, The Doom of Youth, London, 1932, p. 265.

87 Ibid., foreword ix.

88 Wyndham Lewis, The Old Gang and the New Gang, London, 1933, pp. 59 and 62-63.

89 Wyndham Lewis, The Lion and the Fox, London, 1955, p. 135.

90 Ibid., p. 137.

91 Wyndham Lewis, The Wild Body, London, 1927, pp. 243 and 246.

92 Henri Bergson, Le Rire, in op. cit., pp. 401 and 457.

93 Ibid., p. 414.

94 Satire and Fiction, p. 46, quoted by Geoffrey WAGNER, op. cit., p. 269.

95 Bergson also brings out the cruelty of laughter as an instrument of social criticism: “Le rire est, avant tout, une correction. Fait pour humilier, il doit donner à la personne qui en est l’objet une impression pénible. … Il n’atteindrait pas son but s’il portait la marque de la sympathie et de la bonté.” Le Rire, p. 481.

96 Wyndham LEWIS, Snooty Baronet, London, 1932, p. 233.

97 Lewis is drawing conclusions from the Behaviorist theory, but he does not describe it fairly and he misinterprets it: Behaviorism never compelled people to behave in a particular way but merely described how people do behave in response to stimuli.

98 Lewis may have borrowed the idea of the cult of Mithra(s) from Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, in which Mithraism is described as the “popular religion of the Roman legionary.”

99 According to Geoffrey Wagner, Lewis went so far as to suggest that “Lawrence died of a most unpleasant disease,” op. cit., p. 83.

100 Scrutiny, III 2 (September 1934). This is a review of T.S. Eliot’s After Strange Gods. Dr. Leavis refers in it to Lewis’s treatment of D.H. Lawrence in Paleface.

101 By nature Snooty simply means what England, a country “flowing with milk and honey,” has to offer. He insists that the country is reduced to nothing by the wickedness of man. There may be an allusion in this passage to Rousseau’s Social Contract since Lewis never lost an opportunity of criticizing Rousseau. He opposes man to nature to emphasize the fact that man is not good and corrupts nature.

102 Wyndham Lewis, The Revenge {or Love, London, 1952, p. 1.

103 Geoffrey Wagner, op. cit., p. 84.

104 The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Desmond Flower, p. 242.

105 Ibid., Letter to W.K. Rose, p. 509.

106 The English communists themselves claimed this: see Stephen SPENDER, Forward from Liberalism, London, 1937.

107 See The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Robert Hale, p. 306.

108 Ibid., p. 332. He explains this in a letter to H.G. Wells.

109 Ibid., Letter to Robert Hale, p. 306.

110 Wyndham Lewis, The Vulgar Streak, London, 1941, p. 235.

111 It would seem at first sight that Lewis is less contemptuous of the working classes in this novel since he condemns English class snobbery. But it is obvious that he is as contemptuous of the working classes as ever. The fact that he seems to sympathize with Vincent illustrates his divided attitude towards Vincent’s show of force: he is determined to condemn it, yet he cannot help admiring it.

112 Wyndham Lewis, Self Condemned, London, 1955, p. 86.

113 The Letters of Wyndham Lewis, Letter to Mrs. Amor Liber, p. 558.

114 “Restoration of the Reason,” The Criterion, VI, 5 (November 1927), 392.

115 In The Reactionaries, London, 1966, an often questionable analysis of the politics of Yeats, Lewis, Pound, Eliot and Lawrence, John Harrison argues that democracy does not necessarily entail adulteration of culture. He explains that English culture has always been predominantly democratic and that the literature that used to be read by the lower classes – the Bible, Bunyan, Dickens – was good, as were the newspapers produced and read by them – for instance, Cobbett’s and Hetherington’s. It is only when the upper classes (the Tories and Lord Northcliffe in particular) started to produce and aptly advertise cheap literature that the traditional standards of the lower classes fell. (pp. 205-6) There is a good deal of truth in this statement, but it corroborates Lewis’s view that the decadent upper classes in collusion with international finance corrupt the lower classes.

116 Matthew Arnold, op. cit., p. 221.

117 Henry Bergson, Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, in op. cit., p. 15.

118 Self Condemned, p. 147.

119 The Hitter Cult, p. 173.

120 “The Dithyrambic Spectator,” The Calendar of Modern Letters, I, 2 (April 1925), 94. Many of Lewis’s works are being reprinted.

© Presses universitaires de Liège, 1970

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