Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
Blasting and Bombardiering is particularly useful as a World War I memoir, for it recounts Wyndham Lewis’ life from before the war until almost a decade after. Yet, as is so often the case for those who endured the western front, the war is central throughout. Few other wars have had the extended personal and cultural impact of World War I. This influence is clearer in Lewis’ work than in many because as author and painter, frontline soldier and—after arranging to be excused from combat—war artist, he becomes an Everyman. Lewis’ artistic and literary criticism are both central elements of the book and extensions of the trauma of war.
Blasting and Bombardiering is divided into five parts, recounting the stages in Lewis’ life from 1914 to 1926. The book’s initial topic is the first publication of Lewis’ literary magazine Blast. Printed on puce paper, the two editions of Blast were avant-garde to a fault but contained work of brilliant and important figures of the twentieth century, including T. S. Eliot and Rebecca West. Lewis became a tempest in a teapot as the self-proclaimed leader of the vorticist movement in England. Although he did not care for the term, his group was part of the Futurist movement in art and was much influenced by the cubists. Given his talent, Lewis’ self-importance was not inappropriate, but it was tempered by war.
Although he spent the first few months of the Great War recovering from illness and writing his first novel, Tarr (1918), he was prompt in joining the colors, becoming a bombardier (noncommissioned officer) and then a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. Parts 2 and 3 of his memoir describe his experiences as a soldier. He passes lightly and facetiously over the horrors of the trenches, preferring to comment on literary colleagues in uniform and the personal qualities of the British serviceman in general.
After a brief, almost embarrassed account of arranging to shift from the Royal Artillery to being a painter attached to the Canadian army to paint war pictures, Lewis turns to the postwar era. He had, he notes, to relearn his trade as an artist. Though he does not say it in so many words, it seems clear that his experiences in the war made old insights seem less meaningful. Postwar English artistic and literary efforts seemed to him often poor, but he was even more disdainful of the English public’s taste.
The final section of the book is largely devoted to his personal relationships with and evaluations of Ezra Pound, Eliot, and James Joyce. These three he considered the most important literary figures of the era. Lewis’ comments are episodic in nature, combining tales of his personal experiences with the three writers with critical comments on their work. He regards Pound as both a brilliant poet and an important formative influence on the other two. Eliot is presented as bland but having flashes of scintillating wit; he is credited with great creativity as a poet. Joyce emerges, in Lewis’ portrayal, as eccentric but having great potential. One is left wondering if these impressions were those of the Lewis of the early 1920’s or were the result of another decade’s perspective—the memoir was published in the 1930’s.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 58
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