Janet Lewis Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Janet Lewis is best known for her four historical novels, critical and popular successes published between 1932 and 1959. The first and least acclaimed, The Invasion: A Narrative of Events Concerning the Johnston Family of St. Mary’s (1932), shared with her early poems an interest in Native American life and the American wilderness. Three others, of which The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941) and The Trial of Sören Qvist (1947, 1959) are probably the best known, deal in a lucid, documentary style with historic cases of circumstantial evidence. Lewis’s fictional prose reflected her apprenticeship in Imagistic poetry—a narrative style that, in her own words, is “supposed to be transparent.”

Lewis also published a novel with a contemporary setting, Against a Darkening Sky (1943), and a collection of contemporary short stories, Good-bye, Son, and Other Stories (1946), as well as children’s books. She adapted The Wife of Martin Guerre as an opera, produced in 1956 by the Juilliard School of Music and subsequently at other schools. She wrote two other opera librettos, The Swans (pb. 1986) and The Legend (pb. 1987).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

In a career that spanned eight decades, Janet Lewis won a number of honors for her literary work, including the Friends of American Writers award in 1932 for The Invasion: A Narrative of Events Concerning the Johnston Family of St. Mary’s, a Shelley Memorial Award for poetry in 1948, and a Gold Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California in 1948 for The Trial of Sören Qvist. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship in creative writing for research in Paris from 1950 to 1951, won a Horace Gregory Foundation award in 1977, a Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club of California in 1982 for Poems Old and New, 1918-1978, a University of Chicago Alumni Association Award for Professional Achievement in 1982, a Discovery Award/PEN (West) in 1982, and finally, a Robert Kirsch Award for body of work from the Los Angeles Times in 1985.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Crow, Charles L. Janet Lewis. Boise, Idaho: Boise State University Press, 1980. This excellent study of Lewis’s life and work is supplemented by an index and a bibliography.

Hammer, Victor. Sincerely Yours, Victor Hammer: Victor Hammer’s Letters to Janet Lewis, 1945-1948. Introduction by Bruce Bennett. Aurora, N.Y.: Wells College Press, 2000. A compilation of letters written by Hammer, Wells College Press editor, relating to the publication of Lewis’s The Earth-Bound, 1924-1944.

Steele, Trimpi. “The Poetry of Janet Lewis.” Southern Review 18 (April, 1982): 251-258. Provides a fine and detailed examination of the poetry of Lewis in terms of themes, symbols, and influences. Steele’s analysis is well conceived and readable and provides an excellent introduction to Lewis’s poetry.

Stern, Richard. “Janet Lewis.” Virginia Quarterly Review 69, no. 3 (Summer, 1993): 532-544. A profile of Lewis, looking at both her personal life and her work.

Wiman, Christian. “The Created and the Made: Janet Lewis and the Uses of Convention.” Sewanee Review 109, no. 1 (2001): 151-155. An overview of Lewis’s poetry, comparing it with that of Winters.