The “god” of Wyndham Lewis’ title is the artist, the true artist, such as Lewis himself, who was a well-known painter as well as a novelist and social critic. God’s “apes,” or imitators, are the affluent dabblers and hangers-on who usurp and trivialize the role of the artist in society. The story opens in the Follett London mansion. Lady Fredigone and her husband, Sir James, are in their nineties. Doddering but still part of Society, they are attentively visited by hopeful relatives such as Dick Whittingdon and Horace Zagreus, who has captivated Lady Fredigone with his verbal brilliance.
Zagreus, a dilettante who has devoted his life to a succession of vibrant enthusiasms, has just acquired the latest in a long series of young “geniuses” in whom he will inculcate his own exquisite sensibilities. His handsome new protege, Dan Boleyn, inarticulate and unlettered, is thrilled to learn of his unsuspected gifts. Zagreus is passing on the flame which he in turn acquired from his mentor, the mysterious Pierpoint, who never appears although he is often mentioned. Pierpoint has elaborated his “apes of God” diagnosis of London society, and Zagreus, his chief minister, is to propagandize his philosophy and “recruit” new prospective keepers of the flame. To this end, Zagreus sets up an intensive training program for the dim-witted Dan, who is informed of this honor in an encyclical which describes the attributes of “the apes of God.” A rigorous routine of social calls is prescribed in which Dan is exposed to prototypical varieties of “apes.”
Julius Ratner, the “Split-Man,” is one of Dan’s “lessons.” Ratner is a Jew, an adherent of Sigmund Freud, who has risen from doubtful origins to affluence as a book dealer and publisher. He is obsessed with his psychiatric complexes, which he discusses endlessly. He, too, is a (now somewhat skeptical) disciple of Pierpoint, once recruited by...
(The entire section is 790 words.)