Critical Evaluation

Wyndham Lewis is probably the least known of the great modernist authors and artists. A sometime colleague of Ezra Pound; an acquaintance of T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein; and a campaigner for innovation in the arts of painting and literature, Lewis lost fame by turning on these and other allies, who, understandably, became less than enthusiastic about promoting his reputation. His feud with the literary Sitwell family, for example, whose portraits he painted, undoubtedly lost him many commissions. His output as painter, novelist, poet, philosopher, and controversial pamphleteer was prodigious. His father was American, and his mother English; Lewis was born on a yacht moored in Canadian waters. He thus was a citizen of three countries. After his parents separated when he was an infant, Lewis was raised in England by his English mother. He was educated at Rugby, a famous public school, and at London’s Slade School of Art. Tarr is his first novel.

Lewis has been called the foremost English prose stylist of his century. In Tarr, his skill and his rigorous aesthetic are well in evidence. His painting, of the Futuristic stamp, but which Lewis, more to name his own movement than to create a necessary distinction, termed vorticist, is hard-edged and done with dizzying perspective. One finds a similar technique in Tarr. Eliot remarked that Lewis’s novel was a war of points-of-view, not only in its content but also in its form. The style of the writing alters according to which of the major characters predominates in any given chapter.

It needs to be remarked here that there are a number of texts of this novel. In 1918 alone, three different versions were published: a serialized one, an American edition, and the English edition. In 1928, Lewis issued a revision of the American version. The reprint novel that is most widely available is based on the 1918 American text and provides an exhaustive variant table. Lewis uses various devices as “distancers,” so that...

(The entire section is 827 words.)