Although General Lewis (Lew) Wallace spent his professional life (as a soldier and a politician) as a realist, in his novels he chose to move opposite the prevailing realistic literary movement and return to the romantic concept of fiction. This stand proved popular with the reading public, and his romanticized Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ, published in 1880, became a best-seller.
Wallace, born in Brookville, Indiana, on April 10, 1827, studied for the bar and practiced law until the outbreak of the Mexican War, in which he served. Wallace was elected Indiana state senator in 1856, serving until the beginning of the Civil War. He rose to the rank of major-general during the Civil War (participating in the Battle of Shiloh and the 1864 defense of Washington, D.C.), served as president of court in the Andersonville prison trials, and served as a member of the court that tried the Lincoln conspirators.
Wallace retired from the army in 1865 and later acted as governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881 (during which time he wrote Ben Hur) and represented the United States as minister to Turkey (1881-1885). After his retirement from public life he wrote biographies, a tragedy in blank verse, and The Prince of India. His first novel, The Fair God: Or, The Last of the ’Tzins—A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico, published in 1873, is often considered his best. Ben Hur is a dramatization of the story of Jesus, sentimentalized in action and language but vivid and memorable in its authentic detail. The Prince of India, published in 1893, was based upon his experiences as United States minister to Turkey and presents the legendary character of the Wandering Jew. Wallace died in Crawfordsville, Indiana, on February 15, 1905.