Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485
Perhaps Blasting and Bombardiering was an attempt at exorcism. Lewis was disenchanted with the role of the artist in society long before World War I erupted, but his war experiences deepened that disenchantment and added to it a cynicism that festered within him for much of the remainder of his life. The title of the book, of course, refers to Lewis’s editorship of the avant-garde journal Blast, which, although suspended after two issues, made a significant artistic statement in its day, and to his training as a bombardier after he entered military service in 1916.
The book is divided into five sections, the first of which deals with the London literary scene as the war became a reality, focusing on the publication of Blast. The next two sections have to do with Lewis’s entry into military service and with his service, first as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery serving in France and later as a painter of war pictures attached to the Canadian army and stationed in London.
The next section deals with postwar England, a period when Lewis was semiretired, trying to find himself after the shock of the war. He was a dedicated womanizer and lived to a large extent on the patronage of various rich women with whom he had liaisons. The period from 1919 to 1926 was a fallow one for Lewis, although he was working regularly on his writing and published six important books between 1926 and 1929. These books were all in the formative stages during his semiretirement.
The final section focuses on Lewis’s three closest literary associates: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyce. He regards Pound as brilliant and important for his influence on other writers, most notably Eliot. He discusses Pound less charitably in some of his other writing. Lewis thinks that Eliot was lackluster, with occasional moments of artistic brilliance. He considers Joyce idiosyncratic but extremely promising. His view of these three writers was tempered by the fact that war intervened in all of their lives, diverting them from their true courses, which would inevitably have led to a more classical art, to a detached literature.
Although Blasting and Bombardiering extends for nearly a decade beyond the end of World War I, the impact of that war is evident on every page. The central theme of the book has to do with the inroads that war (and by extension, philistine society) makes upon art and artists.
A valuable side benefit in this book is found in Lewis’s thumbnail sketches of some of the intellectuals of his day, aside from those aforementioned. His comments about Nancy Cunard, Rebecca West, T. E. Lawrence, Augustus John, T. E. Hulme, Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, William Butler Yeats, and others with whom he was closely involved as an artist and a writer are highly subjective and largely unsubstantiated, but they provide shrewd and sharp insights into these people.
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