Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The central theme of Snooty Baronet is an examination of modern life and the impact on human behavior of such events as World War I and of such intellectual constructs as behaviorism. Snooty is the perfect modern man—driven by blind forces which he does not understand into living a life of mechanical triviality. Just as Snooty is a puppet—manipulated by fate, by history, and by the author—so he, too, becomes a manipulator, using and abusing his friends and business acquaintances for his own pleasure and gain, all the while bemoaning the fact that modern life is so predictable and nasty. It is part of Lewis’ satire to have Snooty comment on the forces shaping his world without really understanding them. The target most often under fire is the pseudoscientific community that is measuring and attempting to control human behavior, thereby reducing people to a series of predictable parts.

As the novel progresses, Snooty, although wonderfully unpredictable in his high spirits and irreverence, becomes more savage and mechanical. By the conclusion, Snooty has killed his agent—does behaviorism reduce even murder to the status of only another event?—and abandoned his mistress, Val, to the clutches of the Arab bandit in an act of monstrous ingratitude. The world rewards him wildly as his book is published by the Book of the Month Club and makes him wealthy and famous. What can one make of all this violence and savagery?

The root seems to lie with World War I and the experiences which have transformed Snooty as well as a whole generation into accepting death and despair and helplessness as a part of everyday living. The war’s psychological damage has caused a debilitating boredom, which in turn creates an underlying layer of violence that, volcanolike, erupts from time to time in strange and unpredictable (although not entirely unforeseen) acts of savagery.